December 3, 2016
This is my life — The alarm goes off — news on the radio, automatic coffee maker — pick up newspaper, let the dog out, feed her. . .
— Anna Quindlen, b. 1954, American novelist and journalist
from the novel Every Last One
When I summarized the quantity of my Fall Term reading yesterday, I said that I read seven novels: Safe at Home, Elizabeth Berg; Every Last One, Anna Quindlen; The Other Life, Ellen Meister; Commonwealth, Run, and State of Wonder, three novels by Ann Patchett, and Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff. I should note here, in the interest of full disclosure, that I didn’t actually read any of them. I listened to them via CD, in my car, in periods lasting from 20 minutes to 2 1/2 hours.
Some people say that’s “cheating.” These may or may not be the same people who say that reading literary texts on an electronic device is “cheating.” They contend that the only valid way to interact with a text is to hold a printed book or magazine in your hands, or lay it on a table and turn the pages one by one.
I don’t always have success with audio books. I am not an auditory learner, and text read to me without my being able to see it with my own eyes (visual interaction) and touch the source (using the kinesthetic sense) often goes in one ear and out the other. Listening to complicated text in the car is made even more challenging by having to engage the visual by watching traffic and the kinesthetic by controlling the car. Add a bad reader (Elizabeth Berg reading her own work was a trial!) or long passages of dialogue in short alternating exchanges so that the “saids” begin to call attention to themselves (Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, which also employs some punctuation anomalies that the author thought important but that the listener cannot grasp), and the task sometimes becomes insurmountable. (I did finish listening to the Berg book, which was not a very good story anyway, and the Groff, which was.)
Nevertheless, I have been having more successful and enjoyable experiences with audiobooks in 2016 than I have ever had before. They keep the cadences of fiction and the excitement of an unfolding story in my awareness when I am unable to read or write. The best audiobook experiences are the ones where I hear something so compelling that I have to seek out a print copy to capture the actual words.
That’s what happened on September 12, 2016, a Monday. I was on my way from home to my studio, bent on getting back to work. (“Do it. Open the box with the “Soul Winning” [the manuscript I took to Bread Loaf] materials. Do it now,” I wrote.) I had spent the early morning chopping, roasting, and stirring the ingredients for whatever it was I was planning for dinner (the actual name of the dish left unrecorded). When I got into the car for the short trip to the studio, I popped in the first disc of Anna Quindlen’s Every Last One.
The passage that provides the epigraph for this piece occurs early in the reading. By the time I got to the far side of the Wade Bridge, I had replayed it, probably more than once. At the sign that pointed to the tiny public library branch that serves the municipality where my studio is, I turned right, and within a few minutes had a print copy of the book. And I made my first writing exercise of my new writing year:
This is my life. I wake naturally, unless I have to be someplace, dressed and ready for interaction, before 8:00. Usually I wake between 5 and 6. Anything before 5 is still night. Even 5:30 seems unnecessarily early. Unless there is extreme urgency for the bathroom, I close my eyes again, the concerns of the day ahead beginning to swirl into and out of my thoughts. When I finally do get up — 6:30 at the latest most days — I take my thyroid medication and my anti-depressant, and fire up my computer for the half hour I should wait before eating anything. I check Facebook, post birthday greetings if need be, scan emails, skim local obituaries.
At about 6:55 I go downstairs. I check the outside temperature, let the bird out of the cage, open the sliding glass door if it’s not below 50, and turn on The Today Show. That’s a habit I am trying to break, twenty minutes of information before the fluff pieces begin, information I already have unless there’s been a coup or disaster since midnight. This morning I want to know about the health of Hillary Clinton, who became unwell at a 9/11 memorial service yester4day. She’s been diagnosed with pneumonia, they say.
I make the coffee — 3 scoops for six cups — and while it brews I check my fasting blood sugar. I listen for the weather — the last piece of news before entertainment takes over. I pour my First Cup, swirl in two tablespoons of half-and-half, snap off the television, and then sit down at the table. I open my notebook, record the day, the date, the time, and the outside temperature. Then I open my prayer journal, look at the names and concerns I’ve inscribed on the week’s page, and settle back to look at the leaves and the light. The bird sits on the roof of his cage. He will chirp when he hears Ron turn over and get out of bed, but for now, he is silent. This is my life.
This is my life. Thank you for reading about it.