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
I’m up and it’s 4:30 a.m. I’m going to go ahead and blame it on Ducky. Usually, this little rescue dog carefully tiptoes around my sleeping body to Elena, climbs onto her chest, and scratches her really hard on the face. (Sorry Elena.) But this morning, Ducky’s tap on my shoulder keeps me on my early morning writing schedule.
Upstairs, out the window, I see some bodies moving in the darkness of green: the redwood trees’ arms are flying everywhere, the ancient apple tree’s shoulders are doing a little shimmy, and the Myrtlewood tree is going absolutely wild. They all love the wind.
I recently finished writing my first novel, and it has been sent out to publishers for their consideration. I find myself opening up the file almost every day regardless, tinkering around. It feels finished, but I don’t think I’ll be able to leave it alone until it is out of my hands. I’m in the publishing/query limbo of wondering if it will get picked up or left behind. This reminds me of that great scene in Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone where the old professor holds up the jar of limbo water/aged rum with the dead baby inside and takes a sip…for la impotencia. Not sure if my novel is the pickled baby or the rum but I’m hoping for the latter—that someone reads it and feels a potent rush of feeling.
Short stories are what I enjoy writing the most so this whole novel endeavor was beastly. It was fun and it was awful. This morning I switched to writing a new short story: pure and joyous relief. I learned recently that the number of microorganisms living in our bodies greatly outnumber the number of cells, so a question I’m contemplating is: Whose body is it really? And we know our bodies are mostly made up of water. So again, who do these bodies actually belong to? Maybe they are not so much ours, after all, and we move through our days and lives greatly under very intimate, unseen and unacknowledged influences. These wonderings are part of the story I’m writing, but I’m not sure how it’s all going together yet. Things are getting increasingly strange so I know I’m on the right track.
Earl Grey tea with half and half and a little honey: today I threw it in a thermos and went off to surf before work. I’ve been at this whole surfing thing off and on for years. People often ask if I’m good at it and I’ve never been sure what that question means exactly. Catching waves is exhilarating but sometimes surfing to me is just paddling out past where the waves form while some pelicans swoop low over my head or a harbor seal sticks its whiskered face out of the depths to say hi. And the waves: regardless of size, they’re always fucking magnificent. Every time I’m out there, they do a great job reminding me I’m nothing more than a tiny piece of weightless driftwood—they remind me I’m nothing much at all. It is the best. Anyways, the ocean is freezing cold and clean here. It scours away my mental chatter and leaves me pared down to a kind of perfect emptiness. I’ve been trying to go almost every morning, even if only for an hour, but some days it’s just too stormy and on those days I stand on the bluff in the wind and watch it all happen without me.
Elena and I recently moved to the very special town of Port Orford on the southern Oregon coast. We first visited a couple years ago because we were looking for a place to spend a week with my mom and I remembered my beloved grandma—who loved nature and the arts—often talked about it being a place she was particularly fond of. During that first visit, several synchronistic things happened, including a woman who approached us from a dark side road and after minimal small talk and intense eye contact said bluntly, “You should move here.” Then she waved her arm vaguely behind her towards a thick stand of evergreens and murmured, “There are people like you in the woods.” Ummmm. Since then other magical/strange/endearing things have happened and continue to happen. It is so awesome. I have the biggest crush on this place.
My perfect tea is cold now: off to work at the bookstore I’m opening. It’s called Sea Wolf Books and Community Writing Center. It’s a small shop and will have new and used books, plus writing workshops and author events. When open, it will be the westernmost bookstore in the contiguous United States. So far, book requests from locals have ranged from Olga Tokarczuk to Warhammer to Barry Lopez to how to grow psilocybin mushrooms. I am very into this diversity of literary interest.
I grew up in Oregon and have been out since I was a teenager but have felt moments of trepidation around declaring Sea Wolf a queer/trans-owned bookstore. It is impossible to avoid stories of gun violence in our country, and I’ve been having concerns about being targeted. When I recently shared my jumble of fears with a new friend here, she said I could call her at the first sign of trouble and she’d be over in a flash with her witches’ coven to put a stop to any bigoted nonsense, as long as I didn’t mind a little day-drinking once they’d taken care of business. Thinking of her and her witchy friends makes me feel like everything is going to be ok.
The wind is still howling and someone’s bright orange jacket just blew down the highway. I guess this is a normal thing that happens here? Also, hail. The bookstore’s grand opening is a couple weeks away.
Home again before it gets dark. I rinse off my wetsuit in the backyard and stick it in the shower to dry out for tomorrow. Ducky is asleep already because she got up so early. I’m mulling over my short story. I think it’s essentially about the disruption of a false notion of autonomy. Will keep mulling. Tomorrow: the same more or less but maybe I’ll get back to tinkering with my novel while the short story simmers in my gut. If I move some things around at the bookstore and put in one more shelf, if it gets published someday, maybe I can find a place for it in the local authors’ section.
THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…
1. What one word best describes your reading life?
2. Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?
- My only advice is what I remind myself: that the writing—the story that emerges—isn’t for anyone else’s approval. I try to hold experiences of getting published as a way to get the work out to readers and not as validation itself. At its very best, writing is the process of using written language to fully recognize, experience and (sometimes) understand small moments of unadulterated being-ness. If it’s feeling at all performative, I’ve lost my way.
3. What is your strangest reading or writing or habit?
- I often text myself with little ideas that come up for stories. (The great Pam Houston has her own, perfect name for this: glimmers.) The thing about these messages to myself though is that if too much time passes I have a series of texts so abstract they make almost no sense. Examples from this week: Hangnails. Strange-looking/boring babies. Epidemic of the aggressively-happy. Axiomatic. Cat Stevens.