July 2019 . . . .

“A Day in the Life”

Of course hot coffee in July. Don’t even start with me. This is the definition of dexterity: I can fill the coffee pot with water from the tap without looking at the fill-line on the side of the pot. Eight cups exactly, based on the weight in my hand.

The day begins so early, a rapture of robins and mockingbirds vying for my auditory attention barely after false-dawn. Those moments when daylight wants to peer over its coverlet of clouds but then slips back to sleep. Who can tell the sun what it is supposed to do? I pad downstairs, boot my computer, push yesterday’s scrap paper into the recycling bag, strap on my wristwatch, find today’s ball-cap. The Mudcats. They’re having a rough season. When your pitchers are your parent club’s, nothing is certain, nothing reliable. You are a teacher in the third grade, thinking “this child is something, something . . .” but you will never see the results of that potential, never get to catch that fireball in your own glove.

Take the reader off of its charger. Flip to the most recently achieved page of Moby Dick. Carry it out to the porch. Wish again that there was a chaise longue out here, one with the nice cloth cushions that have to be brought in so they don’t get mildewed, and best conform to my lumpiness. Go back for the coffee, set the cup on the little table with the citronella lamp — not necessary at this time of day. Cars go by, people heading for the office, to the grocery store for milk or fresh muffins or some such. I’m not one of them. I’m reading a book I should have read in toto back when I was a shirt-tail lad, but, like so many things, it slipped past me (time and the book) while I was doing other stuff. Now I am of an age where the languorous pace of the prose, the attention to detail, the ’splanation of every little thing to the most absurd length and degree, pleases me greatly. I am in no hurry to finish this yarn (which I know, or think I do, already). When I finish it, sometime this summer, I will pull another dusty volume off the shelf (1001 Arabian Nights? Jane Eyre? War and Peace? Dubliners?) and plow those fields.

Observation: we hand out reading to youth like punishment. No wonder they don’t enjoy it. The world is full of things we do, and things we don’t. Reading shouldn’t end up one of those things we don’t do. Our humanity is in what we think, and how we act based on our thoughts. We are an assembly of event fibers, stretched into threads, spun into skeins of yarns and then woven into the cloth of us. Those yarns are stories, things we’ve done and said and heard, and read.

My girls are well into their busy days by the time I come back inside looking for food. The kitchen is quiet, except for the click and hiss of the dry cycle of the dishwasher. Anything in the fridge? This and that, poke and hope. Yes, I am no hunter nor gatherer. If it is not fairly readily available, I won’t find it, and it won’t get eaten. On the other hand, if peanut butter were a wild beast, I would be a tribal elder. I’m not sure exactly what I mean, either.

To the computer, patiently waiting for my password to launch. Do I want to go to the point in the document where I left off last night? How nice of you to ask, inanimate application. Very kind. Now the magic begins — scribbling, editing, layout, art selection, looking at yesterday’s baseball scores, reading notes, correcting spelling errors, sipping cold coffee, staring at maps. I’ll bet this is how William Faulkner spent his mornings.

I have a small garden growing in the window behind my desk. It is the best place for summer afternoon sun. Succulents, begonias, a coffee-arabica bush in a glazed-clay bowl also containing a small carving of the elephant-headed deity Ganesha. I have read that it is Ganesha who is the bringer of wisdom, good luck, and success. Who doesn’t want those? But it is also my understanding that Ganesha is lord of obstacles, so that paying him respect may help one overcome . . . technical difficulties. It seems to me, therefore, that Ganesha is in charge of breaking writer’s block. So he gets a place of honor in the shade beneath the lush leaves of my coffee plant.

I am wearing one of those wristwatches that tells me how much I walk and analyzes my sleep-cycles. It is also good for telling the time, I suppose, but who cares? It’s a bit strange, somewhat Pavlovian, to have instructions for stopping what you are doing to do something else, even a suggestion so basic as “get up and walk around for 250 steps, please.” I am a good student. I save my file, take off my glasses, and walk around the house. Some days I fetch a trash-bag and empty the cans around the house. Yes, yes, I know! Please forward my Nobel prize to the mailing address on the inside cover of this magazine.

At first I didn’t like being interrupted when I’m writing. My schedule used to be that I had between 9 PM and midnight to get my work done. Now that the girls are pretty self-sufficient, I have recaptured the daylight hours like MacArthur at Inchon. You know what I mean, with inferior equipment, some problems with the tides and possible loss of the element of surprise.

The neighbor’s dogs are barking at the neighbors’ dogs. This used to bother me, but now I’ve become as used to it as I have to the cuckoo clock on the wall (although the half-hourly hooting has been disabled) or the yard-men with leaf-blowers and weed-eaters.

Writer’s tip: don’t let noise, or the lack thereof, be a reason you can’t concentrate on the creative process. I had a roommate in college who stayed up all night and slept in the afternoons. He dipped snuff and left the . . . expectorant in Dixie cups around the room. At first it was the sound of him spitting, every seventy-five seconds or so, that kept me awake at night. I asked him to be more or less regular about it, to no avail. So I just . . . turned it off. And he stopped making that noise in the room at night. Also, one morning I accidentally tipped over a couple of tobacco-spit cups onto his calculus notes, so that might have had something to do with it. Anyhow, you don’t control the world’s noise, nor do you really want to poke out your eardrums with your Number 2 Berol Black Warrior, so the best thing to do is work through the problem until it isn’t one. The same rules apply to social media and checking your e-mail.

Well, I don’t have a set list for this concert, but I think I’m about done, and I’ll bet you could use a break, too. I’ve been mulling over a sentence that recently formed out of the storm and fog of my mind, and offer it up to you as a last bit of advice: Life can be either a train wreck or a train robbery, and it’s up to you whether or not you’re the drunk engineer or the Sundance Kid.

Good luck with that one. Namaste.