Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” On the first of each month, Catching Days hosts a guest writer in the series, “How We Spend Our Days.”
Today, please welcome writer ALEXANDRA ZAPRUDER
This winter morning breaks not-too-early, though the light in my room is a dim soft blue even at 8 a.m. Lulu, our large grey-and-white sheepdog poodle mix is tucked in behind my knees. (This is the good alternative: sometimes, she takes it upon herself to decide when I’ve overslept.) My teen son has already left for school. Our older daughter wakes later. My husband has made the coffee. All is quiet.
I begin with Morning Pages. I have a favorite spot on the well-worn couch in what we call the sun-room. There are windows on three sides looking past a ravine to the neighboring houses and flora beyond: azalea and dogwood in spring, hydrangea in summer, dried leaves in autumn, now bare branches and a splendid evergreen. Lulu rests her face on my feet. I listen to music on headphones as I work through thoughts that plagued me in the night and problem-solve the endless game of Jenga (or is it Tetris) that composes my personal and professional life: how to fit it all in? at what cost? to what benefit? what now? what later? Even when it’s repetitive, writing through it is good. It clears the static.
On office-days, I do my part-time job and handle household errands, tasks, and shopping. But today is a home-day, when I prioritize my own work. I give myself an hour and fifteen minutes to work on my novel, a project I’ve been nursing for a decade and that I’m determined to push forward this year. I have to continually whisper to myself—just get the words down, nothing else matters. Two people call. I ignore the flicker of worry that I’m needed, that I’m being rude. I am trying to treat this as sacred time. Not because the work is important to the world but because it is important to me.
After that, a quick break to check social media and then stretch and move. I am too sedentary. But I feel the time slipping away. Always so much to do.
After writing, I can turn to my email (e.g., the Zombie Apocalypse) and tasks. The endless business of daily life. I answer questions, schedule meetings, respond to invitations to speak, set deadlines for consulting work. A chunk of this time is devoted to my kids’ needs. They are teens in a complicated world. The goal is to put out fires, pock things back at people, close the proverbial loop. Since it’s endless, it doesn’t pay to try to finish. There’s only temporary stoppage.
Midday break. A quick bite to eat, call a friend. Today I’m energized. Some days, I’m exhausted by noon and need to “read” (e.g., take a nap.)
Afternoons are for meetings. My best brain-time is in the morning so no appointments before two p.m. unless under duress. Today I am Zooming with my twin brother and a librettist about a musical adaptation of my first book; we are working on a proposal for funders. Then, another Zoom with a team of partners working on an idea to launch a youth journaling archive and platform. We meet with our graphic designer, inching closer to having a polished document we can use to consult with experts, partners, and funders. Then a late-day Zoom with a parent coach on a challenging family issue.
The light is fading. My energy is flagging. Soon, we will gather at the table for dinner, prepared by my husband. Nothing fancy but we are working at reclaiming family time since the pandemic robbed us of all routine. It is enough to alight even briefly in the same place at the same time. After, I call my mother to check in. With my last shred of energy, I go back to my to-do list, try to knock off one or two items to get a jump on tomorrow. Sometimes I watch TV but we only have one, and tonight it’s my husband’s turn. He did make dinner, after all. And cleaned up.
I’m always the first to bed. I’m joined by Lulu curled up against me—the day ending as it began. Tonight, my son pops up to my room to visit. I am desperate to read, but I know these are fleeting days. I’m glad he wants to talk to me at all.
At last, the day is done. It’s my reading hour. I have always mostly read nonfiction, but these days, it’s all novels, trying to find inspiration and guidance for the uncharted territory I’m mapping in my work. I fall asleep thinking about my characters, spinning plot lines, wandering around in my mind in search of a new world.
NOT THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…
1. What one word best describes your writing life?
2. Would you give us a few sentences about a book you love?
- Hard to choose one. But I have recently been reading Gina Nahai, who writes novels with a strong strain of Jewish magical realism set mostly in Tehran. The Cry of the Peacock was delicious. I didn’t want it to end. Her work is wildly imaginative, playful, haunting, and original. I am allocating her novels to myself slowly, like chocolate on a life raft.
3. What is your strangest obsession or habit?
- Oh, that would be the lists. I mean, just so many lists. In notebooks, on the computer, on pads of paper. Daily, weekly, monthly calendar pages with tasks. Different forms of sorting, prioritizing, organizing. The minute they get messy, I have to re-do them. I see the fundamental flaw: it’s a practical approach to an existential problem. And yet, I can’t stop doing it.