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A Day in a Life Spent Writing and/or Stalling

First, I would like to give a big "Thank You!" to Powell's for inviting me to guest blog this week. I'm sure it will be a great deal of fun right up until about Friday, at which point everyone will realize what a frightful mistake this has been and expunge all records of my posts from Google. Then Yahoo. Then Ask Jeeves, should it still be 1999.

Second, as the author of I Could Pee on This and Other Poems by Cats, I promise I will indeed address topics of a most feline nature in the coming days. I would like to start off by responding to the one question authors get more than any other. No, not "Where do you get your ideas?" or "What inspires you?" or "How often does your credit card get declined?" Rather, the query "Just who the hell do you think you are, calling what you do 'work'?! Why should anyone anywhere think anything you do could even be considered a job?! As far as I'm concerned, they should bury your sorry—" at which point I usually interrupt the elementary-school newspaper interviewer and say they're hurting my feelings and I need to go sob now.

But it does bring up an interesting point — how exactly do writers spend their days? Well, writing, like any other profession, requires strict discipline and a highly maintained schedule. So in the interest of preventing my already-fragile mental state from getting more pummeling questions, allow me to share my own daily routine. Perhaps this small gesture will in some way shine a little light on what it means to write for a living and, therefore, experience long intervals without health insurance.

My Workday

6:30 a.m. Wake up. Make coffee. Wake up again and realize that when I nodded off my chin plunged the French press six seconds after I poured the water, meaning I accidentally made myself Sanka. Reason at this point to simply forgo the coffee cup and stick a crazy straw in the French press carafe instead. As grainy liquid takes that final loop before reaching my lips, I just know this is not going to end well.

7:30 a.m. Having thrown up things I ate as a child, I now go to my home office, which in a New York City apartment means I simply turn 180 degrees in my swivel chair. Realize spinning around in a swivel chair is fun. Also realize that pretending to be a centrifuge after drinking two cups of hot, damp coffee grounds is exceptionally nauseating, and so stop after 20 minutes and swiftly plummet.

8:00 a.m. Wake up on floor and climb on to motionless chair near workspace. Arrange art supplies carefully, even though I'll be writing, not drawing, today. Busily commence avoiding writing by giving each of my pens a backstory and motive. My #5 pen is a particularly intriguing fellow, in that I imagine he's a billionaire pen by day but a crime-fighting pen by night. (At noon he tries on a variety of hats, regarding it as "me time.") Alas, being a pen, he just sits on top of my table and so can't enjoy or explore either lifestyle. Quickly doodle something with the #5 pen so he doesn't feel useless.

9:15 a.m. Commence work on new book. Suddenly switch gears and decide to write a sitcom about mismatched roommates, one a refined neat freak unaccustomed to squalor, the other an escaped Colobus monkey with a loaded handgun and steadily improving aim.

10:00 a.m. Return to new book. Immediately lose hour wondering if I could cultivate a houseplant that thrives under routine neglect and the occasional arc of cat piss.

10:30 a.m. Return to work on new book. Decide I'm going to set it in ancient Greece. We open as my playwright Aeshophocles's latest theatrical magnum opus, "And Then at the Last Minute the Gods Came in and Made Everything All Right Much to the Delight of the Chorus," wows the critics (including a young Frank Rich) but closes in two weeks after both failing to attract the coveted male teen audience (which, given the life span of your average Greek citizen back then, was around age four) and having to compete with Disney's newest original musical production, a remake of Medea done with ponies. Meanwhile, the god Zeus still manages to evade paternity suit after paternity suit by picking up women in the form of a swan, a Holstein bull, and, according to one plaintiff, a rather aggressive ring-tailed lemur named "Toby." And, most important of all, the Trojan War has begun, amid much media speculation that the rescue of Helen of Troy was merely a political front for the true cause of combat, olive oil.

11:00 a.m. Start to question my knowledge of ancient Greece. Decide instead to renew daily heated argument with unseen dog in next-door apartment. Used to be close friends until he suggested I bet my life's savings on University of Phoenix Online to sweep NCAA basketball tournament. Relationship now chilly at best.

12:00 p.m. Lunchtime! Discover nothing in fridge, cabinets, or between couch cushions. Briefly ponder just how long I would have to squirt a ketchup bottle into my mouth before I can say I ate a whole tomato.

12:30 p.m. Return to idea of book about ancient Greece. Decide instead to focus on when Odysseus had to choose between leaving his son Telemachus in the capable hands of his aged, trusted advisor Mentor or in the care of his no-account brother Uncle Slackass, who spent his days talking about putting together a prog-rock band and his nights inhaling the fumes at the oracle of the Delphi with his fellow students from air-refrigeration technical school, having "visions." In my version, Ody chooses Slackass and so returns from a harrowing 20-year journey to find his boy shotgunning ouzo and idly making notes for a film in which all of the major roles would be played by Star Wars action figures.

1:00 p.m. Realize I have yet to shower, don clothes, or get something to eat. Wonder if a wet nap can attend to all three needs concurrently.

1:30 p.m. Worry that when people tell me, "You would be great with kids," what they're really saying is, "You think like a kid." Then worry that when they're really saying, "You think like a kid," what they're REALLY saying is, "I'd give it about five minutes in your care before my kid was snatched by condors." Then wonder if condors could actually carry kids, because this might be a great way to lower the high price of family air travel.

2:00 p.m. Wonder if my #5 pen's backstory should include children or if, when it comes to relationships, he's more of a "love 'em and leave 'em" type. Conclude that, no, he's a good guy after all. Then use him to doodle a happy face to drive that point home.

2:30 p.m. Starving. Try to dispel thoughts of food by inventing new dance, "The Francesco." Very much like "The Twist" only you do it on a coffee table naked for 45 minutes to no music.

3:00 p.m. Return to doodling with #5 pen. Realize I have drawn several cats, many actually on the sheet of paper in front of me. Suddenly think that maybe instead of rewriting an epic Greek poem I should write my own epic poem — from the point of view of cats! Of course! A cat goes somewhere, does something. My God, the poem writes itself! (Especially since after an absence of coffee I doze off again, awaking to find myself in the middle of automatic writing.)

3:45 p.m. Stupid dog next door doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. Go out in hallway and stand at his closed door to engage in further dialogue. Neighbors become alarmed due to my lack of clothes and now apparent preponderance of rub-on Cracker Jacks ass tattoos. Taunt dog by saying that I'm going to write an epic poem about a cat. Immediately feel bad and promise next year to write an epic poem about a dog. Dog goes somewhere, does something. Man, I should be writing this stuff down.

4:00 p.m. Grow faint from lack of food. Become convinced the corporate mascot of Little Caesars and I would be best of buddies, given similar ethnic backgrounds and annoying habit of repeating ourselves.

4:30 p.m. Discover I inadvertently left my billionaire/crime-fighting #5 pen uncapped, so now he's almost completely dry. I allow for a moment of silence that extends to a full half-hour when I notice just how much fun it is to play "Taps" through my nose.

5:00 p.m. Can't stop crying due in part to untimely passing of pen and almost entirely thanks to complete lack of food and coffee. Start to scrawl insulting remarks all over naked body with the last remaining ink from good ol' #5. Begin to parse each insult on my body for subject, verb, and predicate.

5:30 p.m. Now totally delirious. Jump back on coffee table, dance "The Francesco" for a bit, then underline body insults with feeble #5 while yelling at next-door neighbor's dog, "Nothing you can say that I haven't already told myself! You hear me?!? So who's the big dog now, huh?!? WHO'S THE BIG DOG NOW?!?"

6:00 p.m. The sobbing is relentless. New York City closets are far too small to provide adequate passage to Narnia. There is no escape from fears or self.The sobbing is relentless. New York City closets are far too small to provide adequate passage to Narnia. There is no escape from fears or self. Oh God...



8:00 p.m. Girlfriend arrives to find me laughing hysterically, naked, covered in Saran Wrap, and doing "The Francesco." She is unfazed.

8:30 p.m. Girlfriend finishes removing wrap from body, inadvertently tearing off both treasured chest hair and rub-on tattoo in process. She then requests I acquire a T-shirt or at least a dish towel.

9:00 p.m. We order Chinese. I eat both meals. Upon hearing of my lack of food, girlfriend inquires as to why I didn't simply order in lunch. I sheepishly point to pen insult on right shoulder blade that reads "Francesco Not Worthy of Delivery," the last few letters almost invisible from #5's final drops of ink. She calmly suggests I bathe with a loofah.

9:30 p.m. We watch TV. We laugh. We read. We are happy.

11:30 p.m. Realize I didn't write a single thing all day. Decide instead of creating an epic poem from the point of view of cats, I should just write several shorter poems and ascribe them to cats in case the reviews are bad. That way I can shift the blame. Recall idea for a plant that thrives on cat piss and so title first poem "I Could Pee on This." Send poem to agent and immediately drop off to sleep.

6:30 a.m. Wake up. Make coffee. Suddenly remember what I sent to agent the night before. Try to call and apologize, but it is too late.

÷ ÷ ÷

Francesco Marciuliano is the author of Sally Forth, an internationally syndicated family comic strip (created by Greg Howard). He was also the head writer for the PBS children's series SeeMore's Playhouse. He lives in New York City.

Books mentioned in this post

Francesco Marciuliano is the author of I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats

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