Monday, August 10, 2009
Speaking for Myself
Recently I’ve been cleaning house, metaphorically and for real. In the process of clearing out the past you have to look at a lot of it, often more than you’d like. As I’ve made my way through tattered memories, I found fragments of a life I’d lived before, a life I grew into in some ways, and in others am just finding my way.
I found old photos of my workspace over the years and almost laughed to see how much it’s grown to dominate my life, into a full wall of my living space. From a few pictures on the wall over a small antique desk, my writing space has grown into an environment, a sort of Stargate into my own head.
What I have today is the luxury of living alone, a rarity in the 21st Century. It affords me a work area that I don’t have to break down at the end of my day, a room of my own. Don’t hate me because I am too set in my ways to let anyone into my life or loft. A few friends manage to make their way past my door. Those that survive are...occasionally welcomed back.
Of course I’m kidding. None of them survive.
But seriously. I like to work at night. It’s past the business hour, and all my friends are asleep, and when I drop into my own little world no one is awake to disturb me. I used to joke that I was feeding off my neighbor’s dreams, and there is an odd truth to that. You see things as you walk up and down your street that sift into your mind and come back up at the oddest times. Moods, anxieties, triumphs, joy...all work their way across your blank page as you stare at it, trying to see enough in your head to put down on the page.
I used to attribute my success to the surroundings. If I just had the right desk, the right pen, the right typewriter, as I bought my Mont Blanc, my IBM Selectric, my first Mac...I wrote on a 19th Century reproduction of a 13th century colonnade table I found in what could generously be called an antique store on Amsterdam Avenue in the 1970s. At $300 it seemed an extravagance at the time, but I still work on it to this day, buried behind an extension for my keyboard and side tables to support printer and hard drives.
The handful of pictures taped to the wall to inspire me has grown into a wall wide collage of any book I am currently working on, soon to be changed now that Blood Pressure has been put to press for release next year. My reference books sit within easy reach to the left in a floor to ceiling bookcase it took me decades to achieve. My chair is comfy and I can sit in it for hours without even realizing I am sitting in a chair, which is the best chair of all.
The black wall came in when I finished the work on the bookcases -- it was a way to suspend the images in front of me in a neutral field that extended to infinity, with no boundaries. I don’t even look at the pictures much once the writing begins -- it’s more like their gestalt presence informs the work, creates a mood that focuses the story each time I sit down.
Sound good? Try explaining to friends who come by and want to plop down in your seat and check their e-mail that they’re farting into your holy of holies, or tell friends who see your growing collages as awfully like the ones they saw in that movie on cable the other night, you know, the one about the serial killer?
It wasn’t me.
There are good sides and bad sides to any working situation, whether your writing space is big or small, temporary or permanent. You don’t find the time to write, you make it, as I am making time now, after a late night party, suddenly realizing the sun is creeping up on me and it’s time to get some sleep before brunch...and you don’t find the space to write, you make it.
The trick is to realize that the real writing space is between your ears. No matter what your luxuries or limitations are (and there’s a cupola on top of an old mansion nearby I would love to go to each day to write, with a warm pot of tea -- no matter how good my space sounds to you, we all have a fantasy of trading up...) what you write is dependent on only one thing -- you.
Not the right time, the right space, the right tool. Just the right headset to make sure that anywhere you are the best damn place in the world to write. Lately, I find pleasure in taking my laptop to the bar of a nearby restaurant and eating brunch while I work. I get to listen in on the people around me, and also use tuning them out to focus better. I love my desk at night, but writing is also about -- well, sometimes getting a little “strange,” as the “guys” would say, taking your work out of your comfort zone physically as well as mentally, and reminding yourself that you can still write without the props -- and without a safety net. It’s scary...