Thursday, March 28, 2019

Isabel Sobral Campos : My Writing Day, 2019

My daughter walks in holding a freshly laid egg in her cupped hands. Egg meeting egg. Here is an image that summarizes writing. I write in the pulse of such moments without describing them. I prefer to live in their raying forethought, through gasps and gulps of fluctuating completion. Round, cyclical, wrapped, unwrapped, writing happens in spirals of various density, upon edges of various solidity.

For the past year and a half, I have been looking for a new job. This has disrupted my writing routine and seemingly taken over everything. I have been trying to regroup within and thrust this dark cloud away. Currently, I am writing a long poem about breathing, in which I speak to an elusive “you,” part-animal, part-stone, part-past self. This poem has alerted me to the strangeness of my own body. My back nudges closer to the chair. My phalanges feel pricklier.

I usually write in the morning. Sometimes (between semesters) I have the luxury of writing whenever I want. This comes at a price, but never mind that now—it is one that I am willing to pay. Daily writing suggests the temporality of an exposed nerve. I try to keep each beginning in sight as it cycles through multiple iterations. Words are the aging of thought, and thoughts our bodies aging.

Four years ago, I moved to a small town in Montana for a position at the local university. Writing occurs in seclusion out here. Everything boils under tonnage of snow. New windows splay a grid of spurs. Small towns are places that choke and constrain. Yet, I have adjusted. Wittgenstein once said that he fabricated his own “air” so that he could withstand living anywhere. Or something to that effect. I have been trying to find a similar resilience. Sometimes, however, I realize how much writing I have done during these past years.

Inhabiting the spacetime of writing are linguistic centaurs—hybrids of English, Portuguese, and a language of bones with an untamable logic that makes floorboards creek under eerie footsteps. Being a writer in a second language poses its own challenges, although I am aware that it does so more for some than for others. I am uncomfortable with my memories. I cannot rely on a stable sense of linguistic competence. I often fear my writing will be dismissed as fake. I struggle with authority and, more often than not, feel I possess none. Writing sleepwalks. Sometimes I write in my sleep and when I awake, butchered words appear on the page. My notebook is a record of stringed words found elsewhere, aural records, wellsprings of poems. A word like “inflorescence” can sustain a whole week of scribbling. Often I am shut up inside a word; often words shun me. Words mean more to me than structured thoughts. Yet, structure prevents erosion of what makes writing possible. The sitting, the walking, the mulling, the reading, a kind of monkish life.

On the days I teach, I prep and grade, and have little time for anything else. Here is my routine on the other days:

6:00 a.m. Kris and I wake up, sit on the couch and read together.

7:00 a.m. Kris, Otília, and I have breakfast while watching Democracy Now! From time to time, we pause the recording to comment on the news. Otília has learned to call Trump, “bad guy” without our guidance. We eat eggs when the chickens lay them, toast, or oatmeal, and about a year ago, switched from coffee to tea.

7:45 a.m. I leave the house and walk up the hill to my office at Montana Tech, usually braving sub-zero temperatures, icy ground, and fog.

8:00 to 10 a.m. I sit at my desk and write, often pausing to read. As always, I need help from others. Sometimes nothing happens.

10 am to 10:45 a.m. I am off to the gym for a run.

11: 15 a.m. I eat lunch at my desk while checking social media.

11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. I am currently revising a manuscript on Emily Dickinson’s proto-ecology, so I work on that.

2:00 to 3:30 p.m. I read at my desk with my chair propped against the wall, as I do not have a comfortable reading chair in my office.

3:30 to 5 p.m. I apply for jobs. Sometimes I get called for an interview. The psychological pressures of this kind of job hunt are not discussed enough within academic circles. It can lead to anti-depressants, substance abuse, and general collapse. It is deeply injurious to well-being.

5:00 to 6 p.m. I am back home and ready to play with Otília. Lately, she enjoys drawing together, which I prefer to puzzles. Because most of her books are in English, I have begun reading her impromptu Portuguese translations of the ones she knows in English. When I have forgotten a word in Portuguese, I shout it out to Kris, who quickly looks it up for me while he cooks dinner. This excites Otília interest in the word and she often will repeat it non-stop. I am especially deficient which it comes to animal names in my mother tongue. Apparently, a praying mantis is called louva-a-deus. Otília now repeats this word that I have only recently said aloud for the first time: louva-a-deus, louva-a-deus, louva-a-deus…

6:00 to 7:00 p.m. We have dinner. Otília usually eats sitting on my lap. She will also gobble up all the olives and tomatoes in the salad.

7:30 p.m. Kris and I put Otília to bed. I pretend to be a zombie while Kris whisks her away to our bedroom. They hide in the dark and attempt to ambush me. We brush her teeth and read her several books.

8:00 to 10:30 p.m. Kris and I read for at least an hour. Often, we watch a film. I love reading on the couch with him next to me.

Isabel Sobral Campos is the author of Your Person Doesn’t Belong to You (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press, 2018), as well as the chapbooks Material (No, Dear and Small Anchor Press, 2015), and You Will Be Made of Stone (dancing girl press, 2018). A new chapbook is forthcoming with above/ground press. She is the co-founder of the Sputnik & Fizzle publishing series and teaches in Montana.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful in its intimate detail, vulnerability and authenticity.