I’ve spent much of 2017 thinking hard about space.
I’m not talking about Jupiter and Mars and supernovae. In fact, I’m more interested in inner space than I am in outer space at the moment—but I’m particularly focused on the ways in which my lived environment affect my mindset.
Equilibrium is so important for a writer. I don’t necessarily need silence to work; as a reporter for many years, I grew to love the noise and energy of the newsroom, and like many others, I sometimes enjoy the cozy hum of a coffee shop for getting a little writing done.
In my house, too, I can sneak away to a quiet room to do some writing—but the moment one kid hits another, or a glass breaks, or someone knocks at the door, I tend to lose my way. Back in the newsroom, I wasn’t responsible for breaking up fights. My job was to write, and the environment was designed for that. Those occasional interruptions that happened just marked something more urgent to write about.
I suspect the primary need of a writer is simply not to be bothered or pulled away from the page, but it’s clear to me that the place where we settle in to do our writing matters. There is a big difference between the scribbling that happens on the fly—in a waiting room or an airport terminal or the car line—and the writing that we schedule time for, when we know that the house will be empty and we can turn off our phones and work.
A tidy workplace is such a pleasure, and, for me, a rare one. I’m no housekeeper, and that’s putting it somewhat mildly. I went on a trip a couple weeks ago, and my suitcase is still near the front door, right where I dropped it upon my return. Yesterday’s dishes are in the sink—as are those from the day before. The bathroom counter is perpetually scattered with dental floss and mascara and clean swabs and moisturizer. I step gingerly everywhere in my house to avoid the agony of Lego foot.
Right now I’m writing at one of two desks in my house, and this one is piled high with story collections. An organizational project is under way, and about a hundred titles are stacked on their sides, waiting to be shelved. My laptop barely fits among them, and now that I’m here, I realize that the desk lamp is either unplugged, burned out, or broken. The room is illuminated only by a (January 13) Christmas tree and the glow from my computer screen. (By the way, that Christmas tree isn’t a symptom of disorganization or clutter; I just enjoy it in January when it represents a gentle source of light instead of the pre-Christmas frenzy and obligation. I usually take it down in February, and I do so with intention.)
My other desk is covered with papers that need to be sorted—kids’ art, legal documents, report cards, contracts, coupons. Things aren’t always quite this way; the first of the year makes me want to sort and organize, and I’m always in much better shape after a few weeks of this kind of activity.
Unfortunately, I’m right in the middle of my organizational projects, and everything is chaos—with some beginnings of piles to make things even more complicated. Although it wouldn’t be ideal, I could plop my laptop down on a disorganized mess and do a little work, but the fear of upending what little bit of order there is keeps me from approaching that area.
This year I’ve been reading a few books to help me think about space. One is the popular book that outlines the KonMari method of organizing, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Kondo suggests that we hold each item we own and ask ourselves if it brings us joy—and what does not bring joy gets pitched.
I’m also taking an online course from DailyOm called A Year to Clear What Is Holding You Back. The instructor, Stephanie Bennett Vogt, refers frequently to the KonMari method, but takes a less drastic approach. I’m not actually required to hold every item and consult my joy-meter, but Vogt does suggest consulting an inner sense of what is needed and what isn’t.
And I’m rounding my reading out with a few books on creating sacred spaces—something I have a mind to do in an area of my basement that is currently devoted to storage of wholly unnecessary things.
I’ve been thinking of clarity for my writing workspace. I’ve also been thinking of what comprises a sacred space, and whether my desk can be one. Writing for me is a sacred activity. It’s church. It’s meditation. It’s how the Creator replies, or at least where we ready ourselves for the potentiality of that.
That idea of writing is deeply personal, and I don’t expect that every writer feels similarly. But I do think most writers recognize the act of creation as a way to tap into our highest intelligence, our deepest mind, and bring back new insights to share.
I’d like to honor the process by devoting serious thought to space. And when the Creator in me, my deepest mind, offers a gift, I want to receive it formally, in a space that is worthy of it.