Working

By  |  August 10, 2016
"Needle," (2006), by Lance Letscher. Photograph by Christopher Zaleski "Needle," (2006), by Lance Letscher. Photograph by Christopher Zaleski

Some mornings my calendar is empty. On such mornings I wake up and make coffee and think: Today, at last, I can write. Today I will fill the empty hours with words. But when I sit at my desk and open my laptop, I feel guilty for the decision to use up the empty hours stringing together words that may, or may not, remain in the world. I feel I should instead string together actions that will remain in the world, important physical deeds with definite human outcomes, such as: go to yoga class, schedule annual dermatologist appointment, take husband’s shirts to dry cleaner, buy organic produce and meat and cook meal for family. Then I close the laptop and do the important physical acts, all the while feeling guilty that I have chosen to waste the hours in which I could be writing.

Some mornings my calendar is full. On such mornings I wake up and make coffee and think: Today, at last, I don’t have to write. Today I will do the important physical acts I have prepared in advance to do. But when I begin to look over the schedule and plan the particular series of stops around town, I feel guilty for the decision to prioritize these nonessential physical activities over the psychologically essential act of stringing together words. I skip the yoga class and cancel the dermatologist appointment and put my husband’s shirts in the washing machine and schedule delivered pizza for dinner. Then I sit at my desk and open my laptop and string together words, all the while feeling guilty that I have chosen to neglect the physical deeds with definite human outcomes in order to prioritize words that may, or may not, remain in the world.


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Jamie Quatro is the author of the story collection I Want to Show You More. Her writing has also appeared in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2013, the New York Times Book Review, Tin House, Ploughshares, McSweeney's, and elsewhere. Her forthcoming debut novel, Fire Sermon, will be published in early 2018.