Appealing workplaces are to be avoided. One wants a room with no view, so imagination can meet memory in the dark.
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
If Annie Dillard could see my basement, she would approve. In my living room a cozy fire blazes and the internet works, mostly. There is a soft couch and natural light.
But the basement is gross. It barely keeps out the critters. The floor is littered with the crud of a hundred years. Once when the house was left empty for a period of time, a grandson came and cut out all the copper pipes for money. He might’ve thrown rocks at the windows, too. I’ve swept up a lot of broken glass.
Once upon a time, two of the rooms were cellars for food storage. The third, main room was where the boys chopped wood and kept the fire going. Now the cellar rooms are empty except for Christmas decorations. The large room stores camping and hunting equipment, old artwork and papers.
There is an old table I have turned into a workspace. It’s where I’ve chosen to set up shop. I plugged in my sewing machine for distraction. Then I dragged down a lamp and a rug. Maybe for my birthday I’ll get a space heater, though I know they’re not to be trusted. I’d like to get a cat again, but one kid is allergic, so it’d have to be strictly a basement cat. Also an idea not to be trusted.
I didn’t know when we moved and Joe would turn into a work at home guy how hard it would be to dance the get-out-of-my-space dance. We respect space in every aspect of life, but it is hard to get things done when the other is making a sales call or washing dishes.
He sits at the table in front of the poinsettia or the piano (whichever is least distracting to the others on the video call) and I slink around, trying not to make loud noises.
When we first moved in, he tried doing business from our bedroom. The kids were out of school because it was summer. It made sense to be in that corner of the house. But I’d check on him and find him slumped on a pillow on the bed and it bothered me to think about his terrible posture.
I found some paint in the garage and took it upstairs to the “toy room”–an odd closet/play room with a slanted ceiling. To enter this room you must open the door from the hallway, climb two stairs and descend two stairs. Only the width of one foot along the entire narrow room allows for a person to stand straight up. The ceiling slopes down from there. It is the perfect place for toys to collect, for kids to drag it all out and play.
The former owners let the kids go wild and write all over the walls and ceilings. There were love notes and sworn promises and the ever popular statement, Brian was here, June 12, 1968.
Without a tinge of remorse I painted the whole thing in semi-gloss white. It was terrible painting–I used the entirely wrong tools for the job. But it looked better. Cleaner. Good enough to drag up a desk and office chair and point Joe in the general direction. He uses this office space 45% of the time. It has a long view of the old chicken house and the baby orchard we planted. A much better view than the cold basement.
But what sales manager needs to be inspired?
He either likes me too much or prefers a less drafty workspace. The other 55% of the time he’s at the kitchen table, making money.
I, on the other hand haven’t made a dime at working from home. But now I’ve got just the right place to do work so we don’t step on each other’s toes. And if I can manage to convince myself of the value in finishing another book project (I’ve done it before) (yes, you have, but Joe didn’t believe it until he read it) (no one cares) (yes, but it’s meaningful and if books are worth reading, surely they’re worth writing?)–if I can just keep on dragging myself to that horrible, wonderful work, keep taming the feral beast (another Annie Dillard expression), I’ve got a good place for it be born. Or die. Ha.
I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend. During visiting hours, I enter its room with dread and sympathy for its many disorders. I hold its hand and hope it will get better.