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 JOY CASTRO.
I woke up, fooled around on Twitter, answered some work e-mails about the Institute for Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (which I currently direct), thought about my novel in progress, drank a little too much coffee, sent two thank-you notes (I’m big on thank-yous), got dressed in professional clothes, and walked to the university campus, where I met for an hour with two senior professors in order to beg one of them to chair a search committee for a new tenure-track hire we’re doing. It was very hot out, so I endeavored not to sweat on him.
Then I sat in our English department’s lounge for an hour, catching up on work e-mail, admiring the extremely well tended plants, and chatting with folks who came by. I checked to see if anyone else had entered the Goodreads giveaway of my forthcoming book of short stories and then totally loved that sole person.
I walked to a local coffee shop and had coffee with a friend who owns an independent bookstore, and we discussed whether a print-on-demand machine would be financially viable here. Actually, my friend had coffee, and I ate some veggies and hummus and drank one of those fruit-filled drinks that promises to shove vitamin C into all your cells, because I had missed lunch while meeting about the tenure-track hire.
Afterwards, I walked home to my apartment, where I met my son, who’s twenty-six and also lives in Lincoln, to work on a translation project. First we had a chat about his desire to quit his job and busk on street corners. When he raises this notion, I always try not to think about how much we paid for college and to just be a supportive mom who loves art and believes in dreams.
We worked a little on the translation we’re doing together of MIS RECUERDOS, a memoir by his great-great-grandfather, my great-grandfather, Juan Pérez Rolo, about coming from Havana on a ship to Key West in 1869, when he was just a little boy, and then becoming part of the Cuban community on the island. My son’s Spanish is much, much better than mine, and it’s fun to have an intellectual and literary project to work on together. Juan Pérez Rolo’s style is strangely flowery and nineteenth-century: “Oh, sad memories! I would desire to have the pen of a Sanguily or of a Piñeyro, to pour into these pages all of the feeling that seizes my soul when I think that so many years have elapsed and I haven’t been able to live in the blessed and so beloved land, for which I suffer and which I love so much!” It’s cool to think that people in our family have been writing for a long time now, and also that we’re politically malcontent as a rule.
Then my husband came home from work, our son departed, and my husband and I went to get haircuts from our very accommodating stylist, who’s willing to do appointments at 7:30 in the evening. Then we went out for a late dinner, talked through the new structure I’ve developed for the middle section of the novel I’m currently working on—he’s always been a terrific editor and sounding board—and argued a little. We always argue quietly and discreetly, but I bet the waiters can tell. (I always could, when I waited tables—not that I cared.) We continued arguing on the drive home, made up, and went to bed. For people who’ve been married happily for twenty years, we still argue quite a lot.
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’m currently wild for Elena Ferrante, and recently I’ve read the first two books, My Brilliant Friend and The Story of a New Name, in her Neapolitan tetralogy. I’ve been recommending them to everyone, especially my own brilliant women friends. Not only do they provide an intimately written description of a female friendship, clear as life, but together they form a female Künstlerroman, a woman’s story of coming of age as an artist in a male-dominated world, and we still don’t have enough of those. I actually don’t remember how I chose it. I think I was impressed by Ferrante’s reclusiveness and refusal to engage social media and so on, and also the fact that critics like Charles Finch, whose taste I trust, had been recommending her.
2. Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?
- Be happy with small. Some days you can only write a little. Some days you can’t write at all. Leisure, class, and the absence of family responsibilities have a great deal to do with who manages to find time to write every day. I was a no-book writer for several years, and then a one-book writer for several more. Don’t flagellate yourself if you’re not one of the lucky ones. Do what you can, and persist.
3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?
- It’s not really that strange—Edith Wharton got there first, as did probably many others—but to draft my two novels, I wrote in bed upon waking up every morning. I didn’t talk to anyone or check e-mail; I just wrote (longhand, in a notebook) until I’d completed a chapter each day. Then I got up and did my life. I wrote both books that way. Emerging from dreams right into writing works well for me. It’s efficient, since there’s no transition time between daily mind and dreamy writing mind. Plus, it keeps me from procrastinating. And finally, having to type in the longhand manuscript forces and front-loads a lot of the editing, because I am, at root, extremely lazy. If there’s a weak sentence or phrase or paragraph, it just doesn’t get typed. Why waste the effort?
By Joy Castro