Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” On the first of each month, beginning today, Catching Days will host a guest writer. To inaugurate this monthly series, “How We Spend Our Days,” please welcome writer Pam Houston:
The day begins at first light when my youngest wolfhound, Liam, sings a song. He throws back his head and howls to greet the day. It sounds a little like a donkey and a little like an elephant. Sometimes Fenton and Mary Ellen sing along with him. Mary Ellen’s singing is second soprano, and Fenton’s is practically falsetto. They sing for about five minutes, and I am grateful the nearest house is more than a mile away. Sometimes I can go back to sleep but more often than not I get up, and read to ease into the day. This week it was Margaret Atwood’s new one, another review for Oprah. The Year of The Flood….a dystopian future where everything is screwed up all thanks to men and their penises. Very droll in Atwood fashion. Incredible world building.
Greg gets up and makes coffee, this week it is Sumatra Mandheling ordered especially from Stumptown in Portland, and he makes our protein powder and goat yoghurt and banana concoction, which at first I resisted, but now I love. I look at email, give Mary Ellen her daily pain pill (she only has three legs) give good morning pets to all the pets and dog cookies likewise. I take Deseo (the diabetic pasofino) a pear with three chromium picolante pills stuck inside, and a carrot each for Roany and the Yellow Horse.
After coffee we take the boys (Fenton and Liam) on a walk to the end of the pasture, over the fence and onto the National Forest, up to the top of Lime Creek and back home, about two hours round trip. There is usually a load of laundry to do, before the thunderstorms boom up in the late afternoon (no dryer here at the ranch, so clothes get hung outside on the line.) We have a little lunch, usually leftovers from the night before, or, if there are none, a bowl of instant mashed potatoes or peanut butter and sour cherry jam on a spoon.
The afternoon is work time, which means working on my novel, or writing a review for Oprah, or critiquing manuscripts, or writing an essay for an anthology (or a blog) or whatever else is on the docket for any given day. Some days there is a late afternoon trip to town for mail, or milk, or a fishing license, or a trip to the vet for shots, or a torn ear, or clogged anal glands. The Rockies come on TV sometime between 5 and 8, depending on what coast they are on, and they are ubiquitous in this house on a summer evening. Dinner is the one meal I throw myself into, and it is usually fairly elaborate and fresh and full of whole food/no short cut ingredients. A Thai curry with eggplant and scallops, or a duck with mango ginger sauce, or buffalo steaks with cauliflower mash and sweet corn. So a couple of hours in the kitchen with the Rockies on in the background is my idea of a perfect summer evening. Sometimes we take a nightfall walk, sometimes a nightfall bath. Sometimes we play some chickenfoot dominoes. We usually take books to bed and read a little, and close our eyes until it is time for Liam to sing again.
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?
- Mary Gaitskill’s Don’t Cry. It was chosen for me by Pat Towers, my editor at Oprah, but if it had not been chosen for me, I would have read it anyway.
2. Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?
- I must defer to Henry James, “A writer ought to strive to be a person on whom nothing is lost.”
3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?
- Reading Sports Illustrated in the bath tub cover to cover every week.
Books by Pam Houston: