My local newspaper will sometimes run interviews with famous and/or emerging authors, and interestingly enough, one of the standard questions is “Describe your office, or where you write.” (I guess that’s not really a question, is it? More a command or an instruction.) As my need to research authors increased, I started reading other publications, other sites, and became aware that this inquiry regarding an author’s writing space was somewhat universal.
Most often, an author’s writing space is pretty sweet. It may not be big or prestigious, but generally it is filled with precious things, personal treasures, and a nice, focused sort of desk. Invariably there is a windowed view involved, overlooking a backyard, or a wooded lot, or a view of the cityscape or the sky; something to gaze into or across, someplace where thoughts can linger and coalesce.
I have three writing spaces, actually. Three, because none of them are uniquely mine, but I claim them at times. (A sidebar that, while I don’t consider myself an Author, as in I don’t support myself even a little bit with my writing, I do consider myself an author because I do write stuff that is my own and that sometimes other people read. It’s kind of like how I’m a cook because I make dinner for my family but I’m not a Cook – it’s not my profession, like a Chef or a Baker and I’m only, at best, adequate. Or I’m a driver because I’m the one who drops kids off at places and then picks them up again, usually, but I’m certainly not a Driver, with a special license and an ability – or even a desire – to drive a truck or a bus or a limousine.)
My main writing space is my big comfy chair in the living room. It’s also where I read, and where I watch TV, where I talk with my family, even where I eat meals (because our dining room is our computer/storage/clutter room and we eat our meals off an oversize butcher block coffee table in our living room – yes, even when we “entertain”). My desk is actually a TV tray that holds my laptop, my mouse (yes, I’m a dinosaur), my cell phone and my coffee. My filing system consists of the armrests of my chair, and, if necessary, the rocking chair next to my big comfy chair.
I don’t write here due to extreme poverty, nor due to extreme laziness (although I’m sure there could be plenty of jokes attributed to the latter), but because it’s the most comfortable place for me to be. Life swirls around me here, and I can be a part of it, but be apart from it, as well. Since quite often everyone else is, well, elsewhere, I have chunks of time when I can type away mindlessly (or in a very focused manner) and not feel like, or seem like, or actually be exclusionary when folks are here; I am close enough to answer the phone, answer an inquiry, answer the door, share a thought, or simply make a smart aleck comment throughout the rest of the house. I feel comfortable here, and in control. What better place to let the stream of consciousness flow, eh?
I also have an “office” in the basement that I used when I actually had a paying job. My husband fashioned it for me out of a couple of sheets of drywall and a wall-to-wall writing surface (“desk” would be misleading). There is no door, but he hung up a lovely piece of deep green velour (left over from the makings of a theater curtain), fitted with brass grommets so it could slide across a pipe running along an exposed floor support; I added to it a lovely gossamer fabric of shimmering green with gold threaded leaves that floats lightly whenever the air moves – the effect is enchanting. Over the cement floor is a cheap but earthy area rug, whose main purpose is to muffle the echo and to keep my feet from freezing in winter. While I could spread my arms and touch either side of the narrow space, its suited me, because when I was working from home, I needed something that would keep me swaddled to my work, to not allow my focus to wander beyond that 4′ x 7′ world. I felt safe there, my own personal cubicle decorated at whim without any corporate constraints.
I have many, many personal mementos decorating this office: a poster of a gaming gathering, signed by developers and friends that remain near and dear to my heart; a welcome sign and an umbrella’ed drink cup made out of a coconut from a business trip to Hawaii; the strand of cheap, fake pearls that I bought from a young boy in bustling Charminar market in Hyderabad, India during another business trip, and the oversize thank you card that my team presented me with once my tenure there was done; photo buttons of my son in various athletic uniforms gathered over the years – tennis, cross country skiing, baseball (oh, I was so proud when he first wore his baseball uniform – I nearly cried… heck, I cried); postcards from my daughter at Camp Warren from two different summers, and a small figure of a knight that she brought home from Malta (she had asked what I wanted her to bring me from her first European trip, and I jokingly said “a knight in shining armor” – I cried at that one, too); a picture from the local paper of Twins infielder Nick Punto flying horizontal as he fielded the ball and then whipped it over to first base for the out, in a single amazing motion; a full page tribute from that same newspaper to Kirby Puckett the day after he died, with the words, “Touch ’em all, Kirby!” accompanying the image of the man himself, bat in hand, and that marvelous, incredible, infectious smile of his. Oh, and the most important office accessory of all – the coffee warmer that activates when a cup is set on it, making constant trips to the kitchen unnecessary. These things and so many others, memories of triumphs and times (and people) who made – make – life so very precious.
I don’t often go down to the basement to write anymore, though. It’s almost too focused for me now, too full of a sense of obligation, of duty. I enjoy my office, I loved being there, but I don’t go there on a whim. Well, plus, it’s in the basement. Going up and down the cramped stairs with laptop, cord, mouse and coffee in hand is not easy, and the bathroom is two floors away. And it’s a bit dark now, and is not temperature controlled (a bit clammy in the summer and a bit chilly in the winter, although once the curtain is drawn, a space heater does a pretty darned good job of keeping it warm). If I ever start actually drawing income for writing, perhaps I’ll transfer my work down there, but not yet, not yet.
The third place where I write is my favorite. It’s my front porch. It’s not enclosed, but it is sheltered, and there are bushes and flowers in front, hooks along the trim for hanging plants, halved PCV pipe tucked along the railing that hold a yearly infusion of impatiens, and a trellis (which used to support clematis but now boasts engleman ivy). When the mood hits me (and it’s warm enough) I will run an extension cord out to the porch, and drag out my TV tray with my laptop and my phone and my cup of coffee, and write while the scent of lilacs wafts by or rain patters (or deluges) down or the antics of squirrels or birds or half wild cats catch my attention, and the ebb and flow of my urban neighborhood all pass by. It’s a setting that distracts just enough, so that I don’t feel in idle moments that I should seek out something else to do, nor are there too many reminders that I have plenty of other things that could or should be done. It’s remote enough that I don’t necessarily need to interact with what goes by except by choice, and yet I am part of it, so it feels – it is – vital and alive. And sitting on my porch, the potential for experience is so much higher than in my house or down in my office; I have seen so many diverse things from my porch, things both wonderful and distressing, things that make me feel, that amaze me, that comfort me. It’s absolutely the best place to be to write.
You know, many years ago – decades ago – I felt like I was languishing at my job, so I signed up for a few sessions with a career counselor because… well, because I could. We talked a lot, and she had me take a few tests and such. I don’t remember much from those sessions, and not much came from them because I ended up staying at my same job for over 20 years (and it’s a good thing, too, because after many years the job morphed into an absolutely amazing opportunity that I wouldn’t have believed possible and would not have traded for the world). But there was one exercise I do remember with great clarity: the counselor asked me to close my eyes and imagine my ideal job; not the work I would be doing, necessarily, but rather, the place where I would be doing it. She wanted me to imagine my ideal work space with as much detail as I could.
I’m not good with that kind of imaginative thought play, but after a few minutes, I got a very strong image of sitting at a laminated kitchen table in the morning sunshine, with a white ruled writing tablet, a cobalt blue pen, and a bright yellow cup of hot coffee. It was the yellow mug that intrigued me; it was so vivid and so integral to my imaginings, and with such a sense of permanence, of relativity. In my mind, I knew that there was nothing better in the world than to be sitting there, at home, writing (or actually, editing – whatever that was), with a bright yellow mug filled to the brim with aromatic, marvelous, comforting black coffee.
Well, that laminated kitchen table may actually be a TV tray, that ruled tablet a laptop, and the pen a cobalt blue wireless mouse, but you know, after all these years and all the experiences I have had, I think my imagination may just have gotten it right. When the sun is shining and I have a cup of coffee and no other pressing item on my agenda other than to write something – a review, this article, a contribution to a staff pick, whatever – then I honestly feel like I have the most ideal “job” in the world. It’s not often that we get to realize our dreams; I guess I’m one of the lucky ones. And you know what? Maybe I’ll keep my eyes open for a big, bright yellow coffee mug, to remind myself of just how lucky I am. That would be a mighty fine reminder, if I do say so myself.