Who better to inaugurate our All in a Day’s Work series than John Wray, itinerant sunpatch hopper and professional novelist funnyman? As he roamed Kings County in search of inspiration and cappuccinos, we asked him to record his wanderings. The result, as you see, is a prototypical Wray in the Life. John’s newest novel is The Lost Time Accidents.
8:45am — I wake up to the sound of honking on the street outside, which starts every weekday, for no reason I can determine, exactly at a quarter to nine. I ask myself, as I do every morning, why this should be. I stare foggily at a square of sunlight on the floor at the foot of the bed. Today this lasts just under ten minutes. I could easily have done it for hours.
9:40am — I get my morning double cappuccino from Melinda, at the cafe down the block. The cafe is one of a chain, but the chain is a small one, and Melinda is nothing if not an individual. She’s also an artist, and she knows that I like cats. This is a hopeful time. I sit at a very small table and think about the work I’ll be doing that day. Melinda expects great things from me, and so do I.
10:17am — I take the scenic route home, since it’s a beautiful day and the trees on my street are in bloom. The trees on the next street over are in bloom, too, and the next street, and the one after that. I know because I make a thorough check.
10:45am — I consider myself a connoisseur of sunlight, and keep a mental list of places in the neighborhood that lend themselves to basking, depending on the season and the hour of the day. At this time of year the steps of the Congregation Beth Elohim temple on 8th Avenue are ideal, especially in the hour before noon. I sit on the steps and think about the work ahead.
12:16am — There’s a small painting of a distinctly anthropomorphic cat on the wall above my kitchen table. Usually by this point in the day, if I’ve managed to avoid getting work done, a faint note of reproof creeps into its expression. I go to my office and stare at the pictures and notes that I’ve pinned to the wall.
[Click image for detail.]
12:42pm — I’m working on a novel set in Afghanistan and Pakistan and I’ve covered most of one wall of my office with pictures—some copied from magazines or found online, some taken myself—in the hope that I’ll feel less intimidated by the project, and by my limited understanding. This trick isn’t working, at least not today, in part because the expressions on the faces of the men and women I’ve selected seem even more reproachful than the cat’s does downstairs.
1:45pm — I’ve decided that what I need to do, both to get the blood flowing to my brain and as a sort of exercise in focus, is to go down to the basement and play the drums for a while. Playing the drums can be meditative, if you don’t get too flashy. The golden skull on the kick drum was a birthday present. It’s actually a piggy bank, but it makes a nice bright pop when hit. The picture-covered wall upstairs seems less overwhelming from down here. The afternoon once again feels full of promise.
2:35pm — Back in my office, I discover that a slightly smaller square of light has singled out an image that I’d been stepping over for days without really noticing. Two women in burqas walking down a village street in perfect tandem. They seem to be dancing, but also to be hurrying away from something. If I were writing nonfiction, this ambiguity might pose a hurdle, but I’m writing a novel, and the enigmatic quality of the photograph is liberating. Playing drums seems to have helped.
5:16pm — For some reason my thoughts go to Noor, my ‘fixer’ in Kabul, who took me all over the country in his rattling four-door Toyota Corolla. He looks fierce in this picture, but in fact he was irreverent and affable, a lover of Irish whisky and Rihanna. The decal on the Toyota’s rear windshield reads “MAFIA WAR — The King Is Back.” I never could get him to explain its significance.
John Wray is the author of the critically acclaimed novels, Lowboy, The Right Hand of Sleep, and Canaan’s Tongue. He was named one of Granta‘s Best of Young American Novelists in 2007. The recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, he lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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