How We Spend Our Days: Cornelius Eady

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 Cornelius Eady:

As I was taking the bus into town this evening from LaGuardia airport—a mad last minute dash from Kansas City, MO in a bid to beat out an on-coming mid-winter/midwest blizzard headed East in order to have a better shot of making a writers’ conference later in the week in Washington, DC—I put in my ear buds to listen to some music. The random song on the shuffle was Ray Davies of the Kinks, singing “Complicated Life”:

I went to the Doctor, and the good doctor said/I gotta slow down my life, or I’m gonna be dead/ Cut down the struggle and strife/ to Un-complicate my life.

How true, I silly-grinned in my seat. How wonderful to have a theme song! I’ve just begun my first semester teaching at a new position as Miller Family Chair in Writing and Literature at the University of Missouri/Columbia. My wife, the novelist Sarah Micklem, and I have a house in Columbia, MO and an apartment in the West Village that we’ve been renting for over 20 years. Sarah also has a full time job as a graphic designer in New York. We love my new job, and we both love New York.

So I’m a chronic commuter, and the question of how I start my morning largely depends on which location I wake up in. Each has a different look and feel to it.

It’s winter, and in our small, North-facing basement apartment in New York, this means there’s no light cue when morning arrives, expect for an overhead plant light Sarah has set on a timer to help the plants and tree she’s taken in from our back yard. Other than this, we have only one large picture window for light in the entire apartment, and this week, snow storm after snow storm has piled on the lawn furniture, giving it the look of frosting.

Sarah is always the first one up—she uses the time for research and writing—the same way I use the hours after she goes to bed in the evening–and I, absent her space, roll over into a half-sleep in the wan light, the gurgle of our coffee pot and the local NPR station in my ears.

A few hours later, I’m fully awake. We do breakfast. (We have been married over 33 years. We have never missed breakfast). Then Sarah’s out the door to her job, and I’m at the desk soon after.

Waking up at our house in Columbia, MO, is a bit more complex. Sarah can only be in town the weekends she has a flex day off at work, and I never sleep as well, but there are a few perks we don’t get in New York:

1) More light: Sarah fell in love with the place as soon as she saw the large windows in the dining room and kitchen. Though a bit dubious at first—we had just left a large house in South Bend, IN when I was teaching at Notre Dame, and I was in bungalow mode–as usual, she was right; late afternoons in the house are especially pleasing as the rooms slowly arc with the sun before it sets.

2) The lake: Though Sarah desired the house almost as soon as we walked through it, it was our friend and my colleague Aliki Barnstone who led us to it. The house, in Aliki’s (now our) neighborhood, only has a partial view of the lake, but it is, as Aliki promised, a wonder to gaze upon.

3) I have a room-mate: The other reason Sarah wanted the house was the possibility of convincing her mother Carolyn Micklem, who was Cave Canem’s first director, to move in with us. This happily worked out.

This week, the same storms that frosted the lawn chairs in New York, have half-frozen the lake in Columbia. Carolyn and I watch the geese as they whirl past the kitchen window towards the open breaks in the ice. Then she’s off to her office on the second floor, and I’m off to mine. Later, on the mad dash to KC, I have to slow down as the same geese waddle from one side of the road back down the slope to the water.

Complicated, no? Flying back and forth during the winter takes its toll, and there are moments when a book I think is in Missouri actually laughs on my desk in New York. But what seems like clutter from afar feels like rare luck to me. Ray Davies wrote his song as irony—the poor singer finds out the safe, uncomplicated life just ain’t worth living.

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 was chair of the poetry panel for the 2010 National Book Awards, and though I read a lot of strong books, and am very pleased with the finalists and winner, everyone on the panel had a short list of books that for one reason or another, didn’t make the short list. One such heartbreak for me was John Murillo’s UP JUMP THE BOOGIE, (Cypher Books) which I still think is an amazing debut, and hope gets the attention it so richly deserves.

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

  • My advice—don’t depend on advice. Write.

3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?

  • Coffee is my Shepard. I shall not want.

Books by Cornelius Eady:


14 thoughts on “How We Spend Our Days: Cornelius Eady

  1. The more I try to simplify, the more crazy are my days. Think I should just stop trying “to Un-complicate my life.” Perhaps Eady is right when he writes “Ray Davies wrote his song as irony—the poor singer finds out the safe, uncomplicated life just ain’t worth living.” Makes me think I should just hold on tight and enjoy the ride.

  2. Sitting here in my Bklyn apartment after a morning spent writing and now taking a break to read this wonderful post as the next big winter storm approaches…life doesn’t get any better. Thank you.

  3. Cornelius — Lovely piece! Reflections on the commuting life resonate and how transitions reflect the daily routine. (I’m commuting now between Idaho and Switzerland; add language shock into the mix!) Also, I love your writing advice; you told me these exact words in our MFA workshop, and I’ve been using it ever since: “My advice—don’t depend on advice. Write.” Yup. Many thanks, Renee

  4. I am amazed at the idea of living two places like this, and how easy you make it sound. We have sometimes thought about it…spending part of our year in SF and part in Madrid.

    Thank you Cynthia for this column, I look forward to it every month!

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  6. So much peace and joy in what sounds like a fairly complicated (if rewarding) life! And we share the same writing habit.

    Glad to hear things are going so well for you, both personally and professionally.

    All the best,

    Your fellow Bread Loaf “waitroid” from long ago and far away

  7. Hi Chris! Great to hear from you! Yeah, it’s crazy–but it allows me moments like having coffee with Henri Cole last year. Not a bad crop of “waitroids”! Hope this finds you well!

    All best,
    Cornelius

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