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August 2013

The Proper Writing Space


This situation, the proper space within which to write, may have plagued me at some point in my peripatetic life, but I must have quickly gotten over it. By the time that I began to write into a journal bits and pieces (snippets) of what would become segments of the first draft of the first version of NORTHSTAR, I was living in an apartment with Husband. I was also pregnant with our son. I wrote almost any time of the day or night in any space, although a rather uncomfortable, avocado green (you know the era!) Lazy Boy recliner/armchair (a reject from Grandma) in the living room was a favored spot.


I do recall the first promptings of this novel coming to me while I still worked for money in an office as a technical writer/editor for engineers and geologists. A co-worker commented that I was overqualified for my job. I blithely replied that I’ve been over-qualified for every job I’ve ever had. But a paycheck is a paycheck. I soon thereafter promoted myself to the job of mothering where a woman is never over-qualified.

 

One engineer who remains most fondly in my memory saw me writing away on a pad of paper during the timed and allotted 15-minute afternoon break from work. I’d just finished inputting government text into a government computer. That computer defied the idea that the federal government was moving wayyy ahead in the development and “implementation” of digital technology. The “word processing” program that was being implemented was called the MUSE. Ten minutes with this lumbering sequoia of “technology” prompted me to call it “The Moose.”

 

This smiling, gracious civil engineer asked me what I was working on. I told him, “My novel which is placed at a dam.”

He grinned. “I can see you writing an entire series, All My Dams.”

 

I stopped at just one, and that one was penned in various locations in Truckee and in Sacramento, and in many different rooms in one apartment and two houses. I’d put the draft, complete with flat characters, away, far far away, in the rafters of a detached garage of House #1 while I pursued living my life, something that included the birth of a daughter. Then, as my family and I moved from House #1 to House #2, the final version of NORTHSTAR came rushing out of me, at the same time that I was boxing belongings, working on an engineering contract, and helping my toddler and first-grader prepare to leave “home” for a new home, this unknown place several miles up the road.

It is only in retrospect that I can see that moving physically became one catalyst for my creativity. This need, or impulse, or compulsion cannot always be met. In my current house, #3, I have become “house-bound,” and it is not always because of allergy flu. (During one week this past May, the intense trifecta of weeds, grasses, and trees was joined by molds, and my ever-responsive sinus was outperformed by my ever-responsive skin with hives.) The practicalities and exigencies of life have situated me in my present state of stability, constancy, and downright immobility in terms of real estate. The present crisis in land values mocks me and my muse.


I am forced to move, or, at times, request that Husband move, furniture and wall hangings within several rooms of the house, if not from one room into another, in an energetic but ersatz attempt to feel “in motion.” Undoubtedly, the Scots-Irish in me feels quite dour about this circumstance. The Dutch in me, however, approves of every minute of this sensible, practical rootedness.

 

The Children have annually awaited the moving of the furniture for wherever the Christmas tree is to be placed. There is no such thing as putting it in the same place twice! They know that furniture arrangements in the Home are always subject to change, especially for the Holidays. Depending on my needs for change, there can be a simple sliding of a sideboard to the left, or there can be all-out swapping of furniture from one room to the next. It’s always an adventure!

 

Sometime in June, I verbally hypothesize where the Christmas tree could be placed sometime in early December. My fiction depends upon it. I’m sure that Erma Bombeck would have penned a suitable column about it. She would have seen purpose in my priorities.

 

When Husband and I were purchasing House #2, our conscientious realtor (back in the day when real estate agents were not lizardy predators emerging from a Lexus) commented that I’d explained one reason why “we” needed to move from House #1 was that I was literally working out of a closet underneath the staircase. But in House #2 she did not see a room just for me. She was very concerned about it. She’d read some chapters of the draft NORTHSTAR and she knew that it would be a best-seller. (Her husband complained that it kept her up all night.) We had to find the proper writing space for Debra, future famous novelist.

 

I said that any room would do. And it did. I did not write another novel in that house, but I sure did tons of research! This past spring, while I was going through materials in files for The Western, I emailed Dear Daughter with some of the unexpected finds. Quotes from Virgil (whose spelling she corrected to Vergil) and Cicero! I’d crossed paths with the Ancients. I recalled to her that she was in preschool and kindergarten when I did that work. She excitedly wrote that she remembered me doing that research!

 In winter, I would lay in front of the fireplace, with Bootsie (Puppy Boy) by my side. He was very jealous of my pen and paper; often he’d put a paw on the pen to stop me from writing so that I could pet him. Bonnie did not care as long as she got her miles-long walk the next day. She dismissively looked at the book as if to say, “Useless.” Nowadays, Bridget, who is the progeny of show dogs, is less possessive, but she does move into my spot on the sofa after I have vacated it for any of a number of reasons (often to check on those felines in the garage). And her role during Holidays is The Christmas Queen. The rest of the year she is “The Baby Love.”


I also shared my research work with Dear Son. He would take breaks from drawing his pencil designs of large golf courses that he colored in with various shades (mostly greens and yellows) of art pencils. He made quiet notice of my research work while he assessed my progress in terms of magnitude and direction (where his mom was headed, how fast, and how far). Sharing his mother with her muse has posed, shall we say, challenges for my male child. He and Puppy Boy had a lot in common.

 

I recall those years when I worked so very hard to raise my children, my hounds, my technical writing contracts, my research, my novels, my muse, my rose bushes that quickly died in the pooled and ponded water that never penetrated the hardpan soil, and my citrus trees that Bonnie uprooted even before they had a chance to root. (I would watch her through a large window as she ran with the tree, trapped horizontally in her jaws, like a giant brown bone with roots dripping soil at one end.) I felt pulled by many different things in many different directions. The product of all those pulls is the resultant vector, Debra the Novelist, which has both magnitude and direction. Throughout the process of creating this vector there were times when I saw things incorrectly or even backwards!

 

One day, I grew frustrated after what I viewed was one too many tear-filled scenes between my “Little Little,” as I called her, and her “Mommy-Mama,” as she called me. Regarding this openly emotional situation between pre-kindergarten Dear Daughter and pre-Novelist Mother, I opined to a dear friend and colleague, an engineering instrumentation specialist.

“We do not have enough in common,” I informed him.

 

This piezometer expert cautioned me with wide eyes and slow-moving words: “Oh, no, you are very wrong. I see you two as peas in the pod.”

 

“Well, we’re going to need separate pods.”

 

In time, we did. And when we did, it was extremely difficult for each pea to separate from the other to allow for proper space. But now my little sweet-pea has made a marvelous suggestion. She believes that my creating “a writer’s room” is very nice! A writer’s cottage though would be much better for me. She’s sure that place will come, in time. Baby steps, you know. Baby steps. The proper writing space cannot be rushed!