How We Spend Our Days: Darrelyn Saloom

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 Darrelyn Saloom:

I awaken to a crash, no doubt the cat. She’s managed to leap onto a tiny bookcase, knock down an antique inkwell, and flee under my bed. Her mission accomplished, I jump up to inspect the heirloom. It’s unbroken but has left a small dent in the soft pine floor where it landed.

Sunshine peeks through bedroom curtains, but the naked floorboards are cold. I slip on a pair of socks, put on the kettle, and comfort my traumatized alarm cat. She follows me onto the back deck where I watch my husband push a wheelbarrow from horse stalls to barn. Then I hear the tractor crank up, and the morning is mine for writing after I walk the dog.

My once-stray pooch has no eyes, but she hears me coming and does a little barn dance. We follow a long fence where Eastern bluebirds are lined up to perform their daily ballet. As we clip toward them, the first bird flutters to the end of the row and poses, then the second virtuoso mirrors the first, and on and on until we venture too close and they fly away.

On the ground, a large shadow rushes past me from overhead, and I know it’s the red-tailed hawk that greets me most mornings. I look up and watch him glide on a current of wind. On the way back to the house, the bluebirds have returned to repeat their choreographed recital. Nature’s rhythms surround me, yet I struggle to find my own.

I’ve studied writer-warrior handbooks to inspire a habitual work routine, but they’ve yet to recruit me. Every time I try to march to their beat, I step on my toes. I’ve outlined work schedules, and then my plan goes awry.

I have a blog deadline and a story to edit for a friend. But as soon as I open a Word document, my mother calls. She is short of breath and dizzy, so I shut down my computer and drive to her townhouse, a short distance from the farm.

My mother’s days are winding down. She knows it. And I know it. So we sit and watch a rerun of Everybody Loves Raymond. Then I fix her a pimento cheese sandwich. She seems to feel better after she eats, but Raymond and Debra are making their wills (the worst possible episode to put her at ease).

So I sit through another Raymond and two Golden Girls. It’s four in the afternoon when I return to the farmhouse. I’m no longer in the mood to write, so I check my e-mail and gasp. I answer the most urgent messages, mosey over to a few favorite blogs, and then share them on Twitter. By the time I finish, the sun is sinking low. So I walk my dog again and snap a picture of the sunset to post on Facebook.

On this day, my time for writing comes late. My husband is tuning a guitar in the loft, so I finish the blog post. Then I open my pal’s Word document, and I’m swept away by his prose. He’s written a true story of meeting a woman who wrote about the Sioux Indians. She advises him not to “play” Indian but to be himself.

Her wisdom settles on me. I realize my friend is no more an Indian than I am a bird or a disciplined writer warrior. I am a writer but also a daughter, a wife, a mother, a grandmother. I work best when I allow the rhythm of my days to ebb and flow.

Today, I danced with my mother. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. At this moment, the horses are asleep in their stalls; the dog has stopped barking in the barn, the cat is snoring at the end of my bed. My husband riffs his guitar. It’s after midnight. And it’s a good time for catching days on the page.

~

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 sometimes write for Tweetspeak Poetry and have struck up a friendship with the managing editor L.L. Barkat. She asked me to read her debut novella called The Novelist. It’s a lovely story about a woman named Laura who is encouraged to write a novel by a friend on Twitter. Laura begins by typing ‘The End,” which I thought was brilliant. But what surprised me was how much I enjoyed Barkat’s passive voice. Perhaps it’s because I just finished years of work on a boxing memoir. The active voice works well in boxing scenes, so I enjoyed sinking into my pillow as I read Barkat’s rich sentence constructions as she weaved poems into prose and enhanced her narrator’s voice with a proclivity for rule-breaking passive verbs.

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

  • Find your rhythm and write as often as you can. But don’t feel guilty if you miss days of writing because you are taking care of loved ones. Writers are always composing in their heads anyway. It doesn’t matter if you sit at a desk at the same time every morning, walk the dog ten times a day, or watch episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond with your mother. Live your life to the fullest. Just keep a notebook handy, especially when you spend time with your mother.

3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?

  • If reading every day is odd, that would be it. My strangest writing habit is that I don’t have a set work routine. But when time allows, I become obsessed with whatever I’m working on and can stay up most of the night, then wake up early and write in bed until I have to feed the cat and walk the dog. When I fall into writer mode, my husband often has to pry my fingers from the keyboard and force-feed me. When he’s not around, I sustain on cereal, salted cashews, chocolate, and endless cups of hot tea.

.

By Darrelyn Saloom:

32 thoughts on “How We Spend Our Days: Darrelyn Saloom

  1. Pingback: Rhythms of Writing | Darrelyn Saloom

  2. I loved this story Darrelyn, though it was made bittersweet by the knowledge that your mother suffered a stroke just after you wrote it. Sending prayers for her highest and greatest good, and for strength to lead you through this difficult time.

  3. Darrelyn, when I read your words, I just want to sink down into my red leather chair, look straight out through the wall of windows ahead, and gaze upon the hills. Today those Allegheny mountains have snow on top even though the valley below is green and gold. Over the mountains, there’s 1-3 feet of snow. The rhythm of my day is likely quite different from those shoveling out.

    I am awaiting the birth of my first granddaughter. She’s due to arrive Monday. Her parents need to get to Manhattan from Brooklyn when she starts knocking on the door.

    You are in a hospital room, standing by your mother, feeling the rhythm of life at the other end. I wonder, though, how much different it is, the push into this world, the pull out of it.

    And thank you for writing for this lovely blog. It’s been far too long since I visited here.

    I feel vindicated in following my own rhythm of caregiver first, writer second. And I send you many, many blessings on your day. And all the ones to come.

    • Congratulations on your soon-to-be-born granddaughter, Shirley. Hope your family makes it into Manhattan from Brooklyn with all the chaos of the storm.

      I’m sure I’ll be thinking of your words in the days to come and pondering the difference between “the push into this world” and “the pull out of it.” Knowing my mama, she will fight hard to stay here.

      So glad you enjoyed reading my piece and visiting Cynthia’s lovely blog. And thank you for the many blessings and for taking the time to leave a comment. Please keep me posted on the new baby girl.

  4. My heart is with you, girl. I spent ten years taking care of my mother, three of them very intense. I was always chasing an ambulance or running in a panic towards some emergency. I slept with my cell phone in my hands, just in case. My writing had just enjoyed a surge, and I was on my way. But when it came to my mother, there wasn’t the time or energy or anything but her. Twelve years later, I’m starting over again without a single regret. As you say, we’re always taking notes, or in my case, observing and soaking up the people around me, around her, around the circumstances.

    Annie Dillard has always been one of my favorites. She has such a child-like wonder in her exploration of the world around her. The words you’ve quoted have haunted me since I first read them. When my mother (and both of my in-laws) were failing, I was tempted towards believing I wasn’t committed to my writing, I didn’t have my priorities straight, that I was giving too much of myself, and spending too much of what I had to offer on the wrong things without any pattern I could rely on. Looking back, I now see that I was spending my days with loyalty, love, compassion, dedication, and a will that would not give up or break down. It’s how I spend my days now with my writing. I’m just as loyal to my writing now as I was to my mother then. Not a day was wasted or a bad habit put in place, just a different expression of how those days, and my life, are spent.

    You’re spending the currency of your time the way you always will, and you will always have a heart drawn to the place where love and patience is needed. Whether it’s an active or passive voice, you’ll flow through it with dedication to the caprice of creation and the graceful closing of chapters.

    Much love to you and your mama. Much love to you and your writing. If you’re taking as much care with her as you take with your words, it’s all going to work out as sure as the seasons.

    • Such a lovely comment, Cyd. I appreciate your love, kindness, and kinship in writing and family. It helps to know you made it though so many years of caretaking. I hope I find the strength you did.

  5. So nice to read these rich comments; you are striking a chord with us…

    On the act of writing, two of my favorite lines here, Darrelyn, are these: “I’ve studied writer-warrior handbooks to inspire a habitual work routine, but they’ve yet to recruit me.” And “Find your rhythm and write as often as you can. But don’t feel guilty if you miss days of writing because you are taking care of loved ones.” I love the reality of all the roles you play. Of all the roles each of us plays in life. When we have rich lives, we are apt to play so many roles…

    And I love how you blast away this oft-believed thought that writers must work on some kind of daily schedule and crank out a certain number of pages. As you so eloquently point out, when the Muse strikes, she doesn’t let go. You are in for whatever She brings–whether it’s a sleepless night or wandering daydreams. Whatever. And you can’t schedule that.

    And what gorgeous photos!

  6. Family is surely important, but a mother has a very different place in the heart. You are so lucky you can stand by her side and I’m sure she’s very happy for that. Much love to you both.

  7. Simply and beautifully written. Prose given a poetic turn. Our days are filled with the mundane and most days I miss what is important and lovely throughout. I’m so sorry about what happened to your mother.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Sally. I’m so glad you stopped by to read and leave a comment. As soon as Mama is feeling better, let’s have dinner and a few glasses of wine. I’ve actually passed the hosptial’s chapel the past few days and wished it were a bar. Need sleep.

      • I hope your mother is doing well enough that it’s okay to say that the sentence below is one hell of a sentence–the first line of a story or novel for sure.
        I’ve actually passed the hosptial’s chapel the past few days and wished it were a bar.

        Hope you get some good sleep soon.

  8. Just got power back last night so coming to this today. This is absolutely beautiful and I agree with what Cyd says above. It’s all about “loyalty, love, compassion, dedication, and a will that would not give up or break down.” I believe we wouldn’t be able to produce beautiful, heartfelt writing such as yours if this were not the case. Best wishes, good thoughts, and prayers coming to you and your mother, Darrelyn.

    • Thank you, Sophfronia, for the kind words, good wishes, thoughts, and prayers. You are such a sweetheart. So glad your power is back on. Btw, any strength I have comes from my mother. On Sunday, she could not put two words together and they sounded like an unknown language. Today, she has regained her speech and just read the paper.

  9. Beautiful and heartbreaking, Darrelyn.

    My prayers are with you as you care for Mama. My hope is when you are able to write about it, your words will help heal your heart. I wish I could be with you both to catch the rest of her days.

    I appreciate your wise advice about writing. As a new mom again, I have paid my journal scant attention. I don’t even have time to pretend I’m a warrior. I’m too busy being a worrier.

    I’ve never forgotten an image of you from a previous piece. You were a young mother, huddled in your car to steal a few moments to write. I know there is hope for me, thanks to you.

    Love & prayers,

  10. Thanks, Jenny. I love your comment as a new mom “I don’t even have time to pretend I’m a warrior. I’m too busy being a worrier.” Enjoy the tender years. But do keep your journal handy. A few lines can spark memories when you do find the time to write.

  11. Darrelyn, this is beautiful. I think your easy-going, go-with-the-flow way IS your writing style, and I love it! Thank you!
    Love,
    Cindy Bullion

  12. Darrelyn,

    I know it is not chance that we met on a plane months ago. I am inspired and soothed by your words. You and your mother are in my thoughts. Take care!

    • Hey, Edie. I remember, and I’m thrilled to hear from you. It’s so nice to know you can meet someone in an airport and not lose touch. Glad you enjoyed the piece. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment.

  13. I loved reading your post and catching a glimpse of how a typical day unfolds for you, which is anything but typical. I’m also delighted to know someone else wakes up by “alarm pet.” If you ask me, it’s the best way to start the day even though these particular alarms can’t be reset to accommodate time changes. I actually think this is a good thing and the lack of that feature helps keep one in practice and ready for the unexpected. Writers need to be flexible. Especially those who play multiple roles that require more of us at different times. “Writers are always composing in their heads anyway.” So true. Your words have filled my heart with longing for my own mother toward the end of her life when we were still able to clink our wine glasses together and wink at each other like we always did over a glass of wine. If I could have one more silly afternoon toast with my mother I wouldn’t even complain about sitting through her favorite television show, “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.” Thank you for reminding me of those sweet memories. And for reminding us all that the writing will be there when the dance is over.

    • Mama doesn’t drink wine. And I’ve been longing for a glass for eight days (yes, I’m counting). The last I had was with you after the book festival. Yikes! That was nine days ago. We have some catching up to do.

      Happy to spark a memory of a “silly afternoon toast” with your mother. Love that you exchanged winks.

  14. Coming to this a bit late this month and so glad I chose today to read it, when I need a reminder to go easy on myself when caring for others takes over time at the keyboard. At first, thought my favorite line would be this: “I’ve studied writer-warrior handbooks to inspire a habitual work routine, but they’ve yet to recruit me. Every time I try to march to their beat, I step on my toes.” But I realized I was already hooked into favorites with your depiction of the world of animals that surround you, so I knew that your kind of boot camp had to do with the world outside of yourself, and that world led you back to the page. The post itself is a stunning piece of lyrical prose, both active and poetic. I am going back to read it again. There is just one thing, though, do you make your own cup of coffee in the morning? Because it’s a toss up for me now whether I’d rather have the husband that brews or mucks while I’m still in my PJs. (wink)

    • Too funny, Jodi. No, I brew tea in the morning. My husband is the coffee drinker, and he makes his own. Now that our children are grown, he mucks the stalls, does his own laundry, and helps with the cooking. For those reasons, I’ll give him a pass on not serving me tea in bed. It does sound nice though.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the piece. And ever happier you left a comment. I always love hearing from you.

  15. Pingback: five-year celebration: my readers | catching days

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