July 11, 2019

The author shares a 24-hour record of her activities to kickstart our series of days.
Heidi Julavits August 8, 2019

This feature is part of our A Day series, which invites artists to share an account of their day with us.

Please listen to this audio clip at a very low, barely perceptible volume level.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

8:10 a.m.
Slept like hell. Pull my husband’s sweatshirt over my nightgown, which looks like a dress because it is a dress. Though it is sunny out, put on rain boots. Everyone’s getting Lyme disease this summer.

8:12–8:22
Wake up son. Pack for camp. Drive to the general store, recently rebuilt after the historic one was overrun by rats. My son gets a chocolate milk and I get a coffee, the “weaker, old store” kind, not the “stronger, new store” kind. The fact that the store offers two kinds of coffee speaks, reductively (and inaccurately—I should be buying the stronger coffee) to the class lines in our town.

His sister, who works at the store, rings us up while pretending she’s never seen either of us before in her life.

8:22–8:40
“Old Town Road” Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus
“Baguettes in the Face” Mustard
“Sunflower” Post Malone and Swae Lee
“Senorita” Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello
“MIDDLE CHILD” J. Cole
“Pop Out” Polo G featuring Lil Tjay

8:40–8:58
POSE season one soundtrack

8:58–9:30
Make coffee. I’m rereading Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, but can’t get through more than two pages this morning, so I switch to Zama, by Antonio di Benedetto, and read the scene about the spider.

9:30–10:30
Try to work. “Old Town Road” plays in my head during every waking second and no other words are allowed in there. Tacked over my desk is a book contract extension which reads, “Paragraph 5(a) of the Agreement is hereby amended substituting ‘December 15, 2019, time being of the essence’ for ‘January 31, 2017,’” to which Lil Nas X responds: Can’t nobody tell me nothing.

10:30–11:00
Put two books in the online cart: Winning in One-designs by Dave Perry (about sailboat racing) and Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez. These two books will either reinforce each other’s messages or cancel each other out. Check eBay watch list. An item is up today at 1:04. Highest bid is currently $100.

“Old Town Road” plays in my head during every waking second.

11:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m.
Quit email program. Quit Safari. Give myself an assignment. I am on page 50. I must rewrite to page 68 by the end of the day.

12:00–12:30
Make lunch, which is breakfast. Oatmeal.

12:30–1:02
Rewrite to page 52. Make a shorthand list of mentions I need to re-mention:
Geomancy
Holes
Transparency of the atmosphere
“Understand the art of asking like no one in America”
Boxes
Why Do I/Deny/The Heart That’s Growing Colder

1:02
Start tracking eBay item. It’s a new dress worth $720. I never pay more than $60 (including shipping) for anything except a computer, but because I just got a $1,981.25 check for a magazine assignment, decide to bid $250, then decide to bid $251, because $250 is a number someone else might choose, then decide to bid $252.37, because definitely nobody will choose that number.

1:04
Win item for $146.50.

1:04–1:45
Rewrite to page 56.

1:45
The inspector arrives. Recently a lot of bugs have been crawling across my desk, and while there are always bugs in my office—the walls are full of hornets and the screens are broken so there are also a lot of mosquitoes and flies and spiders—these bugs are new to the house’s ecosystem, and thus concerning. In addition to “Old Town Road,” the new bugs are possibly to blame for the fact that I can’t concentrate this summer, and I must, because soon it will be fall and I’ll be teaching again.

The inspector is young and dressed like a naval officer. He asks what the new bugs look like. I show him a picture.

2:30
My daughter calls for a ride. She finished work and is at the Cake and Authors event at the library, and not because she likes authors. I am an author but last summer I checked out a cookbook and didn’t return it on time and so am on the outs with the librarian, who treats the library as if it’s a yoga retreat and, like yoga retreats (not that I’ve ever been on one) mixes relaxation and self-improvement with guru ego and fascism. She wrote me weekly emails asking me to return the book. Finally, she spotted me in the store parking lot. She scolded me in person and insisted I drive to my house to get the book. She told me that I’d selfishly deprived other people that summer of using the cookbook, because she thought I didn’t understand how libraries worked, and failed to consider the possibility that I wanted to passive-aggressively protest the way she treats people, in particular children. She puts children off reading by hushing them in the library, and implying that books are not part of a greater cultural conversation, instead they are a silent punishment.

I tell my daughter I can’t leave until the inspector is finished.

2:45
I start to worry about the inspector. Is he stuck under the kitchen? But then he materializes. Unlike me after I spelunk through the remoter regions of our house, he doesn’t have 12 spider eggs stuck in his hair, the ones that look like pussy willows. He does have photos. He’ll assemble his final report in his car, then he’ll give his diagnosis.

2:46
Drive to pick up my daughter. The cake is gone. I sort through the free books on the free books table next to the cake tent, all of the books “decommissioned” from the library. I’m always raring for a fight at the library, and so decide to feel insulted on behalf of the books, two of which are among my favorites. Should I mount a case to the librarian to get these books recommissioned? Probably not.

I take six books.

What’s Wrong with Sports by Howard Cosell (last checked out April 21, 2004)
Space by James Michener
A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell (last checked out on April 10, 2019)
Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of a New Hollywood by Mark Harris (last checked out on February 5, 2009)
The Secret of Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton
Under the 82nd Airborne by Deborah Eisenberg
The Turquoise Mask by Phyllis A. Whitney

3:00–3:20
The inspector’s verdict: We have powderpost beetles. I hand the inspector my credit card and permission to charge it $399 in three days, because three days is the amount of time he’s giving me to decide against an exterminator. I definitely might. The beetles make beautiful designs in the wood as they eat it. They look like hieroglyphic messages. The less beautiful results—the total collapse of our house—won’t come to bear until after I’m dead.

3:20–3:38
Drive to camp. I need to mention “occulting lights” earlier. I could combine the funeral scene with the eavesdropped conversation between a father and his friend. The part about the orange rope should be the end of the whole book, not the end of the first section.

3:38–3:48
Go the other general store, the one where my daughter doesn’t work. Get one whoopie pie for $2.99, even though it would make better sense to get three whoopie pies for $7.99. If I didn’t want to eat them, I would force myself to, because otherwise it would be a waste and I hate waste more than I love a bargain. I think the reason I’m reading Gödel, Escher, Bach is because I see the world now like a logic proof, and this kind of thinking feels so unmagical, and yet GEB makes logical thinking feel a little bit magical, and so I can reassure myself that I’m less of a drill bit spinning down into topic after topic, which is how it feels these days. I look up at the sky practically never.

3:48–4:06
“Baguettes in the Face” Mustard
“Sunflower” Post Malone and Swae Lee
“Old Town Road” Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus
“Senorita” Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello
“MIDDLE CHILD” J. Cole
“Pop Out” Polo G featuring Lil Tjay

4:06–4:36
Endure the grumpiness of a boy forced to read a chapter of Lost in the Pacific, 1942. If asked, he would see zero differences between me and the librarian in terms of the long-term effects our behavior has on the future reading prospects of children like him.

4:36–5:15
Take a hot bath. Get back into nightgown/dress. Get into bed. After five minutes, put on some pants.

5:15–6:00
Take a bike ride. See no bears.

6:00–6:45
Boil spaghetti for the kids. Get dressed to go out to dinner with my husband for our wedding anniversary. I wear his old sweater, the one with the holes. We also have wool moths.

My daughter finished work and is at the Cake and Authors event at the library, and not because she likes authors.

6:45–7:30
Drive to the restaurant with my husband (yesterday was our wedding anniversary).

7:30–7:40
Check in with the hostess. She gives us a table with a great view of the fog that hides the view.

7:40–9:30
Topics covered:

1) Our children and their genetic resemblance (or not) to certain troublesome relatives.
2) How we would we fix the acoustics in this restaurant, if we owned it.
3) The failure of adults to read books, and we are some of those adults suddenly; based on our reading habits entire libraries could be decommissioned by September.
4) The inexplicability of an entrée called Surf and Turf involving only scallops and halibut, but maybe fish are being raised on land now.
5) The upcoming visit of a friend who is a 9-11 truther and general conspiracy addict.
6) How the ticks this year are insanely fierce and tiny, and how all of the medical/CDC “wisdom” of the past is disproven on a daily basis—this week a friend got Lyme and a co-infection from a tick that was on her for six hours (the “24-hour rule” means nothing anymore)—and yet somehow no doctor knows about this or cops to knowing this, which means we actually sympathize a bit with our conspiracy-minded friend (certainly not about the 9-11 stuff, but we can maybe sign up for aliens), because the degree to which doctors and CDC officials spread disinformation or simply really old information is just fucking weird. Our conspiracy-minded friend believes the government weaponized ticks on Plum Island in the ’50s to wage bio-warfare against our enemies, and some of them escaped, and so we effectively waged bio-warfare against ourselves, which is an accurate way to describe how many Americans feel right now, even those without Lyme disease.
7) How bugs are increasingly coming to rule our lives, and so what was the point wasting $399 to kill a few of them.
8) How writers of terrible sentences are only erratically called out by literary critics.

Did today count as a day when nothing happened?

9:30-10:15
Drive home.

10:15–10:30
Check my son for ticks. He spends all day in the woods and unlike me doesn’t wear rain boots when it’s 80 degrees and sunny. When he asks if I’ve read any more of the book I started last week—The Owl Service, by Alan Garner—tell him I haven’t, so I can’t tell him what happens next. When he asks about the plot of the book I’m reading instead, I tell him that nothing happens because it’s about nothing happening. When he insists that something must happen, I tell him about the scene with the spider. The narrator, a terrible man, sees a drunk man passed out on the roadside with a giant, poisonous spider crawling over his face. The terrible man watches as the spider crawls into the drunk man’s beard and approaches his open mouth. Suddenly, the drunk man, still asleep, swats at his beard. He sends the spider flying. The terrible man inspects the spider, now missing three legs and unable to walk. After a few minutes, he crushes it under his boot heel.

While this story, to me, illustrates the chilling failure of the terrible man to care about anyone or anything, and to view suffering as a curious event without moral consequences, my son thinks that the terrible man did a good thing. He exhibited mercy. He put the hurt spider out of its misery.

10:30–11:37
Watch part of a documentary about the girl who urged her boyfriend to commit suicide over text. Get into bed and drill down through the day. Was the girl putting her boyfriend out of his misery? Was she terrible like the terrible man? Why am I only now realizing that I fell 10 pages short of my goal of rewriting to page 68? Was time not of the essence? Did today count as a day when nothing happened? I looked at the sky on the way home from dinner. I did accomplish that.

Heidi Julavits is the author of the New York Times Notable book The Folded Clock: A Diary (Doubleday, 2015). With Sheila Heti and Leanne Shapton, she edited the bestselling Women in Clothes (Blue Rider 2014). She is the author of four novels, among them The Vanishers (Doubleday, 2012), a New York Times Notable Book and winner of the PEN New England Fiction Award.