This morning, two minutes before the alarm would have sounded at 4:30, I swung my legs down and stood next to the bed feeling my usual morning unsteadiness of limb and mind and the urgent need to pee. I walked downstairs to the bathroom and took care of matters noticing after I walked back into the kitchen that the alarm on my phone was sounding and had been for a minute.
Each morning I make one good cup of coffee. The beans are from a local roaster. I drop two scoops of them into a hand grinder, turn it for two minutes while the water boils, fit together the two major pieces of the press, and drop the grounds in. The boiling water settles while I get down a mug. Hot water over grounds, a stir, more hot water for the grounds and enough in the mug to warm it, then I screw the cap on the press, invert it over the mug, and push. It takes but a moment to clean the press and then, coffee and solar lamp in hand, I walk down to the basement nook.
The solar lamp is a gift from my brother who like me enjoys doing things for himself. Leave it in the sun all day and then flip on the LED lights for free. From a hook over my desk it provides light for writing at 4:45 in the morning.
The writing nook is enclosed by a leftover door and a scavenged window. It is the last half of a wet bar a previous owner built probably believing it would last generations, but ink, coffee, and seltzer are all I serve from it.
Music playing on the speakers, I pull down a fountain pen and a sheaf of used copy paper onto the blank side of which I have copied lines. From the calendar on the wall I copy the date and number page one.
Since July 5 I have written three pages first thing each morning (after peeing and making coffee). Two mornings ago, on the last day of the year, I wrapped a two-inch stack of pages in plastic wrap then dropped them in a box in the cedar closet. What good they are I don’t know, but it felt right to hang onto them at least for a while. The stack to my left is a scant six pages and I glance at it worried that I will somehow be unable to continue long enough to make it tall.
It is just past noon now. The coffee cup is upstairs in the dishwasher. I’ve read three of Donald Hall’s Essays After Eighty, am drinking seltzer and listening to Radiohead, and a nap sounds like just the thing.
Each morning I play at being a writer as children play doctor or firefighter, each of us creating an elaborate game. Occasionally, I return to the nook as I have now, open the computer and type something that, unlike the morning pages, goes out into the world. This takes stamina. There is a couch behind me, a pillow and blanket too. It requires courage to type what seems to me worth thinking but which a passerby might label tripe or even narcissism.
Tired as I am, nearly eight hours out of bed, it seems clear that the only foolish thing is to not write. Those six pages next to me, the two inches of pages in the closet, and these typed words are good work, Donald Hall’s term for sitting on my ass, scratching a fountain pen across the clean side of a page, and typing words onto a screen. Good work like grinding coffee. Good like a lamp powered by the rays of the sun. Goodness that is revealed in the early morning solitude and unsteadiness of mind and body.