I’m one of the writers fortunate enough to have “a room of one’s own.” I call this 9×9-foot space my “studiola,” a term stolen from Renaissance artists. Each morning when I walk into it I have an “aha!” moment of feeling this is my space – and my time – for writing. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always cooperate.
I’m writing these sentences having just survived the painting of my apartment. As anyone who’s endured this knows it can be disruptive and time-consuming. I did have the foresight to keep my studiola off- limits . (Better gray walls than intrusion?) What I didn’t realize was that my coveted space would have to be the storage area – disappearing under mounds of books, glasses, pictures, lamps, knickknacks – everything that demanded safety from the painters. No way to get to my computer.
I could have endured this more or less graciously if it had been just a few days. I didn’t imagine that the two- man team would be so incompetent, disappearing for hours at a time and eventually quitting without notice with the job only half done. A second team had to redo and complete those slapdash efforts. The combined teams used up two weeks, prefaced by a week of my moving furniture and every movable object out of their careless way – followed by ongoing days of scraping paint and plaster off the floors. This all added up to a month lost from writing.
Much as we yearn for protected time and space, the inescapable reality is that we can’t escape. “Stuff happens,” to quote Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous phrase. If it isn’t painting, it’s unavoidable dates and phone calls, medical appointments (increasingly as we age), the demands of loved (and unloved) people, overnight guests (shudder), etc. I heard that Edith Wharton wrote in the privacy of her bed, dropping pages on the floor for her maid to collate! Proust, of course, had his ultra-private soundproof room. But other than hiding in a cave or cocoon, we lesser mortals have to cope with ordinary conflicts. I often long for a cabin in the woods, “far from the madding (maddening) crowd,” but life deems otherwise. Besides, would we really want to be cut off from everyone and everything? Where would inspiration come from? I do know one woman who mostly lives this sort of sealed-off life, but is it coincidental that she writes about creatures from outer space?
So we have to devise ways to keep creatively afloat amid all the endless distractions. Exiled from my sanctuary, I carried a notebook around as if it were a life preserver, trying to jot down any odd flashes of inspiration – a word, a thought – that might keep my writing tuned. But my mood increasingly became – no other word for it – bitchy, my usual state when I can’t write.
This morning I sit in my almost clear studiola once again, greeting my computer like a long lost lover. But I’m finding it find it hard to get back into any creative rhythm. I know that I will, given some time. But it reinforces my conviction that come hell or high water (or painters), it’s essential to develop a way to write even one paragraph every possible day. As the poet Carolyn Forche advised: “Be at your desk at the same time every day, so your Muse will know where to find you.”
Unless she has the painters, too.