Last December as we cruised down 101 freeway, enjoying the rare moment with Elena asleep in her car seat and one of not signing wheels-on-the-bus, I started talking. Gerber drove and started listening. A usual pattern we find ourselves in; the talker and the listener.
I want to write more, I began. I have so many ideas about articles and books. But everything gets stuck in my head. I feel like there’s not enough time or there’s always other stuff to get done.
Blah, Blah. I have heard myself say versions of this same thing before. It’s been on shuffle, coming up in conversations for years.
We all know these are just excuses. But the feelings are real. Life in this season IS full. I write for work, a lot. I respond to questions and make schedules and draft project proposals. I write emails to dear friends who live far away and thumb tap Instagram novel length posts. Sometimes at the end of the day my words-for-writing tank is empty. I once went to a conference where one of my favorite writing teachers said the best thing you can do as a writer is use your first words for the most important thing.
. . .
We keep driving, as the freeway hugs the cliffs on one side and the ocean sparkles in the reflection out the window on the other.
He looks at me, “So, what do you need to write?”
His questions are simple, so direct. They take the hundreds of feelings and thoughts swimming around inside and get to the essence.
Space, I answer, thinking more about figurative space, like space during the day to set-aside for writing.
We drive on in silence, both staring straight ahead.
I used to think oh, great. thaaaat conversation ended well, interrupting his silence for an ending. But a few years of marriage has taught me to respect the silence. Usually, it just means he’s thinking.
It’s not an ending, but an invitation to pause.
“What about if we divide the space in the office, so you can have a desk.”
It wasn’t really a question. More of a solution.
When we moved back into our newly remodeled house last year, I had the idea of using the kitchen as my work/writing space. We even got a special bar stool because I was convinced this is where I wanted to write, in the middle of cutting up grapes and making phone calls and picking up those ridiculous letter magnets that never seem to stay on the fridge. I imagined writing between life at the table and the high chair and the kitchen sink.
And I do spend a lot of time in between those places. And I enjoy most of them. But I cannot write there. I have tried.
I tried to set-up my laptop at the kitchen table, after the dishes were cleaned off and the dreaded high-chair tray wiped down and the baby in bed. I grabbed my tea and something sweet and aimlessly meandered through work emails and checking facebook and starting blog drafts. But there was no place to leave my post-it notes with scribbled down ideas or pin-up pictures and quotes for inspiration. There wasn’t any space for consistency.
The other thing that writing teacher said was, writers need to create a place to do their work.
She was right.
Physical space for me is deeply connected to figurative space. I needed an actual location, a desk, a work place to call my own, to take my writing and my time seriously. Of course there is nothing wrong with working from couches with babies nestled next you and kitchen tables and stolen moments in-between nap time and dinner time. That works, and for some seasons, that may be all you get. So dear writer, take it. Make it yours and write with whatever time and space you have.
But I was ready for a desk.
Last week, Gerber spent a Thursday night re-assembling the corner desk piece he had bought for himself. He separated it, installed an extra base and set up a work space for me, next to the window because he knows I love the sun. He made room. He gave me a physical space to write, and maybe equally significant the encouragement that he values what I want to do. I sometimes think in marriage the most loving thing we can do is create space for your what matters most to your spouse.
So I am now typing this at my desk, my space.
I love how the afternoon sun bounces off one of my favorite pictures from our wedding. We are dancing. You can only see a small corner of Gerber’s mouth, but his eyes are smiling. My nose is scrunched because sometimes just looking at him brings me joy. Elena’s little face is framed in a gold rectangle that I bought for Q10 at a store called Buen Precio. She is my arms and about to laugh. Of course, I love it when she sleeps and takes extra long naps like she is right now, but my heart leaps when I see that girl smile. Probably, because she has her Daddy’s smile.
I am not one for lots of tradition. I didn’t do anything like something old, something new and something blue for my wedding. But I did kind of by accident for my desk. My favorite blue anthro candle sits in the corner. It smells like Santa Barbara at summer time. I don’t even light it that often, I just like to smell it.
I guess that is my something blue.
I have never been a fan of tequila, but one summer in Santa Barbara I went around to bars and asked if I could have their empty Patron bottles after they poured the last shot. Bartenders always were a bit surprised by my request, especially because I was in my gym clothes and never offered to buy any tequila. I explained that I thought they made lovely vases and I wanted to use them at my wedding one day. I collected eight empty Patron bottles that summer. And I did in fact bring them down to Guatemala for our wedding. They were set on tables and by the fountain, filled with white and yellow daisies and wisps of eucalyptus leaves. I never got them all back, but I did save one. And now that one mini-patron bottle sits on my desk to hold the flowers that Elena often picks and hands to me saying, “fo mama.”
After my Grandma died 3 years ago, my mom and aunts invited us to go through some of her things. My Grandma was a German immigrant who became a doctor. She re-used envelopes and washed out yogurt containers to use in place of Tupperware. I think of her with fondness because of her love for reading and letter writing and general resourcefulness. When we were going through her things I told myself I could only bring things back what I could actually use. In my suitcase back to Guatemala I packed this heavy-duty Swingline stapler, which I am pretty sure is older than I am. And a pair of black handled scissors that have the letters “Steel no.28” engraved on the edge. They’re the heaviest, sturdiest scissors I have ever owned. I use them often, imagining my Grandma nodding approvingly because her things are being put to good use.
Those are my something old.
The small clock I splurged on and bought at Pottery Barn after we got married. It is one of those new-antique-looking things. Gerber never understood why I would buy something new to look old. I admit, it was probably over-priced, but now it sits on my desk and reminds me that I have time. Or better yet, that I can make time for what is important. My dad used to always tell me we all have the same amount of time each day. The number of minutes each day is fixed, but how we spend them is not.
This is my something new.
In my blue Mason jar I have my favorite stabilo pens that I first found, 11 years ago in a German post-office while studying abroad. At the time I don’t think you could find them in the states. They felt special, something strictly European. Now you can get them on Amazon and at any little libreria, even here in Guatemala. There is a cork board right above my desk with our most recent Christmas picture pinned up and a card from my mom, with the word Joy penned in pretty calligraphy. I like the word and the colors match my space with swirls of blue and grey and turquoise.
But I am writing.
My motto recently has been start with what you have, where you are.
So I am. I am writing from my desk. With the words and space I have, when I can.
I have been reading, Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and it is quickly becoming one of my favorite writing books. She is direct and wise and so cleaver. In her chapter titled, “Writing Is Not a McDonald’s’ Hamburger” she says:
“Give yourself some space before you decide to write those big volumes. Learn to trust the force of your own voice. Naturally, it will evolve… but it will come from a different place than your need to be an achiever. Writing is not a McDonald’s hamburger. The cooking is slow, and in the beginning you are not sure whether a roast or a banquet or a lamb chop will be the result.”
I am learning to trust my own voice. And to keep letting my writing evolve and accept that like fine cooking, it is a good, sometimes slow process. And that that is an ok thing, because we all know, I really don’t like McDonald’s hamburgers. And I am guessing you don’t either.
There is something powerful and even dare I say, transforming in writing down your stories. Giving words to the emotions and thoughts that swirl around inside. Somehow writing them down, creating space for them to be, helps me. And maybe, just maybe, whispers to someone else in the quietness, “it’s ok, me, too.”
. . .
P.S. There’s still a big open space between our two desks. Gerber and I want to find a big world map to hang in that shared wall space because we share a love of traveling and seeing the world and we would most likely not agree on any other kind of art. I would want inspirational words and lovely lettered quotes and he would want landscapes of far off mountains and oceans and motorcycles. A map seems like the perfect compromise, amiright?! Any recommendations for a finding a large (like 4 x 5 foot) world map print? Do share!
P.S.S. Thank you for reading my words, encouraging my writing and following along here! If you’re not following along on facebook would you do me favor and like this page. Thank you, from the bottom of my writers’ heart.