Our beautiful, old, I-fear-will-never-sell house has two bedrooms. Before Sophie was born, we slept in one and I transformed the other into a lovely home office. I painted the walls Cincinnatian Hotel Lindner Blue, both because of our proximity to Cincinnati and my love of the color. I covered the hardwood floor with a beautiful tan and blue floral rug I found at the Pottery Barn outlet. I filled a handmade oak bookcase, purchased while working at Popular Woodworking magazine, with my writing books—Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott; Escape Into the Open by Elizabeth Berg; The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White; an AP Style book; a leather-bound dictionary; a colorful collection of The Best American Short Stories.
My desk was an antique library table, purchased with the help of my mom. I loved it. I was careful about what went on it—a warm lamp; pretty paper weights; a Montblanc pen with my name engraved on it (a college graduation gift from Andy’s parents); a beaded coaster my sister gave me, which often held hot coffee or tea—always in a pretty, floral, antique tea cup. Of course, my writing space also was my office and home to a metal black filing cabinet, files, works-in-progress, print-outs and a printer, a stapler, paper clips, envelopes, rejection slips.
My desk faced our back window, which faced our backyard, which was once full of large, beautiful pine trees, all gone now after two terrible droughts. I would sit at my desk and watch deer settle under the apple trees in our yard, watch birds feast on seeds I put out in the winter, listen to school children play at recess on warm afternoons.
The space was a deep reflection of me and I loved it.
Then, after months of wanting, a wish came true. As my belly grew fuller and fuller with life, I became more and more excited about the possibilities of that room. I wasn’t at all upset when the muted blue walls were replaced with a much brighter lettuce green. I was ecstatic to set up the crib and the changing table, and I gladly replaced my writing books with Goodnight Moon, The Adventures of Little Bear and Curious George. I tried to turn the room into a place of ultimate love, comfort and peace. Although the space was no longer mine, it was a deep reflection of what I wanted for someone very, very new, and I was more than happy and willing to give it up.
We moved my desk and filing cabinet downstairs, to a corner in the living room, by the front door. I pared down, packed things away, became more organized. Because I was now staring at a plaster wall instead of out a window, I put up a large ribbon board my mom made and filled it with postcards, pictures, ticket stubs—anything that made me smile, anything I deemed pretty. I replaced the black office chair with an antique one. I was content.
But lately, our house has felt smaller. Yes, winter does that to homes, but so does Christmas with a toddler. And now that we’re expecting two more babies late this spring, we’ve had to make changes. We purchased a cubby wall system to store puzzles, books and toys downstairs. We also plan to purchase another changing table for easy diaper changes downstairs. To make room, we’re returning a loved piano we’ve long borrowed from good friends. My filing cabinet and ribbon board have settled into the attic. And my beloved writing desk is now downstairs, in our old, dark basement.
See this bookcase? It’s one of two, flanking our living room fireplace.
Inside the cabinet, occupying just a small amount of shelf space, is our new office. And we refer to it just like that. “Where’s the checkbook?” “Check the office.” Below DVDs. Above board games. Hidden behind a door.
This has affected me much more than it probably should. Many well-known writers write without dedicated writing spaces. Barbara Kingsolver wrote The Bean Trees, while pregnant and suffering from insomnia, in her bedroom closet. Junot Diaz has been quoted as saying that he often retreats to his bathroom to write, perching himself on the edge of his bathtub. Many writers write in bed. So it’s not so much as me needing or requiring a particular space to write. But rather I feel that part of me, the career-oriented person I used to be, slipping away—slipping from room to corner to basement to shelf to, someday, I fear, away completely.
Some of it is a misplaced emphasis on things. I focus on the common-sense coffee mug I now pull out every morning for fear a delicate antique tea cup will be broken by an overly ambitious toddler. I focus on the fact that a changing table—a slab of wood used to wipe dirty bottoms—will be in the same spot where I used to have a writing table—a slab of wood used to create, what I someday hoped would be, something big.
But then I try to remember that everything I once deemed mine and valuable and pretty is being replaced by things that also are being used to create, what I someday hope will be, not just something but someone big. And not big as in successful or famous but big as in full of life and happy and having a positive impact on others. And that should be enough. I should look at the folded stack of diapers and inserts and only feel happiness, right? I should look at the blocks and crayons and doll babies and pink plastic tea cups and only feel contentment, right? I shouldn’t care so much about the things in my life that have been replaced because the people who are replacing them are much more fulfilling, right?
Yes. But I also think it goes deeper than that. I also think I’m letting the movement of things upset me when it’s really about the movement of who I am, what I do and who I’ve become that has me unsettled. And so, as usual, I’m trying to find balance.
Last night helped. I was sitting in bed, in my pajamas, surrounded by my laptop, an AP Style book, a house style book, Garner’s Modern American Usage and a dictionary. I was editing. And then there was a knock at the door. And “Mama.” And a request to “come up.” A 10-minute tickle session ensued, involving scattered style books and rumpled sheets while Andy started some warm bath water. And then, “bye bye, Mama,” as my daughter was whisked away for bedtime routine. I drank water from my nonbreakable Klean Kanteen and for the first time in a long time didn’t pine over the fact that it wasn’t an antique tea cup. Never did I receive such love-filled editing breaks when I was in my Cincinnatian Hotel Lindner Blue writing space. And so, I must remember, that sometimes it’s not about giving up, even though it may seem like that on the surface. Sometimes it’s about gaining more, which (not so) simply requires an adjustment in perception, a widening of the eyes and an acknowledgment that even though things are different, and not what I ever expected them to be, they may be—just may be—better.
“With what price we pay for the glory of motherhood.” —Isadora Duncan