How We Spend Our Days: Christopher Castellani

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 Christopher Castellani:

christopher castellani lookingupnewtonvilleToday was a perfect day. If I’m lucky, I get a few of these a month.

My partner, Michael, always wakes before me. His voice is the first thing I hear. He stands in the bedroom doorway, freshly showered, checking his clothes in the mirror. He dresses better than I do: a shirt with cool threading, interesting shoes. He comes over, kisses me, tucks me in. It’s always a surprise how good that feels, how it fills the next half-hour with peace. I’m conscious of another goodbye kiss, but when the alarm goes off he’s gone and my first thought is: what will I work on today? My second: what will we have for dinner?

First, logistics must be managed. I drink a big glass of water because the sign in the waiting room of my doctor’s office says that’s the first thing a person should do upon waking. I shave my head, get clean, moisturize. Our house–a dramatic parlor level condo in the South End of Boston–is kept very neat, but not by me, so I try not to make too many crumbs as I eat my breakfast and pack my lunch and deal with my clothes, but I fail at this because I’m rushed and never notice crumbs or spills or stray socks on the floor even when they’re right in front of me.

By 9:00 I walk to the coffee shop around the corner, which charges $2.75 for a small cup of hot water poured slowly and lovingly over grounds. It’s more of a caress, really, what they do to those grounds. It makes me so happy I almost don’t mind the $2.75. I find a table in the atrium next to an outlet, set up my laptop, and stumble through the dark alley of my new novel’s first chapter. Beside me is Tennessee Williams’s Memoirs, which I keep picking up for inspiration. When the barista isn’t looking, I’ll sneak a bite of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich I’ve hidden in my bag. Three and a half hours gets me a few potentially workable lines, some ideas I’ll likely shoot down tomorrow, and maybe half a scene.  I told you: a perfect day.

It’s exhilarating to watch the light come slowly through the cracks in the alley.

GrubStreetGroupI try to get to the Grub Street office, where I work as Artistic Director, by 1:00. My desk is by a window overlooking the Boston Common, and on this particularly chilly day everyone’s bundled up and walking fast and looking down. The marathon is next week, and I think how wretched it will be for the runners if the weather’s this bad. I also think how grateful I am never to have had the urge to join that race, and how happy I’ll be to have Monday off.

My fellow Grubbies and I are planning the upcoming literary conference, The Muse and the Marketplace, and though it’s more than two weeks away we’re already punchy. We’ve got over 700 writers to welcome, and the rest of the day is a blur of meetings, emails, schedule checks, and fires to put out. Everyone in this office is hilarious and smart and driven and generous; I feel such love for them, and for what we do, and for the process, that it brings out the worrier in me. How can I make sure it lasts?

At 6:00 I’m at the gym. I won’t spend $9 on a sandwich at the coffee shop, but I’ll pay a small fortune for a trainer to stand beside me while I torture myself. I’ve always been penny-wise and pound-foolish in most things.

ChrisandMichael4StoriesBy 8:00 I’m walking home, texting back and forth with Michael; neither of us is in the mood to cook, so we invite a friend to join us for dinner at the place on the corner. Somehow, having a friend with us makes dining out on a weekday less extravagant. Plus, the friend is  a writer with witty things to say; we’re discussing film and art and books; we’ll write it off. The dinner goes on for hours. I think, this is why people live in the city.

At home by 10:30, I call my parents, who live in Delaware.  It’s the last thing, and probably the most important thing, I do every night. Some nights we talk for close to an hour, gossiping, detailing the minutiae of our lives, arguing over family protocol. Other nights it’s a quick check-in to say, “You OK? Good. Me too,” and “I love you.”  If I don’t hear their voices, I won’t be able sleep. My father is 86, my mother 79. Some nights, they’re very very tired.  On this perfect night they are not.

Michael is always asleep before me.  Like right now, just past midnight. When I go in, turn on Rachel Maddow, prop the pillows and sit beside him, he’ll sense me there and wrap his arm around my waist.  We’ll keep very close.  I won’t pray. I won’t ask for anything more than this.




1. What is the best book you’ve read in the last few months and how did you choose it?

  • I just read Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal, after many years of seeing it on my shelf. I wanted to read a contemporary writer who paid serious attention to language and voice, and I was not disappointed.

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

  • Read everything. Read all the time. If you’re a fiction writer, read more poetry. If you’re a poet, read more fiction.

3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?

  • I’m afraid I’m about as conventional as they come. I read books my trusted friends suggest, and I treat my writing time like a part-time job I have to show up for even though I’m not getting paid.

By Christopher Castellani:

11 thoughts on “How We Spend Our Days: Christopher Castellani

  1. Christopher, you describe a lovely day, but more, I can tell from your post that you are a lovely person. Your partner, your colleagues, your friends, and then the phone call to your parents before you can go to sleep, my goodness, how I am moved. It’s poignant, too, the moment you write about the marathon, obviously written before the tragedy. I am brought to this sentiment: how Bostonians look to the race as an iconic measure of their lives, the coming of spring, and how that feeling will never be experienced in the same way it once was. And then, your parents, living their lives in Delaware, probably minutes away from mine, and how you love them so carefully from way up north, very touching. I look forward to meeting you Vermont this fall. And, Cynthia, I can’t wait for you to come, too, and spend time in our fair and leafy town.


  2. Christopher, I’m traveling with All This Talk of Love and am nearing the end (no spoiler alerts here). It’s the best novel I’ve read in ages. The details, the details, the details, so beautifully woven. My copy looks like my husband’s Daily Racing Form, marked up, underlined, notes scribbled everywhere. I am madly in love with Frankie and his family and can’t wait to read your other novels.

    Thank you for sharing your perfect day. And thank you Cynthia for hosting a new favorite writer.


  3. P.S. Meant to say “no spoilers here.” Also, Porter Anderson said Christopher and the Grub writers worked really hard during the Muse conference. Sounded like a great one. Sorry I missed it. Hope to make it next year. Let’s all go.


  4. I like how you take pleasure in the everyday joys of life, taking nothing for granted. It was eerie seeing the Boston Marathon reference before tragedy struck. Notes On a Scandal has been on my TBR list for years. I should read it.


  5. Jodi, Darrelyn, Richard, and Sarah–thanks so much for taking the time to leave such lovely comments. And yes, let’s all go to the Muse & the Marketplace next year!


  6. Good grief, Chris, could you possibly be more lovable? (Loveable? Suddenly, both spellings look correct.) Jodi Paloni is absolutely right. And the Muse was, yet again, a highlight of my year. Cynthia, delighted to have discovered your blog.


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