The importance of writing-free days in a writing life


Little pumpkins scatter in the backyard, and pumpkin-colored blossoms form big, palmy fronds, a giant’s hands face-up to the sky. Two fat squirrels play tag in the compost, and I hear my host speak to them like a baby. Or maybe he has a baby; I don’t see either, but a janky Little Tykes playhouse leans against the fence. // A spindly starburst tree grows from a square pot, slim arms of an asterisks fireworking the air. I don’t know what any of these growing things are called, but Ross would, and Aimee. I want to tell you about all this, but I’m glad you’re not here. // I learned that this makes me a bad partner, but my lamb kebob was 18% more delicious because I dined alone; and the cab, 11% sweeter. // They say when you speak in public, to find a set of eyes to speak to. I try to remember this when I public speak but never expected to be the eyes in the audience for anyone else. A professor and poet accustomed to speeches surely keeps no butterflies jitterbugging in his belly, but his eyes find mine, anyway, as he speaks to a sold-out crowd, standing room only, and me, in row three. // I don’t go for that woo-woo tarot card shit, despite the Moon on my necklace; so maybe it’s just that, that morning in bed, we snuggled together while I finished him off, his book I mean, his love letters to his mother, his body, his garden, a janky basketball hoop. I pressed my face into his pages, I so love the smell. My dad’s a retired inkman and could tell me what I smell–the chemical names and formula, the initials and subscripts of a perfume I’d wear to seduce and inspire, which are, I think, perhaps, one and the same. // And anyway, that’s all I want to do, is to seduce and inspire you, and to be found pretty and smart. Not in that order, but the days have been so lazy, and I didn’t bring an eraser. No takebacks or changes. // Sandra said a sober man’s thoughts become a drunk man’s words, so let’s drink too much tonight and say what we really think.

title inspired by Janet Jackson’s excellent cover of “Tonight’s the Night,” which she turns into a threesome love story, just perfect for a piece where the you is someone different virtually every time (she whispers it at the very beginning–if your audio’s too soft, you’ll miss it)

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I wrote this hybrid piece in Bloomington, Indiana, where I attended a reading by Aimee Nezhukumatathil, with Ross Gay. I read their books of essays–World of Wonders and The Book of Delights, respectively–together, and I discovered the reading at Indiana University like two days later, which was too much serendipity to ignore. Thus, a relatively impromptu two-day visit to Bloomington where I stayed in this adorable studio Airbnb a half mile from a bike trail.

INConversation with Aimee Nezhukumatathil and Ross Gay

I had big plans to do some good writing there, or at least some good editing, but it’s been a tough few months, so I decided instead to stay in bed too long, to read too much, to walk the right amount, to shower too long, to eat the right amount.

Selfie on the bike trail

I admire the writers who write every day. I’ve never been one of those. I understand the push for it, especially if you require the discipline to be productive. I don’t. A big thanks to years in daily journalism for that; I trust my productivity, and I value the writing days off. Especially when they’re the sort of prescriptive self-care my body and brain so desperately need these days.

Creativity when you’re in a terrible headspace is hard. Rather, forcing yourself to just do it is hard. So I didn’t work on my work in progress. I didn’t work on some new edits to the book my agent is shopping around. But I did write the hybrid piece above, a sort of lyrical essay thing that doesn’t quiet want to be categorized, which is OK. There’s something good, very good, to be said for just going with it, sometimes.

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