Jane and Her Average Work Day

“Always choose creativity over fear.” –Elizabeth Gilbert

Maybe it’s because the sky was just spattered with fireworks and I wore a festive crown representing possibilities and blew a noisemaker while sipping champagne, maybe it’s the recently-passed Mercury retrograde (thank the stars), maybe it’s because there are a few transitions looming beyond tomorrow, but I have spent much of January reflecting.

Déjà Vu

A year and some days ago, I wrote a similar post, Jane and Her Average Writing Day, not knowing where life would take me. That a year and some days later, I would write this. Tsk tsk, I should have known. Especially after I shed the previous job, or the previous job shed me. Knowing I am not bred for the office, I try not to let the dingy day-to-day sequester my creativity.

A Day in the Life of Jane Worker

6:20 a.m. Waylon’s alarm buzzes. He hits snooze.

6:30 a.m. Waylon’s alarm buzzes. He showers.

6:45 a.m. Somewhere between water running and the water twisting off, I hobble downstairs to brew coffee.

7:59 a.m. Somehow I arrive at my desk—not the white space at home with a gold pyramid, shells, and a ratty collection of poetry and craft books—but the one with the dual computer screens, drab carpeting and Steak-and-Shake-like lighting. I sip my coffee, stuff some kind of nutrition in my face (usually the doctor-recommended Greek yogurt), and sleep with my eyes open.

8:03 a.m. The only thing I can manage at this ungodly hour is checking all of my social media accounts for any notifications whatsoever. I delete all the shoe and makeup and sale e-mails because I rather not be tempted into giving any of my hard-earned money away. Not when every paper dollar and zinc penny signifies freedom. Basically, until I have the guts and funds to risk full-time writing, I’m saving.

8:10 a.m. As my officemate pops in and out—her kitten footsteps surprising me again and again—I wade in the beginnings of work: checking messages, populating my timesheet, reaching for the manila folder in my file cabinet.

8:37 a.m. I write a few licks. Shake those writing ligaments awake.

8:43 a.m. I write some policy.

9:16 a.m. Snack.

9:49 a.m. When I need to rest my eyes from the company lingo and legalese, I slide a few pages of my manuscript under the policy to revise.

11:11 a.m. I shut my eyes and make a wish that includes a lot of commas.

11:35 a.m. During lunch, I read an article on craft or freelancing. Over leftovers or a salad, I type some notes (snippets of conversation, current obsessions, sticky dream mush). In this half-hour, much food is dropped, and many shirts and skirts are ruined.

12:06 p.m. I edit some policy.

1:39 p.m. Snack.

2:41 p.m. I sneak a piece of candy, or three, out of the lady down the hall’s treat bowl.

2:42 p.m. I indulge in some chocolate and writing.

2:50 p.m. I format some policy.

4:41 p.m. Snack.

4:59 p.m. As the workforce trickles out to beat traffic and meet their dinner dates or mix their vodka and lime or whatever they do, I edit my manuscript. Once in a while, someone sticks their head in to say bye. I guiltily hide my tab, and they definitely know that I was not working. 

5:31 p.m. Hoping the next morning is fuss-free, I prep a numbered to-do list.

5:48 p.m. I save all of my documents to their respective places (e.g., folders, flash drives).

5:56 p.m. I leave work just in time to witness the sunset, which astonishes me pink night after pink night.

6:20 p.m. While listening to my fav podcasts, I fix dinner. I like losing myself in the washing, chopping and stirring of cooking, and I like multitasking.

6:52 p.m. We eat in the living room while watching Anthony Bourdain eat on Netflix or our DVR.

7:20 p.m. Because I cook, Waylon tidies the kitchen. I shower, unless it’s a good writing day or I’m reading a good novel or I have a literary deadline approaching. You get it. I am driven, and disgusting.

8:06 p.m. While Waylon watches TV and reads or dozes, I do busy work: editing, scheduling payments, researching submission deadlines.

8:59 p.m. We trudge upstairs—imagine the most exhausted trudge you can imagine.

9:07 p.m. While I floss through my night routine, I listen to the baby crying through the wall.

9:20 p.m. I read and breathe, read and breathe, and play footsie with Waylon under the covers until he runs his fingers through my hair. This is, by far, my favorite time of day. My happy place. True rest.

9:21-11:30 p.m. Depending on how good the book is, I read until I PTFO. It sounds peaceful, but it can be dangerous. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s hefty fiction, I’m convinced, is a deadly weapon to the bedtime reader.

Dreams

By skimming an outline of my weekday, I know and you can see what’s important to me. I’m conjuring the guts to let go of the things that don’t matter, and do what I love. But until then, because being a writer is an essential part of me, I will find ways to write. Even the littlest pockets of time can ease the creative soul.

In Cheryl Strayed’s interview in The Great Discontent, she professes, “I believe in writing as a calling. If you truly feel that calling in you, then listen to it and respect it, but don’t expect that anything is going to be given to you—you have to get it.” When I was a preteen, I wanted to be a nun. I’m glad I didn’t follow my little-kid dreams, but what I became wasn’t too far off. To me, writing is service work. We do it because we have to. Nothing else will whisper down the anxieties. And we do it, often, for nothing. We do it so we can sleep. We do it for the tired souls who may not even read it. We do it for peace.

Jane Reads Anything But Straight, White Men for a Year

“She was lost in her longing to understand.” —Gabriel García Márquez

Last year, a colleague lent me Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, and I accepted it, even though I retched inside. At my desk, the hardcover sits uncracked, blanketed by a film of dust. For this book, I furnished a collateral, a title I hunted down using my indie bookstore resources: multiple search databases, a 30% discount. I will miss that California writer because I can’t make myself read that Pulitzer winner right now, and I do not have the heart to tell my dear friend.

The Bad

My life is held together by lists. We know our kind—how we include one already completed thing to immediately check (it helps stave off Sisyphean angst). But a problem with lists is sometimes things are overlooked, or purposefully excluded. In Litreactor’s “5 Female Short Story Writers You Should Be Reading RIGHT NOW!,” Keith Rawson confesses he is “colorblind” before emphatically (see the caps) plugging the previously mentioned. He is, indeed, colorblind because he neglects and/or ignores people of color, which is painstakingly clear from the displayed head shots. In the Goodreads Blog’s20 Favorite Last Lines from Books,” seven out of twenty of the writers featured are women. Zero POC are represented. And this is just a sampling of what I have clicked on lately.

The Better

In Lit Hub’s “Men Explain Lolita To Me,” Rebecca Solnit posits, “[M]aybe the whole point of reading is to be able to explore and also transcend your gender (and race and class and nationality and moment in history and age and ability) and experience being others.” Unfortunately, some lists don’t support this notion. Thankfully some lists do. Buzzfeed Books features a heart-lifting list “51 Of The Most Beautiful Sentences In Literature” that features a fantastic mix of writers, writtenof courseby one of us. Recently, the National Endowment for the Arts released a list of the 2016 creative writing fellowship recipients, and that list makes me feel like maybe I, with much hard work and even more luck, have a speckle of a chance in the literary world.

My Reading Past

All of my reading life, I have compiled a TBR list, and have favored women and “diverse” books subconsciously. When referencing books I had read in college courses, shoulder shrugs and note scribbles greeted me, but that is a separate essay. 

Post-grad school, I attacked that list and am embarrassed to say that once upon a not-so-distant time Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Joan Didion and ZZ Packer were strangers to me. When someone mentioned them, I wore blank bug eyes, or I grinned, nodded, made a mental note and changed the subject. As I cross the names and titles off my list, it, the only list I feel comfortable with growing, grows. Who do these writers that I love love? blurb? recommend? I must know the insides of those books, too.

So what kept me from reading the writers I wanted to read? To name several: syllabi and other required reading; the availability of books at libraries, stores, online; books shoved at me without considering, well, me; what was popular, faced-out, in the glossies. Then, I was young and dumb. I didn’t have enough power to not read what everyone else was reading, so I read Slaughterhouse Five, I read Bukowski, I read The Catcher in the Rye, and I honestly liked them because some pain is universal. But the books that I love most are about the pains that aren’t, and I am in charge of my own reading now and as Eleanor Roosevelt asserted, “With freedom comes responsibility.”

My Reading Present

In August 2014, I began reading women writers exclusively, actively. I purchased only books by women. From the library, I requested and checked out only books by women. Therefore, I recommended only books by women. I didn’t miss the white male point-of-view one bit. I did, however, miss other POVs. A year later, I expanded my reading lens to male POC and LGBTTQQIAAP writers. So, yes—like Nicole Perkins declared in LA Times’s “A Response to ‘On Pandering’”—I only avoid books written by straight, white men, except for colleagues I respect and support. Bless the male feminists and the white people who get it; as Elena Ferrante said in her Financial Times interview, you are a minority, too.

In 2015, I read 32 books. Their first sentences are featured below, followed by the author and title. Please find a pen and keep it close to add the ones that whisper themselves into your heart to that TBR list.


“‘You must not tell anyone,’ my mother said, ‘what I am about to tell you.’” —Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior

“Strange happenings, Chloe knows, can take place in a town built on tragedy.” —Shawna Yang Ryan, Water Ghosts

“Sometimes our steersman sounded like he was having really hot sex back there in Six, but that was only when the canoe was moving.” —Lisa Linn Kanae, Islands Linked By Ocean

“Lydia is dead.” —Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You

“Start the volcano again; I’m watching.” —Mary Ann Samyn, The Boom of A Small Cannon

“She is plucking her bird of paradise of its dead branches, leaning around the plant every time she hears a car. —Julia Alvarez, In the Time of Butterflies

“What Makes Iago Evil? some people ask.” —Joan Didion, Play It As It Lays

“Me and Jasmine and Michael were hanging out at Mr. Thompson’s pool.” —Danielle Evans, Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self

“In certain latitudes there comes a span of time approaching and following the summer solstice, some weeks in all, when the twilights turn long and blue.” —Joan Didion, Blue Nights

“Things started to fall apart at home when my brother, Jaja, did not go to communion and Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the ètagére.” —Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Purple Hibiscus

“I’ve been called Bone all my life, but my name’s Ruth Anne.” —Dorothy Allison, Bastard Out of Carolina

“Dear Ol’ Dirty Bastard: I too like it raw, / I don’t especially care for Duke Ellington / at a birthday party.” —Terrance Hayes, How to Be Drawn

“My name is Ruth.” —Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

“The paint doesn’t move the way the light reflects / so what’s there to be faithful to?” —Richard Siken, War of the Foxes

“Joey felt that his romance with Daisy might ruin his life, but that didn’t stop him.” —Mary Gaitskill, Bad Behavior

“May in Ayemenem is a hot brooding month.” —Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

“The Stark River flowed around the oxbow at Murrayville the way blood flowed through Margo Crane’s heart.” —Bonnie Jo Campbell, Once Upon a River

“My solo three-month hike on the Pacific Crest Trail had many beginnings.” —Cheryl Strayed, Wild

“A voice mistook for stone / jagged black fist / thrown miles through space, through / doors of dark matter.” —Saeed Jones, Prelude to Bruise

“I met all four of them at an off-site catering event for the opening of their new Minimally Invasive Spine, Back and Neck Group.” —Merritt Tierce, Love Me Back

“Every Friday at 4:30, they gathered cross-legged on the brown shag rug, picked at its crust of mud and glitter and Elmer’s glue, and leaned against the picture book shelves.” —Rebecca Makkai, The Borrower

“By our second day at Camp Crescendo, the girls in my Brownie troop had decided to kick the asses of each and every girl in Brownie Troop 909.” —ZZ Packer, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere

“Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway.” — Zadie Smith, White Teeth

“The mother jiggles her key in the ancient lock, nudges open the heavy oak door with her shoulder, and then freezes on the threshold.” —Bonnie Jo Campbell, American Salvage

“When you are alone and too tired even to turn on any of your devices, you let yourself linger in a past stacked among your pillows.” —Claudia Rankine, Citizen

“1956.” —Jessica Hagedorn, Dogeaters

“On the fifth anniversary of my father’s death, my mother confessed to his murder.” —Nora Okja Keller, Comfort Woman

“Master was a little crazy; he had spent too many years reading books overseas, talked to himself in his office, did not always return greetings, and had too much hair.” —Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun

“I dream of her still.” —Nora Okja Keller, Fox Girl

“What’s your story? —Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

“Tell me about the dream where we pull the bodies out of the lake / and dress them in warm clothes again.” —Richard Siken, Crush

“Princeton, in the summer, smelled of nothing, and although Ifemelu liked the tranquil greenness of the many trees, the clean streets and stately homes, the delicately overpriced shops, and the quiet, abiding air of earned grace, it was this, the lack of a smell, that most appealed to her, perhaps because the other American cities she knew well had all smelled distinctly.” —Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah