How We Spend Our Days: Hannah Tinti

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 Hannah Tinti:

6:30 am: I get up and walk my dog, Canada. We try to go through Carroll Street park, but the gates are locked.

7:30 am: I pack my computer and walk across the Gowanus canal to my writing space.

7:30-9:30 am: I work on re-writing a chapter in my new novel. Final scene involves a man shooting a whale. Should I cut the whale? I think about this for half an hour. Then I decide to keep the whale.

10:00 am: I catch the train up to Columbia University, where I am currently teaching an MFA seminar on the relationship between writers and editors. It takes an hour and a half on the subway, and I use this time to read and take notes on two upcoming issues of One Story: “Housewifely Arts” by Megan Mayhew Bergman  and “No Flies, No Folly” by Josh Weil.

11:30 am: I drink coffee. I read through D.T. Max’s 1998 New York Times article, “The Carver Chronicles.” I re-read Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”

12:00-2:00 pm: I teach my seminar. For the first hour, I have the class take on the responsibilities of being an editor. They draft rejection letters. They go through editorial notes they have prepared for fellow students. For the second hour, we discuss the editorial relationship of Gordon Lish & Raymond Carver. We go through Lish’s edit of “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” We consider the difference of the name “Herb McGinnis” vs. “Mel McGinnis.” We decide the two items we missed the most from Carver’s original version of the story were: the tale of the old married couple dancing and listening to the snow fall, and the nod Laura gives the narrator at the end.

2:00-3:00 pm: Office hours. More coffee.

3:00 pm: As I head back to the subway, I think about the giant praying mantis I found the day before on Broadway & 86th street. Afraid that it would be stepped on, I carried it to Central Park and released it under a tree. Along the way the praying mantis crawled back and forth up my arm, its triangle head turning back and forth, its pricker legs sticking to my skin. People stared and one guy stopped me and asked me where I got it. “Broadway,” I said.

3:00-4:30 pm: On the train back to Brooklyn I read Raymond Carver’s 1983 Paris Review interview, conducted by Mona Simpson and Lewis Buzbee. I am struck by this quote: “[Fiction] doesn’t have to do anything. It just has to be there for the fierce pleasure we take in doing it, and the different kind of pleasure that’s taken in reading something that’s durable and made to last, as well as beautiful in and of itself. Something that throws off these sparks—a persistent and steady glow, however dim.”

4:30 pm: Home. I get the mail and in it is the new issue of One Story, “Man-O-War” by Claire Vaye Watkins. Inside the issue is a postcard promoting the 2011 Sirenland Writers’ Conference, with a beautiful picture of Positano.

5:00 pm: I walk Canada. This time, we head to the piers. When we reach the harbor, we stop for a minute and look out at the water. Then we turn around and walk back.

6:00 pm: I run into the UPS guy on the street. He knows me. I get a lot of packages. Today he has brought issues #1-5 of Jeff Lemire’s comic book series, Sweet Tooth. I started reading this series on issue #6, and am very, very excited to find out what I missed in episodes 1-5.

7:00 pm: I finish reading the first 4 comic books.

7:30 pm: I realize I have an enormous bunch of spinach in my refrigerator that will soon go bad. So I cook it all. And I eat it all. I wait for my arms to sprout Popeye muscles. But they do not.

8:00 pm: I tweet this: “Once more, in German: RT @powerHouseArena: Komme zu @onestorymag OUT OF TOWNERS Donnerstag, 28. Oktober von 19:00 http://fb.me/KlnCY1SA”

8:00-9:00 pm: I answer 50 emails.

9:00 pm: I tweet this: “@NASA discovers 1st earth-like, habitable planet: Gilese 581g, AKA “Goldilocks”: http://bit.ly/cTZhsV”

9:00-10:00 pm: I answer another 50 emails.

10:00 pm: I start writing this.

11:00 pm: I look at the whale chapter again. I tweak a few lines. I decide, again, to keep the whale.

11:30 pm: Canada and I go for our last walk of the day, over the Union street bridge. The moon is hazy through the clouds. The Gowanus smells like the sea.

12:00 am: I read the last comic book. Sweet Tooth, Episode 5: Out of the Deep Woods. The spread on pages 7-8 is an amazing work of storytelling and art.

12:30 am: I start Myla Goldberg’s new novel, The False Friend.

1:00 am: I think about the mantis again. I open my notebook. I write how the front legs, the praying legs, locked onto my hand when a gust of wind blew down 86th street. Then I close my notebook and turn out the light and fall asleep.

AND THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS
1. What is the best book you’ve read in the last few months and how did you choose it?

  • I would have to say In the Valley of the Kings by Terrence Holt. I read it as a judge for the PEN/Bingham award, and I was grateful to be introduced to a writer willing to jump into the void and trust the reader to follow.

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

  • Write something that you would like to read.

3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?

  • I often read while I am walking. This can sometimes be a problem on a crowded street in New York City.

Books By Hannah Tinti:

Animal Crackers

The Good Thief

19 thoughts on “How We Spend Our Days: Hannah Tinti

  1. I agree with margosita! Absolutely wonderful.

    It was fun to see I shared the same experience at 4:30, except in my own home in Tucson. The postcard was gorgeous and it made me think of you, Cynthia, and your experience there. What a beautiful place and I can’t wait to read the story.

    Thank you for sharing this! Love the bit about the whale. Keeping the whale is a great accomplishment in a writer’s day. :)

    • Teresa, nice to see you here again! The postcard is beautiful, isn’t it? And thanks for thinking of me when you think of Positano! I’m looking forward to reading the story too. Oh, and I love what you wrote: “Keeping the whale is a great accomplishment in a writer’s day.” It definitely is.

  2. Lovely post and such a busy day! I agree we need to “Write something that you would like to read.” It’s the only thing that feels right for me.

    The pleasure of Raymond Carver stories is that I can read them over and over and always enjoy.

    Also loved the last issue of One Story with “Man-O-War” and the Sirenland postcard. :)

    • Ha! When I saw the photo of Hannah’s desk, I asked her if it was always so clean. She told me she does have another desk too. This photo is of the desk in her writing space.

  3. A mantis that size would have me thinking about it for days, too. Keeping the whale has me worried about its getting shot.

    If I had half the productive day that Hannah did, I’d conk out at 9:00.

  4. I have been reading these pieces for a while, but have never commented until now. I love hearing about other writers’ process, and making it about a typical day is especially enjoyable. Thank you!

  5. I loved that Hannah took the time to rescue an insect from Broadway. That’s something I would have done. Having grown up in NYC with my nose in books, I would advise against walking and reading. Even thinking can be hazardous. I once walked into wet cement.

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