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Roxane Gay and the Case for Night Owls
There are many ways to live a healthy life. The Health Diaries is a weekly series about the habits that keep notable people living well.
If you’ve ever read an article, book, or piece of commentary by Roxane Gay, you know she doesn’t shy away from the tough stuff. Feminism, body image, sex, gender, race, and so much more are all fair game. Gay — who has many jobs, including editor of Gay Magazine — has written several acclaimed books in recent years (Bad Feminist, Difficult Women, and Hunger).
Why is she so prolific? “I think I stay motivated with all of my work because of ambition,” she says. “I’m very driven by success — or not even success, but I think working hard is important for me. And seeing the fruits of that labor is also important to me. That keeps me working.”
Gay started her career as a professor at Eastern Illinois University, where she taught for four years before becoming a professor at Purdue University, then at Yale. These days she lives in Los Angeles, where she’s writing a young-adult novel and consulting for various TV shows. She spoke to Elemental about her daily routine, including her favorite meals to cook, how she handles being so busy, and her tricks for falling asleep (clue: Nyquil).
I usually use an alarm clock, but I’ve been waking up before my alarm for the past couple of months. I’m up between 6 and 7 in the morning, which is an absolute nightmare. It just happens, I don’t know why.
The first thing I do is look at my phone, which is not great, but here we are. I read the news and check my emails because I live on the West Coast, so emails have started coming in already.
Then I get up and, more often than not, I do cardio. My trainer comes at the end of that session and I do 45 minutes with them. For cardio, I use a recumbent bike. With my trainer, I’m doing weightlifting and sometimes more cardio, but usually it’s a range of things.
For breakfast, I eat a granola bar and drink water. Once in a while, I’ll have a FAGE yogurt, 2%, too. I do drink coffee but not necessarily in the morning.
I had weight-loss surgery last year. Now I can’t eat a lot, so I let myself eat whatever I want. Generally, for lunch I tend to have a wrap with ham, salami, or turkey, and maybe some blueberries or grapes. That’s just because I like them. For dinner, it depends. I travel constantly, so I eat in restaurants more often than not. I do like to cook but because I’m always on the road, I don’t do it much. However, when I’m in New York with my girlfriend, who lives there, I’m the cook in the relationship. She does not cook at all. Lately I’ve been into making Mongolian beef and chicken fajitas. I like to try different recipes a lot, too. I’ve been cooking from Bottom of the Pot recently, which is this Persian cuisine cookbook. That’s really good.
You have to take multivitamins for the rest of your life after weight-loss surgery, so I take a Bariatric multivitamin and supplements for calcium.
I have no typical workday. Sometimes I’m in a writer’s room for a TV show. (I do a lot of consulting and consulting producing on TV shows.) If I’m doing that, I leave for the studio around 9 a.m. and get there by 10, because most of the studios are about an hour away from where I live in L.A. Then I’m generally there until 3 or 4 p.m, and that time is spent sitting in a room with a bunch of other writers and talking shit all day. If I’m not in a writer’s room, I’m probably taking meetings around town for this project or that, or I’m doing phone calls and interviews. Or I’m recording an episode of my podcast; I’m doing that today at 4:30 p.m. but I also did one at 8 a.m. because I’m on the West Coast and my co-host is on the East Coast, and we’re both incredibly busy. We try to get recording time in where we can. I try to fit email, writing, and reading into my day wherever I can, too.
At the end of the day, I’m usually out and about, and I eat dinner late. Then from 7 or 8 p.m. until two in the morning, I’m working again. I’ve always been a night writer; I generally write best when the sun sets. I don’t have a formal writing process other than that I do a lot of thinking and drafting in my head. When I sit down to write, I generally write my final draft because I’ve already drafted it in my head. For whatever reason, I have the ability to retain those thoughts.
Right now I’m really excited about the YA novel I’m finishing. It’s called The Year I Learned Everything, and it’s about the life of a young woman who starts to understand her worth and that she does not have to explain herself sexually in order to be loved and taken care of. It’s about how she starts to heal from the trauma in her home. It’s based on a short story I wrote.
I don’t have a lot of habits personally because I travel so much and my schedule is insane. If I’m being honest, I have a really hard time keeping a routine. And yeah, I also have no work-life balance. I think work-life balance is very important, but it’s not necessarily realistic for some people. I want better work-life balance because everything in my life feels wildly skewed, and I do so much bizarre work. I know I work too much.
Every night, I watch TV and read before I go to sleep. I’m always reading books, any books, like right now I’m reading Three Women by Lisa Taddeo. I write because reading has always been my first love. It’s a way of centering myself and remembering what I really want to do. I try to go to bed before midnight, but that rarely happens. To go to sleep, I take two cupfuls of Nyquil.
When I feel healthy, I have the energy to get through my day without feeling like I’m going to die. If I’ve managed to get a workout in, which I do most days, I can feel good about what I’ve done. I feel healthy if I’ve eaten well for the day, and when I’ve tried to get into all the different food groups and stayed away from things I should stay away from.
Health can take a lot of different forms. People need to understand that fitness and health are not necessarily correlated. You can be fat and healthy, and you can be fat and exercise regularly, and you don’t need to deprive yourself or do all these nonsense diets. Everyone I know is on some kind of bullshit diet of not eating carbs or this or that or being Keto or whatever. But the thing is this: You should do what you want because it’s your body. I wish people would embrace that.