Inside the Garret

My inspiration lives inside these walls.

My inspiration lives inside these walls.

The house is empty, and strangely quiet. There’s nobody to feed or entertain, nobody to ask me for help or hugs or interference or permission. At least not until 3:00.

I stand in my office and look around. If it had arms, they would be open. My office whispers, “Come in, sit down. I’ve missed you.”

I’ve missed you, too. It’s different when little people are constantly coming in, wanting something. I can’t let my thoughts drift as far as they can when I know I’m alone for a long stretch of time. I can’t slip into other worlds quite completely, I can’t reach all the way to the stars. But today is the first day of school, and I’ve got seven hours of silence, and this is where I plan to spend them.

Photographs and memories.

Photographs and memories.

Virginia Woolf said, “a woman must have…a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” I feel very fortunate to have one. It’s a refuge and sanctuary, a place where I keep and create stories. There are bookshelves all around that hold not just my favorite books, but also photos and drawings by friends, little mementos and souvenirs and items that inspire or are inspired by my fiction.

Here is my desk. A wooden inbox made for me by a friend after I finished my first novel. A good-smelling candle. A pewter rabbit that my grandfather kept in his office. A lipstick that belonged to my grandmother. A cork from a memorable bottle of wine, a heart-shaped rock. Ian, my dinosaur cactus.

My flight log, a paper cactus, wooden vases.

My flight log, a paper cactus, wooden vases.

Behind me is the cedar chest my other grandfather made for me when I was born. It’s filled with childhood things, and it sits like a coffee table in front of my couch and on top of a cowhide. My books have overflowed their banks and so I end up stacking them here like a purgatory until I either make room for them elsewhere or give them away. My friend’s mother made one of the bowls and my sister gave me the other.

I have collections on the tops of all the bookshelves. Here are some wooden vases that my grandfather made, a sculpture my sister brought me home from a trip to Africa, a paper cactus my son made in preschool, a painting of the New York skyline that matches my friend and screenwriting partner’s, a portrait of me as a “lion-fly” done by a friend.

Feet bookmark by Ukranian artist Olena Mysnyk.

Feet bookmark by Ukranian artist Olena Mysnyk.

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When in doubt, consult the wall.

Where there’s space, there’s art. Facing my desk is a tapestry my sister gave me during the year she lived in Kazakhstan. Above my couch is a gorgeous 6’ x 2’ painting by West African artist Kader Boly, an abstract oil on canvas textured with pebbles that evokes the desert landscape of his village. Near the door is a painting by Houston artist Beans Barton, a visual interpretation of Ginsberg’s poem “Howl”—one of the first gifts my husband gave me after we started dating. On the floor are two sculptures by Don Kimble, a Keyser, W.Va. artist, who uses rocks from the river I visited every summer as a child. I bought the two paintings, “Yes” and “No,” from an artist who was selling his work in a parking lot. And there are many other pieces by my children and friends tucked here and there.

Hanging on the door next to my taekwondo belt is the Balderdash Jacket—a stunning artifact that requires its own story, but for the purpose of this little inventory, it’s a XXXL sweatshirt covered entirely in safety-colored duct tape, made by an autistic man for the purpose of catching my friend’s cat, Balder. When the cat went missing and the jacket was no longer of use, he gave it to her and when I heard the story, I begged her to give it to me, which she did. I put it on sometimes. It comes down to my knees and it makes me happy.

The Balderdash Jacket.

The Balderdash Jacket.

In THE ATTIC by Serbian writer Danilo Kiš, a young lute-playing, brandy-drinking writer named Orpheus is passionately attached to his titular attic, which—unlike my own garret—is damp, moldy and infested with cockroaches. But he loves it in part for its “proximity to the stars.” I feel that way about being up here, surrounded by art and words and memories, looking out over a pink-blossomed Crepe Myrtle, listening to my pentatonic wind chimes. Here, I’m a little closer to the stars, at least for a few more hours.