Things, Pressed into Service

If you classify yourself as a “reader” in the simplest sense of the word (ie, one who reads), and probably even if you don’t, sooner or later it happens — you find yourself on the tour of the House of the Famous Writer.  More specifically, you find yourself peering over a velvet rope into a particular room that long ago was pressed into service to become a famous writer’s workspace.  What transformed it from a dining room or a bedroom or a hall closet into a space where genius burned?  A typewriter, of course, and the desk on which that typewriter sits.  Books, stacked in teetering piles on every surface, or tucked into bookcases, floor to ceiling.

I have to admit that I’ve never found the rooms where writers worked (even famous ones)  extraordinarily interesting; such tours have never been something I planned a vacation around —what sort of sick pup would do that? The Houses of Famous Writers are, instead, places I’ve ended up paying good money to walk through  because

  1. I’ve found myself with free time in a place where the Writer’s House has been promoted as a tourist attraction since time began  (ie, Hemingway’s House, in Key West, of which I remember little except that the gardens surrounding it reeked of cat piss).  Or,
  2. I see a sign for the Writer’s House as I’m on my way from Here to There, and anything has become a great excuse to get out of the car (ie, Carl Sandburg’s House, where I was most impressed by the fact that he raised goats, which seems in many ways a more sensible (and lucrative) profession than writing)*.

For many many years the rooms where I wrote had once been dining rooms in rental houses that had seen better days.  Who on earth in modern America needs a dining room, particularly if they live alone or with roommates or a significant other but sans children and eat dinner every night with a plate balanced on their knees and the television on?**

Now, I write in a room that was once a porch and was glassed-in by previous owners, nominally at least. The aluminum casement windows that prove just how long ago it was glassed in were like some red carpet for tiny spiders — man, the bugs just sauntered in. The space is cold in winter, hot in summer — or at least it was until recently, when an “incident” that caused an apple from our front yard tree to fly out of an older sibling’s hand and miss the intended younger sibling target***) spurred us to go ahead and get “real” windows to replace the “fake” ones.

Now my writing room is, in fact, a room.  It’s a room that also contains a bicycle and crayons scattered across the floor like so much tinder, but it’s a room, all the same.  The windows perform as intended, and in an added, unexpected benefit, also serve as a lovely frame, now and then transforming the everyday into a form of artwork.

Would it be too tired a cliché to say — maybe sometimes you notice more when your view has been just a bit constrained?

We are on the cusp of fall.  Four days ago we were still wrestling with the draggling tag-end of a long hot summer, but the temperature has finally, mercifully, just in the nick of time dropped.  The leaves of the hickory tree to be noticed through the windows are still green, drought-limp and still, and waiting, waiting.  Drowsy, and they dream of falling.


We have passed into a new season.  Two children in elementary school!  This transition might contain one of parenthood’s great secrets:  once all your children are in school, you get some of your life back.  And this secret is so secret exactly why?  Because admitting you might have once had some sort of life you long to regain marks you as  —what? — a dreadful, dreadful traitor?

Our mornings are different than they used to be.  By third grade, clothes matter, at least to girls.  Hair sometimes refuses to do what it should!  Things are misplaced; schoolwork left undone!  Let us bow our heads, engage in torrents of loud weeping!  Last night I dreamed one of Elder Girleen’s peers arrived at school in three-inch heels and c-cups.  It’s that non-organic milk, I tried to assure myself and woke up in a cold sweat.

The corollary  to the fact that I am regaining something of my old life is that I also have new work to do:  to give my daughters, who no longer need me quite the same way, their lives.

We have passed into a new season.  The childless on the neighborhood e-list are stewing over Halloween.  So many children!  They knock on the door uncostumed!  They’re van-loaded in from Henry County!  Sometimes they hit the same houses twice! They’ve been raised wrong!

We have passed into a new season.  Early mornings, the middle-schoolers bike to their school in the center of this neighborhood, toiling up the hills and coasting down, in a scarfed and bundled pack.  Today, a straggler was pedally madly, desperately, to catch up. Around the corner behind her, one last cyclist.  The straggler’s dad.  He’s hanging back, but oh, he’s there.

I was walking by; I saw it.  I fiddled with the ipod tucked into one jacket pocket, turned the volume way  way up, loud enough to drown out the voices on the neighborhood e-list who’ve deemed such behavior an unsafe, subversive act.

Oh brave new world!  O brave new season!  Miraculously, my children are changing. I pray — to what? To whom?  Unknown —for the wisdom to change with them, and walk on.

*The second thing I was impressed by was the “napping couch” beside Sandburg’s desk — what rosy times there were then!

** Given how often dining rooms are pressed into service as writer’s workplaces, I suppose a conclusion could be drawn about the ability of words to serve as nourishment, but I’d really rather wax eloquent about goat-farming.

***Most recent spin regarding the apple-tree/broken window mishap:  “She should have to pay for the window too because she WANTED me to hit her.”


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