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
T KIRA MADDEN
We call our little house the Mo’o Palace. My wife Hannah and I have been here a month, on a fruit farm in Waianae, O’ahu, and we co-exist with these mo’o, or geckos, darting across every surface. They scurry over the walls, chirp and croak songs from atop the microwave, breathe onto the mirrors. They enter and exit through the window AC unit of our bedroom, one we’ve never turned on, and they do so at the same hour in the late afternoon as if to say, Hello, you two! We’re home!
Our first days here, I asked Hannah to catch and release a mo’o. We named that first one, very creatively, “Lizzie.” Then we remembered how geckos jump, shoot through the air, scale the ceilings with the 14,000 grippy setae on their gecko feet. We stood back in awe, Hannah dangling a plastic trash can on her finger, the one she was meant to use for the catching. We knew it right away: this is their palace, not ours.
A few nights later, Lizzie plopped from the ceiling onto the cookbook next to my head; the sound, something you don’t want to hear.
I asked Lizzie not to do this again—a compromise, a plea—and she still hasn’t.
The prompt of this series is “a day in the life.” So I’ve been taking notes on each day—morning, afternoon, evening—reading other entries, trying to choose. Tomorrow will be my “day in the life” day, I swear to myself almost every day, and then tomorrow comes with something not quite right, not quite narrative enough or marvelous enough or appropriate enough—a day of grading at the computer, an extensive morning coffee conversation about penises (we just finished The Curse), a too personal therapy session—and then it’s tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Days here, too, run into each other, they bleed, speak to one another as if one continuous fever dream, and I find myself asking: what is a day, really?
The word, mo’o—this is ‘ōlelo Hawai’i, my Native language, for gecko or lizard. But too, it begins the word mo’okū’auhau, a sacred Kanaka (Hawaiian) concept, translating to “genealogy” in the simplest terms. But to “poke poke” or cube up this word, you find the lizard of it, the knobby gecko spine, the continuity of bones—that’s the defining metaphor that brings us into genealogy, ancestry, the question of what we choose to carry on, or continue.
Continuity! Once upon a time, in a very unhappy life that feels so far from this one, I worked as a wardrobe assistant on film sets. When the director called cut, it was my job to straighten the talent’s collar, to re-stain or re-lipstick or clean up the clothes after the fight or fuck scene, because every camera set-up had to reflect proper continuity! in what the viewer would ultimately see. I opened my phone camera for pictures of The Look, and then I did my job—an unpaid-all-hours-of-the-night job with the promise of Crucial Industry Experience—to pull off the illusion. To go back in time, again and again and again and again, as we shot the take sadder or slower or cheekier.
Life in the Mo’o Palace feels a little like that. I am a Hawaiian, or Kānaka Oiwi, person. This means I am ethnically Hawaiian—not a person who simply lives on Hawai’i. The Thing is this: it’s my first time living here on my homeland, or home island, and I am trying to catch up on thirty-five years of lost time with my family, with my language, with the customs and dances and eating habits of my blood and bones. I don’t sleep here, is the other thing; each moment is a sensory overload, a this is what I’ve missed, or, this is who I was meant to be, but am I her? The roosters scream all night, and I adjust my pillow. I listen to the scurry of the lizards. I mentioned how the days bleed.
What I do in a day, and the next day, and the next: the mo’o serve as a clock. They wriggle through the AC, and then into our room, by 5:30 p.m. each evening. And when they do, I say, Welcome home, Mo’o. Make yourself comfortable.
Every morning, coffee on the deck. Wet planks of wood with towels on the seats. Birds I can’t identify. The sweet stink of ducks in a nearby pen. Hannah telling me this thing or that about her dreams and my neck aches—it always does. The coffee machine moans awkwardly and comically through the window. I call it our good moanin’ coffee.
Every afternoon: school, where I struggle to climb flights of stairs with a mask on—so much humidity. So much sun. We talk story. A student, or students, will say something about a sentence or character that will inevitably remind me how to live. There are murals painted on the walls of the classroom—striped, brindled mountains of O’ahu. The brindled light and dark—because the stripes mirror that of a gecko—also translates to mo’o.
We drive home, an hour from the Mānoa to Waianae. Our pick-up truck leaks dark pools every time we stop. Mo’o skip up and down the front steps to greet us, their vibrant green camouflaging dully into the wood like life leaving a body.
The rest of the day, before the geckos come in, I am not writing, but thinking about writing. I’m on year seven working through my forthcoming novel and it needs more revisions, more writing and redos, more let’s set this up again. Sadder. Slower. You have to keep up with the story it becomes, but also the woman, the person, who can see the story of it—who can catch it.
I cook dinner. Here, on the fruit farm, I am attempting to eat mostly from the land. Some days I use the tender leaves and fibrous drum sticks of the moringa (or miracle) tree. Other days, it’s the hole-punched looking ‘ulu, or breadfruit, simmered in a curry. I’ve learned to smoke our food using kiawe charcoal made from the trees out back, and on the wood I smoke amethyst bright Okinawan potatoes, and eggs from the coop that glaze deep amber over heat, and fresh caught prawns, dripping pineapple, sweating slices of eggplant.
Sometimes, the meals fail. I burn the eggplant. I overdo the ‘ulu—it’s a starchy, moronic mush. These ingredients are familiar but unknown to me. I stand in my neon green rubber slippers in the center of the kitchen—the mo’o watching from the sink or sill, asking what I’ve made for them—as the sun sinks out the window and behind the barbed wire of military fencing, punctuating the land to which I’ve finally returned.
A Hawaiian lives in two realms, a kumu (teacher/scholar) recently said to me. The past and the present. The ancestral and the now. As I writer, I understood the two realms. Maybe there’re more realms than that, I said.
We sat in his living room. I had brought the kumu a bag of calamansi.
I thought, this is the day I’ll write about, but couldn’t until it was over.
NOT THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…
1. What one word best describes your reading life?
2. What one word best describes your writing life?
3. What is your strangest obsession or habit?
There is a single warm-bulbed standing lamp in the Mo’o Palace, where we are currently living. I dislike overheads with such passion that I’ve been lugging this lamp around, from room to room, each night. Is it strange? I’m not sure. Proper lighting is vital.
By T KIRA MADDEN