Of First Importance: Writing in Real Time
As I write this post at 4:00 p.m., the world of letters awaits tomorrow’s announcement of the 2022 Nobel Prize for Literature. Attack survivor Salmon Rushdie’s odds are 8/1. Scary word factory Stephen King, 10/1. Jamaica Kincaid and Margaret Atwood, 16/1. Milan Kundera, 50/1. Joan Didion and Philip Roth were deserving, but they’ve expired. All languages have writers, though, and English has had more than its share of laureates.
Now, don’t flood the Nobel Committee with protests, but it appears that I didn’t make the short list. Yes, this is a joke. On the other hand, in a few days I won’t be 60 anymore. Rudyard Kipling won the award at 42. Albert Camus, 44. Pearl S. Buck, 46. Talk about your young, focused world-beaters.
There’s a reason this post begins in late afternoon, and it has to do with what drives an aging writer’s life.
I dropped wife Kathy off at work at 7:00 this morning. She’s an oncology nurse navigator, shepherding patients through treatment, prognosis, hope and mortal dread. She wants to cry. She comes home spent. Her work is of first importance.
Heading east on 26th Street, I received a ping from our daughter: “I really need a bit of help this morning if possible.” Elena understands. If I can assist, sure. If not, sorry. Turns out yellow lab Layla spread fleas about the house. Elena was already punctuated with spider bites—happens every autumn—and now fleas have her on the menu. Could I watch Cole (8), Killian (6) and Gavin (2) while she ran out to buy extermination supplies? Her situation was of first importance in my eyes. I picked up bagels, which I toasted for the boys while she drove, scratched and scrambled into stores. We had a grand hour together.
Since a roadside stand is near Elena’s place, that was my next stop. If tomatoes were to get canned, securing three bushels couldn’t be put off. God bless Finnell Farms, they had enough. Was this errand of first importance? Yes. I’m the family cook, and I require provender year round.
Once I lugged Saturday’s project into the kitchen, breakfast had turned into lunch. What a coincidence! I picked a ripe one from the plenty and smiled. Sliced tomato with too much kosher salt, sharp cheddar and an embarrassment of mayonnaise on grainy bread. If joy is of first importance, then my priorities were perfect: eat, catch my breath and warm to the writing ahead.
I limber up with my hometown Erie Times-News and Greenville’s beloved Record Argus. Then I glance at The New York Times and The Washington Post, devour urgent information, and finally put down sentences of my own. Alas, a Wednesday car appointment was drawing near. If I were to take a siesta, writing would have to be delayed. Now don’t judge me. I wasn’t propping my eyes open with matchsticks yet, but I would have been come 8:00 p.m. without what Winston Churchill called “the blessed oblivion of midday.” So I slept.
I started this ditty on Wednesday while a vehicle that cost $15,000 more than the Coleman’s first house got its tires rotated. It’s now Friday at 1:50 p.m. Yesterday the Swedes were unable to reach Annie Ernaux (12/1) before announcing her “2022 Prix Nobel de Litterature.” While the French author’s $900,000 ship came in, I was at St. John’s in Oniontown, a location tied for first among every importance I’ve got.
Today in the hut some writing is getting done. Sparrows at the feeders are jittery, startled by the oafish pigeons. Foxhound Sherlock Holmes hoops under his breath on the couch, dreaming of game afoot.
It’s Monday. Precisely 111 words made the page on Friday. A dear friend visited the hut as Sherlock’s chase ended. He picked up jalapenos and garlic, and we chatted a few hours. On canning Saturday, all 54 lids merrily pinged on schedule. Jelly Roll Morton played as the Colemans cored, skinned, stirred and swayed. Sunday worship at St. John’s was lovely, so too my birthday dinner of grilled hotdogs and baked beans. Son Micah gave me Johnnie Walker Green, which I didn’t know existed—on the rocks. (I’m 61. I earned it.) Other presents will arrive in good time. I tell my family never to worry. My whole life is a gift.
One writer’s first importance is another’s also-ran. I get that, but May Sarton speaks for me: “Without the interruptions, nourishing and maddening, this life would become arid. Yet I taste it fully only when I am here alone.” In fact without the nourishing and maddening, I’d have little to say. Whether alone in the hut or with loved ones in the kitchen—shining jars of tomatoes in formation on counter—I’m writing all the time anyway. This is gladness.
Are the tomatoes stewed or only canned (preserved). I love them stewed. Great piece!