A Desk of One’s Own


I’ve been complaining (somewhat bitterly at times) that I have not have a space of my own in this ‘new again’ home in Ottawa. Not that I had my own space in Melbourne – far from it in fact, but here I feel I am allowed to crave somewhere for my own peace of mind. To have an area that is mine, a place that my creativity can rest in.

 But there is precious little space in a two bedroom apartment for private space. Having a space to call ones own is a luxury that until now, I have not been allowed. Bronwen takes over the master bedroom because the only working TV is there and heaven help us if we miss an episode of Mr Maker; she will be an artist of some sort one day, of that I’m sure. Matthew is in the second bedroom with his computer, and I have, until now, been relegated to sitting at the kitchen table, spreading out my work and scraping back up everything I deem important in the goal of creativity for every family meal. It has been an issue of frustration and of loneliness for me. I think, I if I am honest with myself, I’ve been yearning for space of my own for years.

The other day Matthew lugged up from the basement and set up a small desk for me in the family room. The desk is made of redwood polished to a high gleam. The top opens up to reveal a green leather writing base that is embossed with beautiful gold filigree work. There are small compartments that can hide any number of notes or books. A single pen drawer has a solid brass button handle to hide away pens and tubes of glue. I find my hand gliding over the top of the desk, feeling the silky wood and the earthy grain of the leather. On the inside of the desk, there are criss-crosses of elastic that have been nailed in with brass tacks, to slide in postcards, or words of wisdom and encouragement. The hardware of the desk is brass, giving it an old world look that stands somewhat formally, but not unpleasantly against the dark stained wooden IKEA bookshelves that groan under the weight of my embroidery book collection.

The view from the other side of the kitchen table was much more pleasant, with the distant hills covered in trees. The only view afforded me here at my new desk is of the freeway in the distance, the other apartment building and the rooftops of homes. I confess that its not so pretty, the smooth geometrical brown roof tiles and the creamy brown bricks with flashes of white balcony edges and a swirling ribbon of black that carries scurrying multi-coloured beetles along the busy journey of their days. But even this view offers its own inspiration in that there is nothing to distract me as I sit and work on my story writing, or type up blog entries. I have more than enough daylight to work comfortably, but nothing to draw my eyes away from the work at hand.

OK. It’s not a room that I can close the door on and be alone. It’s not a place I can pile well read and loved or soon to be loved books around me, with baskets of embroidery materials, skeins of thread and several UFO’s (Un Finished Objects) projects scattered safely around. Buts it’s a desk, with a top that I can close. It’s a place I can put my notebooks on and write without staring at the crumbs left over from Bronwen’s morning breakfast toast. It’s a place that I can learn to love as my small space of serenity, or poetry or manic energy. It’s my small space in this small space of life.

 And I think, when I become better acquainted with this space that hold my small desk, I may well just fall completely and utterly in love with it.

Story Telling the Story


courtney-writing-march-30th-2009 

I used to think a story was all about getting from point A to point Z with lots of interesting things in-between. That to write a story you sat down in front of a computer, wrote the first line of the story and wrote in a straight line from the start to the finish. So it comes as no surprise that I really didn’t get anywhere with writing stories and that I failed many times. Writing became something I couldn’t do. It was overwhelming, exhausting and the worst thing; demoralising. I expected the story to reveal itself in an easy to follow flow and when it didn’t, I punished it. To my great shame, I confess that I struck each little story’s fingers with rulers; I spoke to story’s with a cold voice, thinking that I could whip them into shape with strong discipline. It never worked, and I think I may have even scared several story’s away.

So this time when this new Story, still so small, came quietly creeping into the back of my mind, she was, no doubt scared from the repeated warnings to stay away that the other story’s I have lurking there. Story’s who wrongly assumed that they were unloved and unwanted because they were un-worked; who might have tried to tell this new Story to find another mind to be birthed into. But this precious Story is stubborn and strong, she has taken up residence for the last few months in a corner of my creativity, prodding me every now and then to remind me that she does indeed exist but far enough away that I can’t yet call her my own; its self preservation I’m sure.

So I have taken a different tack to try and lure her out of her hiding place. Coxing her with gentleness and proving my worth by having a hand holding a pen, asking Story to reveal her brilliance when ever I can find the time to dedicate to her. She hasn’t started the story at the start, my new friend Story; and instead of reprimanding her, telling her to be sensible and do things in order, I have simply sat and listened, written and smiled. I am to write, even if it is without any kind of order. Higgledy piggledy is good enough for me right now.

 Truth is, I’m not sure how Story really begins at all. There is a general idea of the story arcs for the three main characters that she has shared with me, and there is a loosely based plan of getting them from one situation to the other…. but the details are sketchy. Each day I write, I say to the voice in my head that I now recognise as Story, “OK Story, what are you going to reveal to me today?” And Story seems to like it this way. Who am I’m to argue with her? She holds the glory within her; currently it would be generous to call me her typist.

There are times when Story tells me about the same situation twice, with different twists each time. I like to think that it’s a sign that Story is starting to trust me and that she expects me to sort out the little hiccups and make the flow orderly. I like that she trusts me to use the cut and paste tools on my computer when I transpose the handwritten to the computer screen to smooth out the wrinkles.

Because I’ve discovered that sitting at the computer does not work for Story and me. Maybe it’s the clacking of the computer keys that scares her away. There is the very real possibility that I have to still allow a small chunk of mind to work on the mindlessness of getting the right fingers to the right keys, and Story is jealous and wants all my mind for herself when she is telling me the story, I’m not sure. But when Story is in full flight, she is demanding and wants my full attention. So we have come up with the solution of using the piles of notepads I’ve had stored in my writing bureau for the longest time.

There is something relaxing about holding a pen in my hand, feeling the sweep of the outside of my hand brush along the paper as I weave Story’s words in the ink. I’m particular about the pen I use in our writing sessions. It has to be the ‘right one’ – whatever right means at that particular moment. Story understands this about me; she isn’t the only one who has issues. I enjoy the sound of Story’s voice and the nib scratching over the top of the paper, ink leaving indelible proof that I tried, just one time more with Story to fulfil the gift I think, hope, sometimes believe has been placed in me. I enjoy looking over the number of pages filled with ink at the end of a session of writing, feeling the thrill inside that together we have come so far.

 I’ve learnt, even in this short time with Story, that it’s OK to write in messy patches. That sometimes things don’t have to go from start to finish, and most of the time life isn’t like that anyway and who was I trying to kid? All those books I’ve flipped through teaching me how to write, and never once did I stumble across the idea that it’s OK to write in a mess and piece it together like a puzzle later. But now that I’ve been shown how and have cut myself some slack, I read more and more published authors write in the same manner. I find it comforting, and I don’t mind that Story is gloating at me; so she was right, good for her; good for me!

I’m not ready to share anything that I’ve written with Story. It still feels too new, too raw. In my youth I was eager to show pieces written much too early to people who didn’t truly understand what writing as a medium was like. It was schooled into me that there should be a beginning, middle and end to the writing of a story, which really screwed up my writing for years, and Story has shown me that that’s just not true. But rest assured. Story seems to be gaining in strength. I can’t wait to see her in full flight.

Song Nine

 

starrynightFunny how a song playing in the background of a busy day can bring back memories and make you realise that even as a child you knew who you truly were… and that other people can have such a profound impact on your true self and that it can take years to get back to the truth you knew deep in your heart as a child.

I can recall very clearly a day as a young child thinking the song” Vincent (Starry Starry Night)” about Vincent Van Gogh was so incredibly beautiful yet heartbreakingly sad – although I was yet to fully understand heartbreak – and that the haunting tune brought tears to my eyes. But Mum said that Vincent was nothing but a layabout who tried to get attention by cutting his ear off and that he didn’t deserve a song to be written about him, even if the song was boring! She made it all too clear to me with her facial expressions that I wasn’t to find any loveliness in the story, or the song: that I was being silly to cry over it. Her behaviour and attitude made me feel that my inner being was useless. So I hardened my heart and turned away from what my true spirit was drawn too…. I mentally walked away from the beauty I was pulled towards and firmly set my resolve to making my mother approve of me… and that meant seeing things in the world her way.

Now I’m 30-something, and desperately searching and striving for my own true spirit once more. I struggle for creativity. I yearn to be more productive in my creative skills; I want to produce magnificence in the world around me. And I sit here listening to Josh Groban singing about Vincent, the memories come flooding back of that conversation and the realisations; the ramifications hits home.

The song was a big hit in the 1970’s for Don McLean, which suggests to me that I have pushed my true feelings about this story down rather than allow it to fill my soul with the beauty I felt even as a very young child. It’s almost as if I can pinpoint an exact moment in my childhood when I learnt that creativity, beauty as I saw it, was not acceptable in this world. And the message I understood loud and clear on that day was that I had to change my inner being, that which I really was, to be acceptable to the one person who matter to me the most.

Your parents may never have felt that they had the right, much less the opportunity, to get what they wanted out of life. Let’s face it. How many of our mothers really had a chance to do anything but keep house, raise babies, and maybe work to supplement the family income? How many of our fathers really got the chance to explore their own talents and interests? Most of them had to start earning a living and supporting a family when their own lives had hardly begun. My parents were like that. If yours were, how do you imagine they felt when you came along? Proud. Delighted. Hopeful. But then you began to grow… and demand …. and suddenly they saw blooming in you all the qualities they’d had to squelch in themselves: open, shameless wanting; free fantasy; originality; ambition; pride. They saw you grabbing the limelight when they had never gotten enough of it. They had learned at great inner cost to be modest and self-sacrificing and resigned – often for your sake – and they said,” I learned that lesson. You’ll learn it too.”

As very small children, we sense that message. We’d rather forget our destiny than risk hurting or angering the person whose love is life itself to us.

Wishcraft – How to Get What You Really Want.
Sher, B., with Gottlieb, A., 1979, 1983, Page 20

Without a doubt, my mother would be devastated if she knew I carried a memory like this around with me today. As a young woman trying to be my mother, she had no strong, stable, good examples of parenthood to emulate. She was too busy crawling out of  a situation of neglect that defies description to be purposely mean spirited. She would never knowingly have squelched my inner being; she loved me more than life itself. She was simply a product of her life experiences, trying to figure out how to help another life bloom when she had never fully bloomed herself. And I know how blessed I am that as an adult woman, I now have a mother who cares very much for my dreams, encourages my flights of fancy and rejoices in every attempt at creativity. I’m well aware that for some people, such love and acceptance from a parent will never be forthcoming.

I’m grateful that today I can rejoice in the pleasure of the song; that it’s no longer meaningless to me. I can celebrate the fact that my true self understands, that it is the identical desperation of yearning for the same self actualisation that Vincent strove for all those years ago. I can take heart in the fact that even if I don’t achieve success in the worlds view during my lifetime, maybe in the future the things I created will be seen with the same love and passion that I created them with now. I can rejoice, slump in comfort and understand that my yearning are not mine alone, that it is the same journey that every artist person has striven towards for all of time. One day I too will have my starry, starry night. One day my life will be a beautiful story of inspiration for others.  Do you have your starry, starry night already? If not, what will it  be like?