Writing in Place

I recently read Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson, and I imagine it was written partly in the fog and rocks of a northern European coastline and partly under a Greek sun, easy and warm. This is to her credit, of course. If I should learn that she wrote it in a hip London flat or in a tiny practical house with sheep grazing nearby, I wouldn’t be disappointed. Maybe I’d even be impressed.

I have a beautiful, dusty, old desk in an upstairs bedroom of our colonial-style home, which was built sometime between the World Wars. There’s a kilim rug on the floor, with simple patterns and natural, earth-toned dyes. The desk has a reproduction lamp that looks like it came out of a New York City public library. The movie “Seven” comes to mind. It has an inspirational green glass dome resembling a pyrex loaf pan.

In the fall, the sugar maple outside the window casts a warm, fiery hue on the grey wall paint when the sun hits it just right.

I have a turtleneck and an LL Bean vintage chore coat. The only thing separating me from what I think a novelist should look like is, of course, a novel.

But that’s the point of this desk, in this grey room with a window full of flaming, dying maple leaves.

It’s quiet and mine alone and would make a beautiful background for a moody photo on a dust jacket.

But I don’t use it.

I’ve written a few to-do lists in there, which I promptly pinned to the cork board, custom-made for me by my sweetheart, and then left them there to curl up at the corners, unchecked and incomplete.

Instead, I do the bulk of my writing downstairs at the breakfast table. Whether I’m writing about childhood or death or traveling, this old kitchen seems the best place to lay it all down. It has pale green walls and long forgotten, dusty, dried herbs hanging from the ceiling. A dozen or so glass bottles line the windows sills and are choking with the roots of bamboo and pothos and other plants that need no real help from us to thrive.

David listens to talk radio and fries eggs and butters toast. Our dog Penny tip taps around the back door in varying stages of wanting to come in and wanting to go out, the poor girl unwittingly becoming a metaphor for whatever kind of day is ahead of me. The windows steam up from the brewing coffee and we talk over the radio and laugh and commiserate and I don’t know yet if this a recipe for good writing, but I know it is writing time well-spent.

This essay also appears here.

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