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
In the morning: The gobble of our neighborhood turkeys wakes me up. My husband gives me kisses before he heads off to an extreme cycling class, and I lie in bed imagining what it must be like to pedal with strangers in a darkened room as outrageously loud music plays. If I can help it, I will never know! I pad down the stairs and look out the front window—a ritual I started when we moved to this house fifteen years ago. Thankfully the trees, other homes, and telephone poles all still stand. In the kitchen, I realize this is the longest I’ve lived anywhere. My stomach drops at the thought of the transition ahead. I am almost done with my third novel. While part of me wants this daily writing to end, a deeper part knows I will be lost without my characters day in and day out. Ending a book is always bittersweet.
On my writing desk: So many spiral notebooks containing thoughts, lists, mind maps, and written-out chapters. Two amethyst rocks I hold when I need to feel grounded. A few reading glasses I can never seem to find when I need them but here they are right now. A bottle of cobalt blue ink, another of emerald green. I love fountain pens, paper, pencils, erasers, even sharpeners. It’s no accident that I wrote a book called The Stationery Shop. And of course, there’s a pile of books about Iran. For me, it’s impossible to be American without being Iranian and vice versa. How strange to think that the two countries who make up my soul are sometimes seen by others as incompatible.
Writing: I sit at my computer and my heart falls. The scene I need to tackle today is a toughie. The fact that I even know which scene I am to write means I’m in revision mode. Adding meat to the bones of certain chapters, letting them breathe. But a few entirely new scenes need to be written too. I do what I always do when the blinking cursor creates more angst than pleasure: I get up and grab a notebook and pen. On the floor, I sit with legs stretched out, open the notebook, take a deep breath, and move the pen across the page. Something about this visceral motion makes writing easier. The ink drying on the paper, the scratchy sound of the pen’s nib, the rhythm of my arm and hand moving left to right—all of this is a salvation. As if submerged underwater, I leave my Massachusetts town and go to a huge party in Tehran in the 1970s. Music from a cassette player fills the parlor, geometric patterns on the Persian rug whiz by as feet toe-step across the room. On the stove in the kitchen, ground walnuts and pomegranate molasses simmer. Arguments ensue. Friendships are ruptured.
Getting up: I emerge confused. I’m back in Massachusetts, no longer in Iran. It is 2023, not 1978. There is no music, no khoresh on the stove, no dancing. All I hear is silence occasionally interrupted by the drone of a lawn mower in the distance.
Even the turkeys are quiet now.
Lunch: I need to get out more. The pandemic and its isolation made me grateful for the people in my life who are golden. I don’t want to lose any more time with them. Tracey is such a golden friend. We meet up at Kickstand Café in Arlington, MA. Over lunch we chat about our children and their futures and our town and its future and our present aches and hopes. The kind man at a table near ours takes our photograph.
Early afternoon: Back at home, I zoom with a student from my GrubStreet Novel Generator class. She is smart and immensely talented. As we talk about her novel, she tells me more about her childhood. I am stunned once again by the secret sorrows we all carry.
Late afternoon: My friend Wendy texts to see if I want to go on a walk, and I greedily say yes. In the woods near my house, nature soothes us.
Cooking: My son is home from college so I make one of his favorites: chicken, apple, carrot, and prune khoresh. Like so many Iranian dishes, it is both sweet and tart. I love transforming separate ingredients into a cohesive, delicious whole. Rice is of course served by turning the pot upside down so we can see the crispy golden bottom of the pot layer we call tahdig.
In the evening: After dinner with my husband and son, I call my daughter in New York and ask about her new job, her apartment in Brooklyn, and the mouse she and her roommates have nicknamed “Angelina Ballerina.” I then call my sister and talk about some difficulties she’s facing. Soon we are snort-laughing like we did when we were kids. Then I call my parents. My father is eighty-four and has lived with severe physical disability for all of my life. My mother just turned eighty and is his full-time caregiver. I go as often as I can to New York to spend time with them. We chat about dinner, politics, the sitcom “Newhart.” Afterward, I sit on the sofa and think about the day I’ve spent: my family, the writing, friends, walk, meals. All of it felt impossible once upon a time when my parents, sister, and I spent our nights in the basement shelter as bombs fell on Tehran. But look, here we are. We survived. We are alive.
NOT THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…
1. What one word best describes your reading life?
2. When you’re writing, is there something you return to again and again for inspiration?
- I pick up the classics–the books that healed my soul when I was young–and read a section. Emerging myself into those worlds strengthens me and gives me the boost I need to begin.
3. What is your strangest obsession or habit?
- I document my life! I wrote in a journal every day from the age of ten until eighteen and every few days from eighteen to now. I have kept every letter (remember those?) any one has ever sent me, organized in manila folders by name. I document my writing days in spreadsheets and everything else in a paper planner. I have this strange obsession with trying to pin down time. Impossible, I know. But I’ll keep on carrying on.