How We Spend Our Days: Adam Braver

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 Adam Braver:

DSCF0031I never thought of myself as an early riser. I always preferred the quiet of night, followed by a peaceful sleep well into mid-morning. However, my cat and my son do not share a similar sensibility, and, in direct proportion with the graying of my hair, my circadian rhythms have become inverted.

My day now begins somewhere between 6:00 and 6:30.

In terms of writing, this particular day requires careful management. While a normal morning involves reading several newspapers online, answering overnight email, and getting myself organized for the daily writing schedule, this is a day of deadlines. A promised blurb has run itself up to the final hour, and a magazine article also needs to be delivered. (Luckily, this is a non-teaching day, and I am thankfully caught up, if not ahead on that front.) Deadlines can bring out the worst—cursing the lack of available hours, and rerunning the daily idiocies that have knocked me off schedule for weeks. Warning: run all these grievances through your head long enough and they become their own set of idiocies and time wasters. Best to get to work.

DSC_0002A pot of coffee is always involved, and once my son is off to school, and my wife safely secured into her day, I’m parked at my desk. The goal is to get everything done by 3:00, leaving me ample time to get to the novel I’m working on, and at least end the day with a couple of solid, new pages. Focus and discipline have never been an issue. It’s more about negotiating the obligations.

First up is the blurb. My desk is piled with stacks of papers that, to the layman, might appear to be clutter. It’s a system I fully understand, but if were I put in unfortunate circumstances, it’s one I could never explain. On the back of a National Grid envelope are the notes I have been jotting down while reading Steven Church’s upcoming memoir, The Day After the Day After. It should be simple to distill these notes into a two or three line blurb. But this is a book that I truly like a lot. And I’m scared to death of not quite “getting it right.” I draft out several similar iterations, labeling each appropriately: academic, thoughtful, hip, clever, literary. Eventually I settle on a hybrid of all the versions. In order to stanch the obsessing, DSC_0007I immediately email it to Steven.

A new pot of coffee.

Because I’m constantly being saved by music, I was fortunate to have been assigned to cover last summer’s Newport Folk Festival for Rhode Island Monthly Magazine. I’d spent two days in Newport, listening to music, interviewing organizers, performers, vendors, and attendees—leading to an essay about experiencing the festival. Hours and hours of recorded interviews. Pages and pages of notes. All distilled down to 2,500 words. And today I’m parsing words, part shaman, part mechanic. Trying to fix with precision, yet still foresee the choices that will cause me to cringe two days later. With each tweak, it seems, another not-quite-right word is revealed, as though it’s been secretly lying dormant under other troubled words, just waiting to be awakened. Eventually, as with the blurb, I push the send button.

I have managed to meet my 3:00 deadline with tangible accomplishments. But here’s the truth, and this part is undeniably real—I miss not having the distractions, because now it’s just me and the blank pages of this new book; and again, this is the truth here—it’s hard work writing a novel, because, particularly with first drafts, there’s so often very little pleasure.

AND THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…

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1. What is the best book you’ve read in the last few months and how did you choose it?

  • The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa. I’d come across her previous book (stories) via word of mouth, and the simplicity of the prose against the power and smarts of the stories blew me away. The latest novel had the same effect.

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

  • It’s rarely the story itself that’s interesting, it’s the way you tell it.

3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?

  • The delusion that I have no strange habits.

Books by Adam Braver:

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Mr. Lincoln's Wars

DSC00010Divine Sarah
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Crows Over the Wheatfield

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Nov. 22, 1963

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11 thoughts on “How We Spend Our Days: Adam Braver

  1. I apologize to anyone who tried to leave a comment today, October 1. For some reason, the “comments” function was not working. I hope you’ll try again! And thanks for reading.

  2. What a wonderful piece. It did something to me as I read it which I love: it sent my mind running all over the place on simultaneous but wildly divergent lines of thought.
    Even though I’m not a writer, I found myself going “yes,yes,yes” all the way through Adam’s eloquent description of the balancing act required of anyone in a creative line of work.
    And the “Just Show Up” theme, and the need to soldier on even when inspiration is absent, resonates. It seems to pop up in discussions like this often enough that we should probably give it an acronym. J.S.U.
    But this line really caught me:
    ” And today I’m parsing words, part shaman, part mechanic. Trying to fix with precision, yet still foresee the choices that will cause me to cringe two days later. ”
    I think Proust spent hundreds of pages saying essentially the same thing!
    And this is a deceptively simple statement:
    “It’s rarely the story itself that’s interesting, it’s the way you tell it.”
    It brings to mind the image of an old fashioned clothesline. The ones w/ pulleys that frequently used to run from back doors, across yards, to the corners of garages. They were ubiquitous in the working class neighborhood where I grew up, and we used to get into all manner of mischief w/them. It’s a mechanism w/ all sorts of variations like cotton line-old and gray and fuzzy, or new and gleaming white w/ the little bumps from the weaving still standing up crisply on the surface. Or plastic line, weirdly unpleasant to the touch, prone to bizarre torqued entanglement, and sometimes w/ a superfluous and vaguely gaudy red line woven through the extruded strands that would unravel at the cut end and prick your skin in unpleasant ways. The pulleys, w/ cross-shaped guards that would contain the line and keep it on track . Some new and galvanized in that flaky silver-gray way, or rusted to various degrees so that new white line would get tattooed w/ rhythmically spaced orangey-brown marks. Or the ghastly old re-painted pulleys, w/ gobs of pathetically ineffectual pigment applied in a fit of hopeful craft-gleam by a parsimonious homeowner, worn away in the grooves of the wheel where all the action was. Oh and then there were the tensioners, whose mechanical variations and mysterious physics could generate pages of rhapsodic description in in a David Foster Wallace novel….So the clothesline. Like the storyline, lots of variations but fundamentally of little interest compared to where the real action starts: with what gets hung on it! I could have a ball going on and on about the airing of ones laundry, and all the strange memories I have of birds starting a nest in a pair of jeans left out overnight…or the partially frozen sheets that needed to be bent in half to be brought inside…and but so the undergarments! The brassieres !… But you probably get the point.

    All in all a genuinely stimulating and evocative little bit of writing that left me very curious and interested to read some Adam Braver. As usual my TBR pile gets a little taller every time I stop by here!

    • Walt, what a lovely comment. I know just what you mean about reading something that starts your mind going in a million different directions. When that happens, I must always reread slowly to make sure I don’t lose anything.

      I love the images of the clothes lines. I’m very taken with those–from the old-fashioned multi-layered hexagonal ones to the more straight-lined ones. I have no childhood associations (that I recall) with clothes lines, but I am so taken with them. I’ve already written one post on the subject, and I have tons of pictures still to wrestle with.

      Thanks for adding to the conversation!

  3. Just a minute, Adam Braver is working my schedule? This is good news. Imagine the ‘pay it forward’ sense of one writer describing another’s day as their own; writers doing the same thing without knowing others on the same track.

    If this is the day, Adam’s day, your day, my day, then this is how it’s supposed to work. The encouragment pot is bubbling after reading this post.

    Thanks,

    David Gillaspie
    deegeesbb.wordpress.com

    • David, it’s nice to hear from you. And you’re right. It is definitely encouraging to know, in such a solitary profession, that there are others out there slogging away, day after day, just like we are.

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I hope you’ll be back.

  4. A quick thanks for all the thoughtful comments. It was a pleasure to write the piece, and a pleasure to read the comments. Now back to today’s day.

    Best, Adam

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