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




When I was younger, I focused on my kids, three of them. They were my life. I would wake up and help them get ready for school, make lunches, walk them to the crossing guard, then to the school. I would go home and work as a book designer. Long hours. I tried to fit in some time for writing, when I could.

I’ve always written. Since I was about thirteen, when I started writing poems, it was an outlet for me. We all have a public and private life. My private life was my escape; with four sisters and parents who struggled with anxiety and depression, it was a way for me to leave all the family drama behind. I liked hiding in closets when I was very young, and sometimes I read my older sister’s journal and put it back just the way it was so she wouldn’t notice. Writing was my safe place.

Now, the first thing I do when I wake up, is listen to the birdsong. I try to identify what bird it is—I’m getting better at it with the help of a phone app called Merlin. I like to lie in bed and watch the light change as the sun comes up. My dog, Coda, lies at my feet, and sometimes he puts his head on my legs while the older dog, Carley, lies on a blanket on the floor (she can’t jump up on the bed anymore).

There are books on the bedside table I am (trying) to read: Rachel Cusk’s A Life’s Work, Paul Harding’s The Other Eden, and Elizabeth Strout’s Lucy by the Sea. I am halfway through each one. The last book I finished was The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. I have a hard time finishing books since I have to read submissions for my publishing job.

I pad downstairs in my slippers rubbing my shoulders in the cold air. We do not heat our house upstairs and use a wood stove-fireplace downstairs. The house is quiet and all my own. I put the water on to boil and make strong black tea, PG Tips, like my mother used to drink; then I start a fire. I fold the newspapers in long rolls like my father taught me (I always think about him when I do this). After stacking split wood over the tied ribbons of newsprint, I sit in front of the fire on a wooden stool my husband made me and absorb the warmth.

This day, this month, I am wearing a sling on my arm due to a broken elbow from an ice skating accident. I stretch my right arm straight over my head, and then bend it at the elbow toward my shoulder. Pain ensues, so I give it up after a few tries. Sip my tea.

In the quiet of the morning, I sometimes write poems on my iPhone. I used to keep journals, and I have many of them in a box in the basement, full of poems—self-loathing and relationship ups and downs. These days, I try not to focus on the negative. When a poem comes to me in the moment, I usually dictate on my phone and say “new paragraph” for line brakes (which sounds so artificial but necessary). Poems emerge, line by line; seemingly effortless, because I don’t care what people think or what my critical mind tries to stop and edit. They just come out of me. I will go back and edit weeks later, and sometimes I find lines and stanzas that resonate with me. When my morning ritual of dogs, tea, fire, journal or poetry writing is over, I like to do mundane tasks—clean the kitchen, fold laundry—which give me a feeling of calm, like a meditation.

The dogs are now looking at me, as if to remind me what is next: the morning hike in the woods. This is a daily ritual I never miss, the woods being my sanctuary, my church, my cathedral. Frost said hiking in the woods was his “work.” And it is mine. I look at everything when I walk: moss, tree bark, animal tracks in the snow. . .  In late spring, I will see morel mushrooms, ramps starting to come up, fiddlehead ferns—these I forage, fry up, and eat with my husband. Poems sometimes come to me in the middle of the woods when my mind is empty.

The poet Ruth Stone once said (in the wonderful documentary Ruth Stone’s Vast Library of the Female Mind) that poems are like leaves and they are falling around you. You, the poet, have to reach out and grab one before it’s too late. This is what I try to do with my poems, and I let my unconscious mind go wherever it takes me—sometimes I just write what Lamott calls a “shitty first draft.” No one can hear me two miles out in the woods.

After my work day at my home office is over, I reward myself with another hike with my friend and neighbor, Marti. We follow our usual routine and head out from our land onto a neighbor’s conservation land where we have worn a trail through the woods, over two handmade bridges. We talk and laugh and the dogs are in heaven having another walk. It is such a release and luxury to be in our sixties and live in a beautiful place.

When we get to the highpoint of our hike, you can see across the Connecticut River to Mt. Wantastiquet on the New Hampshire side.  A lot of my poems are rooted here, in this place I acknowledge daily as belonging to the Abenaki indigenous people. There are tree stumps in a circle, and we go there (Marti named it the “poetry place”).  She asks me to read something new, so I pull out my phone, and open my poetry folder, open a new poem and read it out loud to her. The act of sharing the poem makes it real, and my audience (of one) is appreciative.

When I get home, I call in the dogs, feed them and the fire, and start cooking dinner. I like to cook with my husband and listen to music. Lately, it is Lucy Dacus, Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O’Donovan, Phoebe Bridgers, Julie Byrne . . . my youngest introduced me to British artist Little Simz. I turn on the little white lights over our fireplace and mantle, chop the onions and peppers for burritos, put on the rice to boil, and open a non-alcoholic beer, or make a Gin & Tonic (if it is the weekend!). Sometimes, I will text my kids and ask them how their day went. I may or may not hear back from them, but the act of reaching out—being in touch—is a big part of me.

After dinner, my husband and I have a TV series/date night—this one is Reservation Dogs, which we both love. Since I wake up so early, I am usually ready to sleep around eight thirty—time to read a few paragraphs in one of my three books in progress or do a little work on a current manuscript I am publishing for another writer. Where we live, we see no lights: we hear barred owls, coyotes . . . Sometimes I will do a quick driveway walk with the dogs, and I get to see the moon. I told my mom, before she died, that I would always think of her when I saw the moon, and on this day, it is full and casts long shadows.

I used to read everything to my mom over the phone—new poems, personal essays, my public radio commentaries. Since she is no longer here, I rely on my sisters and friends to listen.

My second poetry book came out in March 2020, a week after she died (and the first week of the pandemic). She knew the book was coming, and she was excited for me. At the AWP conference in San Antonio, I read from the new book, flushed with excitement, touched with grief.

People in the audience came up to me afterwards, wanting me to sign their books. All this was new to me—having an audience. I’ve never really thought much about why I write—or how I spend my days—until now.




This slideshow requires JavaScript.




1. What one word best describes your reading life?

  • Chaotic! I am a poet and publisher, so I am always reading submitted manuscripts, in-house publishing projects, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian, and a mix of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry books.

2. Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?

  • Set a time and place that is your own with no outside interruptions or distractions. Be brave and write from deep inside. Let it spill out and focus and time it for 40-45 minutes. Do it once a week. Get started with a prompt, like “Describe a time when you said good-bye to someone,” or “a time when you were afraid,” or how about “what is your secret place to go that is all your own.” About 15 years ago, I started going to a weekly writing salon in our small town of Brattleboro. It was offered by the writer and writing coach, Suzanne Kingsbury. This weekly salon was intimate; incredibly productive and liberating for me as a writer. She is now quite famous as the founder of Gateless Writing. Having a writing group is a wonderful way to be social and get feedback on your work. Always read your work out loud! And read the work of your peers and genre.

3. What is your strangest obsession or habit?

  • Cleaning the kitchen is a way to clear my mind from all the clutter that builds up in there!











Other Writers in the Series