Margaret Atwood The Handmaid’s Tale Anchor paperback 1998 (1st pub 1985) On moving in and out of the present action: Frowning, she tears out three tokens and hands them to me. [13 paragraphs of backstory and interior monologue] I take … Continue reading
A friend of mine from long ago and far away drove thirty miles into Chicago, so we could visit, and so she could show me Ragdale, thirty miles outside of Chicago and a passion of hers. Grounds, buildings, rooms with … Continue reading
One thing I know for sure: I do not like large groups. Socializing sucks my brain cells and replaces them with that noise that used to come on TVs after a station had gone off the air. But talking to one … Continue reading
Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” On the first of each month, a guest writer shares how he or she spends the day.
April 1, 2012: William Lychack
Bill’s publicist at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt emailed to ask if she could send me a copy of his collection The Architect of Flowers. I had not read anything by him before. After the first story, I was hooked. More about the collection coming later in the month. For now, here’s the first paragraph of that first story, “Stolpestad”:
Was toward the end of your shift, a Saturday, another one of those long slow lazy afternoons of summer–sun never burning through the clouds, clouds never breaking into rain–odometer like a clock ticking all those bored little pent-up streets and mills and tenements away. The coffee shops, the liquor stores, the laundromats, the police and fire and gas stations to pass–this is your life, Stolpestad–all the turns you could make in your sleep, the brickwork and shop fronts and river with its stink of carp and chokeweed, the hills swinging up free from town, all momentum and mood, roads smooth and empty, this big blue hum of cruiser past houses and lawns and long screens of trees, trees cutting open to farms and fields all contoured and high with corn, air thick and silvery, as if something was on fire somewhere–still with us?
Bill is the author of a novel, The Wasp Eater, and his work has appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize, and on This American Life.
Come back on April 1st to read how William Lychack spends his days.
*The next writer in the series is announced on the 8th of each month so you can read ahead!
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 Ann Hood:
Fresh off a ten-day book tour, I start today happily at home, which means at 6:30 in the morning my seven-year-old daughter Annabelle is climbing into bed with me and working very hard to wake me up. My husband Lorne is already making a giant pot of coffee and collecting the New York Times–the two things I need before I actually get up. Both delivered, Annabelle and I catch up.
She wants to know what my two favorite subjects were when I was in second grade. I tell her Reading and Geography. This leads to a detailed discussion on what exactly Geography is. I try to explain while I work on that pot of coffee. Her two favorite subjects are Math and Science, she tells me. Annabelle goes to a French-American School. She started when she was three, and it’s total immersion French, so she can speak French fluently. When the topic turns to least favorite subjects, she says hers are Spelling in French and Reading in French. “I like to spell and read in English though,” she says. Now it’s my turn, and I admit that my least favorite subject was Math, which we called arithmetic. The memory of that grayish rectangle of paper smudged with all my erasure marks makes me shudder even now. And then I tell her my second least favorite was gym because I always got picked last for teams. “Me too!” she says happily. “I like that. Then I get to know exactly who is on my team because they’re already chosen.” This weird logic sends me into the newspaper and her to Tom and Jerry. Lorne comes in to say goodbye, and we make our evening plans for dinner–at home, at seven.
Annabelle’s school is three blocks from our house, but I always get her there late. Today is no different. The laundry is done but still in the basket, so I have to claw through it to find her clothes. Then I run downstairs, feed our Bichon Zuzu, make Annabelle a scrambled egg and toast, let the dog out, deliver Annabelle’s breakfast, run back downstairs, and let the yapping dog in (new neighbors complain about Zuzu frequently). Then I make Annabelle’s lunch for school. They have a no peanut butter policy. She hates turkey, ham, and roast beef. So lunch is a challenge. Today I make her a cucumber and butter sandwich and cut it into a heart shape. Sliced strawberries. A chocolate heart. Getting in the Valentine spirit!
As usual, we’re about ten minutes late. We can’t find her favorite raspberry suede boots, but finally we do and I drop her off and race to the post office. My son Sam is a freshman at Ithaca College, studying Acting, and every Monday I send him a package. Today’s has mechanical pencils and a coat hook for the back of his door (his requests); two articles from the NYT about new shows coming to Broadway; a New Yorker cartoon about TinTin (Sam’s childhood favorite); and a stash of cough drops, gum and Airborne. I also have to mail receipts from the book tour, signed contracts for the Italian edition of The Knitting Circle; and two notes to friends who have recently lost family members.
Now I’m late for my breakfast with my friend Sharon, so I text her to let her know and then drive across town to Julian’s, our weekly breakfast place. Sharon’s daughter Isabella and Sam were best friends all through school, since they were three. Sharon and I trade books, advice, complaints, and laughs. This week she has read the manuscript for my new novel, The Obituary Writer, which is scheduled to be published March 2013, and she’s going to give me a critique. I get ham and eggs and more coffee and we talk about the manuscript for most of the breakfast.
On the way home, I check in by phone with my eighty-year-old mother, and Sam calls to be sure I sent the pencils. I wonder why they don’t sell pencils at Ithaca College, but tell him they are on the way.
At home, I tweak the manuscript based on Sharon’s comments. I like to write in bed, laptop on my lap, TV on. So that’s how I finish the revisions, and then I send the manuscript off to my editor and CC my agent. My editor comes right back with a copy of the cover, which is gorgeous. We all three gush over it via email.
Last year, a blue dot appeared in the upper right corner of my Mac Book, and it has been slowly spreading across my computer screen until I no longer can see the time, half the tool bar, and some of the side margins. But I didn’t want to change computers until my revisions were done. As soon as they are sent off, I head to the Apple store at the Providence Place Mall and buy a Mac Air. I have to leave the old one so they can transfer the data, leaving me computer-less. That means I can’t work anymore today, so I shop for Valentine’s gifts for Annabelle and Lorne. I get him red and white socks and her a blue shirt with colorful hearts on the front. For me: Betsey Johnson pink striped tights to wear Valentine’s night with my favorite gray sweater dress—we are going with a gang to Boston to see a Bruins game.
I spend the rest of the afternoon before I pick up Annabelle cooking: miniature blueberry crumb cakes to take to my mother and my godmother on Valentine’s Day (and some for us too) and a double batch of lentil soup, half for dinner and half to freeze. Zuzu and I go for a walk and I have just enough time to collect all the yeses I’ve received from writers to contribute to an anthology I’m putting together on writers writing about knitting. So far I have a dozen. I also play with ideas for titles: WHAT WE WRITE ABOUT WHEN WE WRITE ABOUT KNITTING or PURLS.
By now it’s time to get Annabelle. She always says her day was GREAT! Today is no exception. We settle in at the kitchen table with a bowl of strawberries and work on the valentines for her class. This takes forever. Then she does her homework, which includes me quizzing her on her French spelling test. My accent is terrible, and she doesn’t know what I’m asking her. This also takes forever.
Finally, we’re about forty-five minutes from dinner and finished with everything. I sit down in my favorite chair in what we call the fancy living room and work on the hot pink cowl I’m knitting, listening to William Maxwell read his book SO LONG, SEE YOU TOMORROW on an audio book. Annabelle is in the playroom ordering her stuffed animals around.
Lorne comes home around seven. I open some Malbec, and we all eat soup and bread. Annabelle’s bedtime is 8:30, but somehow—big surprise!—we’re running late. By the time she’s in her pajamas it’s already 9:00. Lorne and I are trying to decide whether to watch Downton Abbey or the new TV show Smash. But Annabelle wants to read us a Dr. Seuss book we’ve never heard of about a Lorax. We all climb into our bed, she starts to read, and the next thing I know it’s the next morning, and Annabelle is wishing me a Happy Valentine’s Day. I feel asleep while she was reading!
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 think TEN THOUSAND SAINTS. The writer teaches at Ithaca College, where my son Sam goes, and I heard about it during Parents Weekend back in November. Then I saw it was picked on of the ten best books of the year by the NYT. I finally got around to reading it in January and it is just terrific.
2. Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?
- Read! Read everything out there!
3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?
- Well, I write in bed with the TV on…
By Ann Hood: