This week in my writing class we talked about the importance of having a space dedicated to writing. It was certainly a concept I was familiar with, the idea of an office or a studio. However for me, creating space to write has always been more about carving out time and less about an actual physical location.
The concept of space or studio seems so much easier to apply to the visual arts. Clearly the painter needs a place for huge canvases and the photographer needs a darkroom. My canvas is a blank document on my laptop and my mind is the darkroom in which ideas develop; neither needs much tangible space.
However, there is another function of the artist’s studio that I had not really considered until recently. Above and beyond storage and pure functionality, there is the idea that entering the space causes a shift in consciousness. It signals to the brain, it is now time to shut out the other noise of life and focus on the painting, sculpture, photograph, story. It is time to create.
And when I began to think of it that way, I realized that I do have just such a space. That space is not the space pictured above. Instead it is this:
That’s right. I have a nice office, with a great desk and even a skylight; but my space is a small couch. I’m not really sure exactly how it happened, but that couch is where I started writing and it’s where I still write today. When I sit there each Sunday night my body, my brain, and my soul know it is time to write.
So in the end, I do have a studio. I still believe that the time I carve out is the most important part; but I can see now that having a space helps me make the most of that time. Maybe it’s a bit unconventional, but isn’t that the beauty of the writer’s craft? We can make our studios in coffee shops and libraries. Anywhere from closets to corners of spare rooms to couches.
The most important thing is just to make room for the story.
A few weeks ago, I read this lovely post on women and connection and support. It has stuck with me (as so many things I read there do) and I have found myself reflecting on the concept of tribe quite a bit; specifically about the shifts and changes in my personal tribe over the years.
The times of large groups of friends and those of smaller clusters. The people who have been in my life for years and those who have been with me for a season. Those that I lean on daily and those who were there for me in one pivotal moment. Those who make radically different choices and those whose life’s trajectory could be my own. Those I’ve actually met and those to whom I am connected to through words.
My tribe has been everything from dinner with a huge table full of women in my college residence hall; to beers at the bar with one dear friend. It’s made up of mothers by birth and marriage; aunts both familial and chosen. Cousins and friend-siblings. Mentors, advisors and godparents. Co-workers turned friends and bloggers whose words speak to my soul.
As I think of this kaleidoscope of women, I realize that there aren’t really adequate words to express their collective and individual impact on my life. I can only simply state that I am grateful. For the women I know, have known and will know. For my tribe as it exists today and for what it will evolve into tomorrow.
There’s that quote about fear and change and growth and being uncomfortable. I can never remember it exactly. Perhaps because, per the quick google search I just performed to try to jog my memory, lots of people are talking about the whole fear-growth-uncomfortable-changey thing. So here’s my contribution . . .
I’m taking a writing class, trying to push past a bit of a stuck phase I’m in. I tend to blame this stuck phase on lack of inspiration. Or the fact that I have become less disciplined now that I am no longer trying to squeeze writing in between working and grad school (i.e. Never mind that self-imposed deadline, I have so much free time after work and on the weekends I can always write tomorrow). While these may be a part of it, they aren’t nearly all of it.
The exercise in class was to write about our history as a writer. We were told to write until we had nothing to else to say. I started with memories from childhood. Elaborate stories I acted out with stuffed animals. The book about two cats (literally, cats) that fell in love, which I read a snippet from at a launch party hosted on the playground near my friend’s house (we served gummy bears and swiss cake rolls). The bad pathos-laden high school poetry. I wrote about frequently being told my papers in college were well-written, but not connecting this with writing outside academia until much later. About friends telling me my e-mails made them laugh, but not connecting this with voice until much later.
And then, my tone shifted. I wrote about my decision to really sit down and write; to seriously try to finish that story I started. A decision that was largely motivated by the sudden death of a close friend and a tangible realization about the brevity of life. The story that went on to grab the attention of an agent, who tried her best to sell it. The story that many editors praised as well-written but ultimately passed on for publication; offering tidbits of critique on plot and pace and hook. All of which I tried my hardest to learn from; to use in the writing of the next novel. The perfect publishable novel. With no heart.
So where does the uncomfortable come in. It comes in reading this to the class. Unpolished. Unedited. Raw. I could take the easy road here; claim that I had no idea that we would be sharing our writing. But I knew. Maybe it wasn’t even that I consciously thought about it; but more just that my soul knew this was what I needed; to write the darker, heavier stuff down and say it out loud.
The last words I wrote in class were as follows. Writing a novel was something I did instinctually the first time and something I must make room for. It can’t be learned, just must be given space. And freedom. If the price of that space and freedom is a few minutes of red-faced, shaky voiced discomfort, so be it. I owe it to the stories that still need to be told.
Not too long ago I wrote about my need to disengage a bit from social media*. I’m sad to report that simply naming the problem did not particularly help. Which means it’s time for something more. Once again today (and plenty of other days in between) I found myself scrolling through Facebook and checking out of a real conversation. I do this way too often; waste time that I could be spending on people and activities that I love. Those things that bring me joy, that make me whole. The same things I immediately regret neglecting when I look at the clock and see that 15 minutes, half an hour . . . an *gasp* hour has passed while I’ve been skimming though re-posts of some e-cards, pictures of people I barely know and countless rounds of who’s voting for whom and why the other side is wrong.
So I’m stepping back. For real this time. I just removed the Facebook app from my phone. It would be dishonest not to share the fact that there was a tiny sinking feeling in my stomach when I did it. (Which is obviously exactly why I needed to do it.) It’s not going to be a wholesale boycott. I’ll still post this blog there, since people have shared with me that they like to keep up with what’s going on here that way. I’ll still check in for work-related purposes. I’ll also still occasionally check in on far-away friends; the ability to bridge the miles is surely Facebook at it’s best. What I won’t do is check in each time I have a free second, minute or hour. There will be parameters. Parameters that favor conversation and life in real-time. A glance through my list of friends tonight, reminded me that I live in the same city as the overwhelming majority of them. I’m lucky to be surrounded by friends, family, love and the in-person opportunities that some long for. It’s time I acted like it.
When started thinking about really (for real) making a change in this area of my life, I thought: I’ll try it for a month. You know, see how it goes. But as I reflect on it now, I realize that’s sort of like saying: I plan to be more present in my real life for a month . . . and then you know, whatever. So I’m not going to set a time frame. Instead I’m just going to step back indefinitely. And if I feel my life is lacking, then I’ll step right back in.
Somehow, even with a bit of that sinking feeling lingering . . . I doubt that will happen.
*To be clear, by social media – I mean Facebook. Twitter is far more easy for me to step away from and I love everything about blogging.