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 Bruce Machart:
For the past seven years, I have lived a tad more than 1800 miles from the woman about whom I care most, my fiancée Marya. This is not the set-up of some lame, testosterone-laden joke in which the success of a relationship is attributed to distance. The time zones between us are most assuredly not the reason why we are still together. Rather, that distance was the elephant in the room (in the hemisphere?) for years. Now, we are quite vocal in our loathing of this damned pachyderm. But the facts remain the facts: I have a job and a child in Houston, Texas, and Marya has a job and two kids on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Simply put, I have two homes.
After three hours of cramped, shuddering air travel, I flinch as the plane slams its tires down onto the runway and taxis to the gate. When I turn on my cell phone, the thing sounds like a carnival on amphetamines. I have voicemail. I have text messages. I have email. If the damned thing could tell me that I have a bad case of self-consciousness, I’m sure it would. Before I disembark, I find the messages I am looking for–one from Marya, welcoming me “home,” as she always does, and one from my older brother, Chris, who has flown with his wife to Boston for the first time. The plan is this: Chris and his wife will sightsee in Boston for the day; I will take all the luggage via commuter rail up to Marya’s house; Marya will finish work and then meet me there. Later that night, Marya’s parents will arrive. Tomorrow, my editor will come to town from NYC, and we will celebrate with three or four dozen friends and neighbors at the publication party for my novel.
But now, after the crush of bodies on the T, and after hugging my brother the way I was taught, so many years back, by that wonderful Philip Levine poem, I’m once again traveling on my own. I’m on the commuter rail. God, how I love trains. The conductor announces each stop, and I lean my head against the window as the world works its way by, thinking, as I do, about the character in my novel who leans his head against the window on his way out of harm’s way.
I am in Boston. Then I am in Chelsea. Then Lynn…then Salem…North Beverly…but I am a hundred years back in time, living the life of a young man who never breathed air as a human being except within the pages of my book, except within the heartwood of my imagination. In the next three weeks, I will give more than a dozen readings in more than ten cities. I will meet and greet and read and teach, and I will call Marya and say, “I miss you, love,” and she will be strong, and she will wish that she could see what I see, hear what I hear, feel what I feel. And I will miss her all the more for her empathy and for her patience, for the myriad desires for which I can offer no immediate satisfaction.
But that is all in the future. Right now, I am a man on a train. I am going to see my beloved. I am a novelist. I am a father. There are people in the world, most of whom I will never meet, turning the pages of my book. Some of them will feel compelled to pass judgement on what they find inside. Some will print those judgements in newspapers or on blogs. Some will love the book, and others will hate it, and it’s unsettling for me that, most of the time this happens, I will have no idea whatsoever that it is happening.
Outside, the leaves are turning to show their favors to the earthbound before they flutter with their helpless, final fanfare to the earth. The windowglass is cold against my temple. And then the train lurches into a short tunnel, and when I emerge from the darkness…it will only take seconds…I will know, with an unexpected thrill and novelty, that I am exactly where I am meant to be. I am home.
- Peter Geye’s Safe From the Sea, which I’m actually right in the middle of right now, but I can already tell that this is a special book. Lyrical, loaded with compassion for its characters, one of which is this arresting, dangerously alluring coast of Lake Superior. This is a gripping wonder of a book.
2.Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?
- Description is transient, not static. We don’t look AT things. We look from one thing to the next.
3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?
- I’ve never written a full rough draft of anything in my life. I revise every day, page by page, as I move forward. It’s a terrible, inefficient way to go about it, but it’s the only way I know how.
By Bruce Machart: