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 Matthew Limpede.
I wake up at 11 a.m. It’s not a Saturday, not even a lazy Sunday. It’s Monday, and while the rest of the world was waking with the sunrise, that’s about the time I finally fell asleep. I’ve been wrestling with insomnia for the past week, a symptom of my yearly struggle with seasonal affective disorder, and already half my day has fallen victim.
But I’m not late for a classroom visit later today at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. TCU is about a forty-minute drive, and we’ve been in the throes of an unusually long cold snap here in DFW. Another wave of wintry precipitation moved in overnight. I’m curious if the roads are going to be as bad as the weathermen predicted.
Before leaving, I spend a couple hours prepping for the visit. I look over my notes, print out pages for an activity, and load up different literary magazines in a box: McSweeney’s, One Story, Missouri Review, Zoetrope, Crazyhorse, ellipsis…, Southwest Review, and of course, plenty of copies of Carve. This is an undergraduate Advanced Fiction class I’m visiting, and it’s a safe bet most or all of them have not yet held a literary magazine in their hands. I get a little thrill thinking about that, knowing this one classroom visit could alter their path ahead, their dreams, their goals. It’s one thing to write, yes, but most writers want their work to be read. As an editor, I’m fortunate enough to experience that excitement of publication and recognition over and over with new authors every issue. Sometimes I wonder if I let my own writing rest on the back burner too often, subsisting on the excitement of publishing someone else.
I finish up, answer a few emails, groan at my never-ending to-do list (otherwise known as my “things I’ll procrastinate today” list), and have some leftovers for breakfast/lunch. It’s about time to leave, so I take a glance outside. The precipitation is non-existent. Another overblown forecast of dire wintry weather—a yearly habit of North Texas weathermen. But who can blame them? We rarely get snow; they must always be wanting.
Predictably, I listen to NPR on the drive. There’s some traffic, so I get more than an earful about the nuclear accord with Iran and the U.S. Hearing news about faraway places always makes me feel small, but I like being humbled.
Despite the traffic, I arrive on time, wander the TCU campus—lots of purple banners about football—and find Matthew Pitt’s office. He’s the professor of the class and author of Attention Please Now, a collection of stories. He invited me to do this classroom visit last spring when we met. Matt is friendly, generous, and a damn good writer too. He offers me a mini-Snickers and I love anything with chocolate, so of course I accept and devour it. Another symptom of my seasonal affliction: I always crave carbs and sweets.
The presentation goes smoothly, though I ramble as usual. The students look through the magazines, listen attentively, and some even take notes. (Overachievers! I was one of them.) We read through sample submissions, stopping after page one to discuss if we want to keep reading. I’m trying to get them to see the importance of a good opening, a strong voice, clear imagery and crisp characters. I stress the need to revise, revise, revise. I talk about being a good literary citizen and finding a community, balancing work with writing. At the end, some linger after class to ask questions and inquire about internships with the magazine. Seeing the eagerness in their faces, I feel so grateful for this experience and opportunity, to educate and prepare them for both the hardships and joys of the writer life.
Afterwards, I meet with a friend who works in the Athletics department of the university. We pick up his boyfriend-turned-fiancé (they just got engaged last week), and the three of us go to dinner at a local “restaurant classic” that has a friendly wait staff and down-home vibe. I enjoy watching my friends interact, their banter and playfulness. They tell me the story of how they met, how the proposal went, where they want to have the wedding. They’re both true southern boys, and they have the charm to show for it, all smiles and winks and polite manners.
It’s eight o’clock when I get home, and even though I only woke up nine hours earlier, I’m tired. Another symptom—I mostly just want to hibernate. But tonight, I’m banning myself from electronics after ten p.m. in hopes of kicking the cycle of insomnia and tiredness. (There was something on NPR about the glow of a screen activating melatonin and disrupting circadian sleep cycles.) I admit it: I’m slightly addicted to my electronics, especially after dark.
At first, I have to resist the urge to nap. I do some work, answer more emails. That glow from my laptop does wake me up. But I’m off by ten to shower. Showering is now my favorite part of the day thanks to a ridiculous birthday gift that I unabashedly love: an LED showerhead that changes color based on the temperature. It feels like I’m showering on a spaceship, and for a few minutes, I forget all about the cold winter outside.
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?
- Faith by Jennifer Haigh is a terrific character study, and quite suspenseful since there’s a pervasive mystery that isn’t resolved until nearly the end. I chose it because I teach a private, in-home creative writing workshop, and I wanted to assign them a book that focuses on characters and writing from different points-of-view. The book is in first person, but Haigh expertly and deftly gets away with telling the story from other characters’ perspectives.
2. Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?
- It’s okay to hate your first draft and feel like it’s the worst thing you’ve ever written. Just getting the story on the page is what’s important. Shaping and revising—that’s usually where the magic is for me.
3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?
- I tend to binge. When I read or write, I like to do so in long stretches of uninterrupted time. This might be why I prefer short stories because with novels I can’t control myself and stop reading. I read Faith in two days. With writing, it’s the same. I like to get in that zone where you lose track of time and forget to shower and eat. Not surprisingly, that’s probably a huge reason why I’m not as productive with my writing as I should be! One of these days I’ll learn to just write a little bit each day.