How We Spend Our Days: Sybil Baker

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 Sybil Baker:

Spring semester has ended, and my summer break has officially begun. After a restorative week at the beach, this morning marks the first official day of, in the venerable Sugar’s words, writing like a motherfucker.

Last night I had big plans for today, which I’d hoped would set the tone for the rest of my summer: wake up at 7:00 (or earlier), go to yoga at 8:30, return home and spend the rest of the day writing, check email and FB in the afternoon, then relax and watch a movie with my husband Rowan or read in bed until I fall asleep.

I’m so confident in my theoretical summer schedule that I don’t set the alarm. I wake up at 8:25, which means that I will miss my yoga class, but lucky me, there’s one at noon. Rowan and I start the morning with our usual routine—drinking black coffee in bed (anyone remember the Squeeze song?), listening to music, and chatting about the upcoming day.

Then I get up and work on a new novel I started a few weeks ago. I’m committed to writing the first draft longhand, so I situate myself on my chaise longue, which offers a view of the rail yard and mountains across the street. I write a few pages, but then convince myself I need to get on the computer. My book launch party for Into This World is a week and a half away, so I send out Evite and Facebook reminders, respond to emails, follow up on possible reviews and potential reading venues, make sure the press release gets out to the right places, and other seemingly endless tasks associated with launching a new book. Then it’s time to exercise.

Yoga class is relaxing and my mind begins to wander. I recall that I have an interview about Into This World at WUTC (our local NPR affiliate) sometime this week. Practicing the yogic philosophy of nonattachment, I allow the thought to float away. After class, de-stressed and ready for a sauna and long shower, I do an unyoga thing and check my email on my cell phone. Google Calendar informs me that the WUTC interview is today at 1:00. It’s 1:05. I text the interviewer, apologize and tell him I’ll be there at 1:20. Then I take a “guy” shower, rinsing off in seconds so I don’t smell too awful, and rush to the studio. Luckily, I know the interviewer and have never been late before, so even though I arrive at 1:20, stressed and unprepared (I don’t even have a copy of my book to read from), Mike, the interviewer, is even more calming and laid back than my yoga teacher. We talk, I stumble through a passage that he pulls from his ARC pdf of the book, and even though I sound like a stammering fool, I know that Mike will work his magic as he has every time he’s interviewed me, ensuring I won’t sound like a complete idiot.

After the interview, I take some camera equipment I purchased to the English department (don’t ask, it’s a university thing) to be tagged. The tagging takes longer than expected, so I hang in the department office and chat with our head about my book launch and his rock band while I wait to get my camera back.

I don’t get home until after 3:00. Even though it’s summer, the “to-do” list remains long: I still have student work to give feedback on, and as fiction editor of Drunken Boat, stories to assign and review. I spend more time than I think I should trying to get an idea of how many people plan to come to the book launch so I know how much wine to buy and how many books the folks at Winder Binder Gallery & Bookstore should order.

I discover Pretty in Pink is on streaming, so we watch it after dinner. I haven’t seen the movie since it came out in 1986; Rowan, a South African, who has never even seen a single John Hughes movie, enjoys it well enough. (Was Molly Ringwald’s compulsive lip biting as annoying to me back then? And why did I have such a crush on milquetoast Andrew McCarthy? I’m mystified at my former self). We get ready for bed and I start Ron Rash’s The Cove. Before falling asleep, I set my alarm, promising myself that I’ll make it to 8:30 yoga, that I’ll spend less time on social media and more time on my new novel. After all, tomorrow is another day.

Confrontation by Hughie Lee-Smith
–the inspiration for Into This World–

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?

  • In addition to Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision (my vote for the unawarded 2011 Pulitzer), I loved Krys Lee’s Drifting House. Since I lived in Korea for twelve years and my new novel takes place there, I’d been looking forward to reading Lee’s debut story collection and was not disappointed.

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

  • Besides the oft-repeated read, read, read, I think it’s important to avoid the “if only” trap. “If only I could get a short story published” will inevitably morph into “if only I could get published in x magazine,” which will morph into “be nominated for a Pushcart,” which will morph into “win a Pushcart” and then to “win a Pulitzer” and on and on it goes, sapping your energy and blocking your writing. Someone told me that one writer she knew, having won the Nobel Prize, is now obsessed with his place in the canon. Do not feed the “if only”—it will always hunger for more.

3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?

  • This isn’t really a habit, but I think it’s strange. When I’m working on a project and not writing enough, my writing (left) hand throbs. I’m sure it’s psychosomatic, but sometimes the throbbing will wake me up at night. It’s not a painful throbbing, but more like a blocked energy throbbing. The only thing I can do to get rid of it is to write. Not write well or write beautifully, but just write.

.

By Sybil Baker:

12 thoughts on “How We Spend Our Days: Sybil Baker

  1. I love how our best laid daily plans never go as planned. I just go with it and say I planned that on purpose.

    I’ll be looking for your next book.

  2. Brilliant writing advice Sybil. We can all get stuck and wallow in “if only” land. It was lovely to read about the unplanned moments of your day. Must have been interesting to live in Korea. I spoke at a conference there last year, and got a peek of the fascinating contrasting culture and tasted the delicious food ( came home to France with lots of red chilli and packets of kimchi that unfortunately exploded on the plane- I only discovered this later on a Eurostar train, when passengers moved away from me and my smell of fermented cabbage!) Anyway, enjoy your summer vacation and your new book- I am counting down the days to mine – all 28! Here’s to writing like motherfuckers! PS I am going to get one of your books!

    • Thanks Susanna for commenting. Congrats on your book–that’s great news. People either seem to love or hate Korean food–as you can guess, I love it. Please get in touch if you read my book–would love to hear your comments. Best, Sybil

  3. So sorry to have missed Sybil’s author visit back in June. I was off-line for half of June on Cape Cod when this came in. I’ve so enjoyed Sybil’s two books of fiction “Talismans” and “Into This World” and had the great honor to review them both. Cynthia, if any of your readers wish to read more about Sybils’ work, please visit the following links…
    http://contrarymagazine.com/2011/talismans-sybil-baker/
    http://www.newpages.com/bookreviews/archive/2012/06-01/#Into-This-World-by-Sybil-Baker

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