The Perfect Day: An Experiment

cobblestoneSo, I’m trying an experiment. Bear with me.

Stacey Harwood, creative mastermind of the Best American Poetry website, commented on my post there, “Cracks in Everything: Parenthood and the Writing Life,” that she often has a perfect blueprint for her day that somehow eludes her. That applies to me, as well, not only in terms of days, but weeks, summers, my whole life, for that matter.

Several years ago I sent my novel out too soon. I had a big agent who was high on the manuscript, and wanted to auction it to five publishing houses with the idea of starting a bidding war. When one-by-one all five praised the book but declined to make an offer, the surprised agent, who once told me we would grow old and grey together, dropped me like a burning ember. I don’t actually blame him; it wasn’t an efficient use of his time to wait around for me to develop.

The book sat in a box until a friend from my writing group pushed me to take it out again. When I did, so much time had elapsed that I knew exactly what to do. I could treat the manuscript like someone else’s material. In retrospect, I am grateful that the earlier version did not sell; it simply wasn’t done. On my previous post (first published on the Best American Poetry blog), Laura Orem noted the Buddhist notion that there are no true mistakes, just opportunities. My nightmare, in this case, turned out to be a blessing. Of course, the opposite can also occur. We’ve all had those. In short, expectations appear to be completely useless.

OK, the experiment. This morning I am jotting down five expected highlights of the day ahead of me, the intersections through which I predict the hours will turn and flow. Tonight, I will note down the five actual moments that resonate as the day draws to a close. Here goes:

10 AM – Expected pivots, in anticipation:

1. Drive daughter to and from riding stable.
2. Email publicist regarding this afternoon’s interview, and NPR producer regarding line edits.
3. BlogTalkRadio live call-in interview. (Argh! Nervous!)
4. Catch 2:25 bus with kids to meet husband at Jacob Javits Center and join friends for dinner.
5. Sign stock at Barnes & Noble and Borders.

10 PM – Actual pivots, in retrospect:

1. Two words floating up from a dream upon waking, “oasis” and “diasporas.” No images attached, just the luscious, open sound of the vowels drifting on my consciousness.
2. Reaching through a stall door to touch a horse’s neck, warm and moist with the day’s burgeoning heat. His soft muzzle nudging my shoulder.
3. During the interview, when asked about the dead brother in my novel, remembering all at once my cousin, my age, dead at twenty in a car crash. Her long, thick braids and quiet self-possession.
4. A downpour bowing the umbrella we huddle beneath. Feeling the knobby, wet cobblestones of Gansevoort Street beneath the soles of my shoes.
5. Just now, checking on the kids in their darkened rooms. The sound of their breath. Distant traffic. The dog’s sigh.

I love the line from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, “The roses had the look of roses that are looked at.”

So attached was I to my preconceived picture of my day that I almost didn’t see the one that actually transpired.

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