It is a beautiful Sunday. Mookie knows this before we do. She lays her head on the side of bed, urging us to wake up. I look at the clock. We overslept and her vocal communications may have nothing to do with the weather out, and more to do with the fact that she really has to go. Patiently, she waits as I throw on a hoodie and pants over my PJs. Poop bags and treats fill my pockets and we race across the street to the park. It is gorgeous out, but our morning walk is quick, just enough to get her business done. There seems to be some sort of a march. Occupy Brooklyn, I wonder/hope? No, there are legions in pink, a walk for—against—breast cancer. They are beautiful, strong and expansive. But it is too much stimulation for Mookie, and we retreat back home.
Wan and I prep veggies to go into tonight’s vegan chili. He then drinks chia seed water and programs his playlist for his Sunday long run. My husband is training for the upcoming New York City Marathon. Today he plans to run 23 miles. While Mookie sun bathes in the light pouring in our living room window, I ponder what I should do this afternoon.
Perhaps go for a run myself, or a bike ride? I really should write. Keep working on the manuscript; make edits to pieces to send out for submissions; tweak the ending of this; write the beginning of that. I often feel that in my limited spare time I have to choose between exercise and writing; reading and sleeping. There isn’t enough time for all, and I’m never satisfied in my progress in any.
I choose to read this afternoon. Not one of the four books I’m currently immersed in for pleasure or research, but something new.
Rahna Reiko Rizzuto‘s, Hiroshima in the Morning, was just nominated for the Asian American Writers Workshop literary award in nonfiction. I received a copy, a generous gift, at my first Associates Board meeting at the AAWW this Friday.
I was intrigued by the blurb on the back cover :
“….The parallel narratives of Hiroshima in the survivors’ own words, and of Rizzuto’s personal awakening show memory not as history, but as a story we tell ourselves to explain who we are.”
As I write my own stories that blend memory and history, I cherish examining other narratives and the choices made in their creation. The very first page, the very first words, draw me in:
“I can tell you the story, but it won’t be true. It won’t be the facts as they happened exactly, each day, each footstep, each breath. Time elides, events shift; sometimes we shift them on purpose and forget that we did. Memory is just how we choose to remember.
I curl up on the couch with a blanket wrapped around me, and Mookie snuggles under the covers and warms my feet. My mother jokes that she, too, must have gotten her MFA while I did. And as Wan now works on his doctorate, Mookie too is accruing her stack of honorary graduate degrees.(Like Stephen Colbert, DFA).
Mookie and I pour through the first 85 pages together and then take a break. Facebook. Twitter. These are other time sinks I fail to account for in my scheduling. I look at a tweet, a retweet of another, and all of a sudden I’m reading this interview with Haruki Murakami.
He has written about the metaphorical importance of his running; that to complete an action every day sets a kind of karmic example for his writing. “Yes,” he says. “Mmmmm.” He makes a long contemplative sound. “I need strength because I have to open the door.” He mimes heaving open a door. “Every day I go to my study and sit at my desk and put the computer on. At that moment, I have to open the door. It’s a big, heavy door. You have to go into the Other Room. Metaphorically, of course. And you have to come back to this side of the room. And you have to shut the door. So it’s literally physical strength to open and shut the door. So if I lose that strength, I cannot write a novel any more. I can write some short stories, but not a novel.”
I do not have this physical door to open when I write. I do not have this Other Room. I have The Couch and The Bed. Most days, the only time I have to write is on the subway. Who needs a writing retreat, when you have the G train? I like to reassure myself. It is a writing space born out of necessity, but has wonderful attributes. I can’t get on the internet, so I am focused on writing. While I may be surrounded by people, there is a deep solitude I feel on the subways in New York. I wrote about this as something I missed, when I moved to the Bay Area for graduate school in geotechnical engineering:
“’What are those graphs? Is that the stock market?’ an elderly woman sitting next to me on the AC40 bus asked me one day on my commute from Oakland to Berkeley for my earthquake engineering exam in graduate school.
I laughed, shook my head and said no. They were acceleration time histories of earthquakes in California.
On another bus ride study session, a man sitting next to me inquired about diagrams of clay consolidation in my text. I wasn’t used to talking to people on public transit. In the crowded subways of New York, I found mental solitude. Despite being brushed up against, being breathed on, or having someone “eavesread” my paper, I could avoid conversation. When physical space was so limited, I appreciated that privacy.”
When I type on the subway, I am not self conscious. I think to myself, and perhaps even gesture and mumble, but nobody bats an eye. Sometimes when I am working on difficult material, I start to cry. Nobody feels the need to ask me if I am ok. I wipe my tears and continue to type. I am grateful for their indifference, what I perceive as respect for my writing space.
While I don’t have to physically open a door to get to this space, metaphorically I do. I do have to open my laptop. (“Notebook,” my husband reminds me is the correct name. This computer will burn my lap if I don’t place some sort of barrier between my writing and my thighs.). While I commute every day, twice a day, I don’t always open my computer. Somedays I read, or hand write in my journal. I’ll justify this as necessary, a precursor to writing. Somedays I’ll shut my eyes. This too, I’ll justify. How can I write, when I’m so tired? It does take great strength to lift open the screen on my machine. Once I do, the writing gets easier. All of a sudden it’s my stop, and I’m wishing for more time. While I may initially dread entering this space, I also dread leaving it. I recall the quote I wrote down once from Art and Fear:
“Artists don’t get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of not working.”—Stephen DeStaebler
I think about Murakami’s day and his discipline:
“Murakami rises at 4am on most mornings, writes until noon, spends the afternoon training for marathons and browsing through old record stores and turns in, with his wife, at 9pm.”
All of a sudden, I’m feeling the urge to discipline my body. (When I first started my current job, I used to listen to that Flaming Lips song “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” on my walk from my subway to work, just to hear that line “Working for the City/She has to discipline her body).
I turn to the one person who has brought routine and discipline (joyously) into my life. I grab Mookie’s leash and we explore the park I’m lucky to call my front yard. This time we go for miles. It is on this journey, this blog post composes itself in my head.
When we return, Wan’s back from his run and we enjoy vegan chili and tamales. Perhaps between the three of us, we have a Murakami day.
Murakami notes how he enjoys spending his time:
“I like to read books. I like to listen to music. I collect records. And cats. I don’t have any cats right now. But if I’m taking a walk and I see a cat, I’m happy.”
I am writing this while I play an indoor game of mother dogter catch. A beautiful Sunday. I am happy.