June 29, 2019KR BlogBlog

Dispatch from a Bad Day

I started writing this on my phone in the evening of what had been a terrible day. I was at the gym, on the elliptical, when I opened the Notes app and started jotting down observations, images, memories. I didn’t know why I was making these notes, or what I planned to do with them—just that I felt abruptly driven to document the day. I kept it up for the next few hours as I ran errands, tapping in a few words while in parking lots, while stopped at red lights, or while in the produce section of the grocery store.

The more I wrote, the more I realized I didn’t want to describe the bad day itself. I had no interest in recording the source of my anger and hurt, all the reasons I could cast those hours in a negative light. In fact, the details of what had soured my day fell away as I wrote, and soon I found myself focusing on other, better things.

First, I recalled the day’s positive interactions, the moments that made me feel seen or cared for in ways both big and small. Like the writer friend who unexpectedly texted me a photo of the ocean to say: Wishing for you from this spot. May good things happen for your book soon. Or the trainer at the gym who made goofy puns I groaned at even though I actually, secretly loved them. Or the neighbor who knocked on my door with an invitation to a backyard party. Or the surreptitious note slipped my way that read: Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

Once I started thinking of the good rather than the bad, I couldn’t seem to stop. Nothing was too small: the perfect mango I ate after work. My husband’s witty texts. The smell of rain. Making plans to go out for drinks with friends. Listening to “Wait for It” from Hamilton as a shameless confidence booster (“I am the one thing in life I can control / I am inimitable, I am an original”). Cats circling my ankles. The woman at the gym who complimented my brightly colored leggings. I wrote all of this down as quickly as I could.

Gradually, my notes shifted from documenting my own day to detailing the people around me as I ran errands: the little girl squealing with happiness as her father carried her into a store. The elderly couple walking side by side. The splash of tattoo across a man’s bicep. The other man calling for his son outside in a voice as steady as a metronome.

The more I recorded notes about other people, the more I took notice of them. Soon I found myself smiling at every stranger I passed in an attempt to cut through the ugliness of my day and to make tiny, tenuous connections. In fact, I came to believe that labeling my day as “bad” and pitying myself for it was self-absorbed. So I wrote in my phone: The world does not revolve around me. I wrote: The bright side. And I wrote: I am small.

Thinking of my smallness in the greater scheme of things also made me consider all that is vast. My notes transitioned yet again, this time to recall one of the most remote places I’d ever been: a campsite in Utah miles from running water, paved roadways, and light pollution. At night, the giant black dome of sky was so sharp and clear I felt I could see everything. Or maybe I had it backwards and everything out there was looking down on me, a mere human speck in the desert.

Writing is how I process the world, how I make sense of things, and it’s where I feel most comfortable. What a relief it was, on the heels of this bad day, to turn to the familiar act of writing, and to let that writing take me somewhere I hadn’t expected.

In this case, it transported me from one lousy day back to the Utah desert, to a time I watched the sun go down and the stars come out. Back to feeling in awe and at the mercy of nature. Back to where I slept in a tent and where, in the earliest moments of dawn, I woke to see light breaking over the horizon. Where I watched as my particular slice of the planet prepared to shake off the cold dark hours of night, to turn its face to the sun—to be illuminated once more.