Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The writing room broom

In the midst of sneezing and hacking and the displeasing ripple of chills and heat, I became possessed by a mania to clean up my writing room. In part, this must have been a reaction to my weekly cleaning lady, who does not like towers of books and believes that I should put my books into cardboard boxes and affix labels to them. That would be tidy, wouldn't it?

My writing room used to be a girl's bedroom, and it has a wallpaper of small flowers. I prefer paint. I'd like a green room. But I am not sufficiently annoyed--not enough to go to the bother of taking the paper down, despite the fact that she (I do not know her name) treated the walls rather as one treats a pincushion. I'm never at a loss for a nail. To some lazy degree, I've attempted to obliterate the wallpaper with bookcases and pictures and bulletin board and so on . . . I have four huge bookcases, one that must have once been a giant cupboard in a nineteenth-century shop or house--a green approaching Lincoln green on the outside, mustard on the inside. I also have a long low reddish bookcase that was a shop counter with shelves that belonged to the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Evidently he purchased the counter at the Hancock Shaker Village. Those two cases are so large that they will probably stay in the room forever--the green one was taken apart in order to fit it inside, and the other demanded much wrestling.

My little room is rather chopped up. I have one window, with a view of the backside of a big-shot magnate mansion beyond the alley, plus a patch of lake with Kingfisher Tower. The window has a lace curtain, but underneath there is a serious Yankee insulated shade. (Yes, it's snowing outside, and the wind is weirding about the corners of the house.) I have two doors, one to the back stairs, the other to the cat bathroom (how very elegant) and the laundry (wouldn't you know it.) I hung a curtain over the laundry-and-cat door so that I wouldn't have to think about how my life is made of laundry.

On the wall are a hodgepodge of pictures--prints of Renato Alarcao drawings, a centaur lady with roses for breasts and two tiny centaur children drawn by my daughter in kindergarten, the oil painting that Steve Cieslawski did for The Curse of the Raven Mocker, an intricate print that James A. Owen (illustrator, writer, projector, editor of Argosy, etc.) sent me, and lots more. Objects made by my children litter the place, and the whole thing has a pleasantly cluttered feel--at least, I think it pleasantly cluttered. I suppose it is really quite jammed. I have several cases holding lots of tiny Wade Red Rose Tea figurines. I started with fairy tale figures, and then accrued more, somehow or other. Books are in jolly heaps. Manuscript versions are in messy heaps.

Here's the lost stuff that I found while sorting and ordering:

1. A chicken.

There seems to be a heavy wing motif in the writing room. I found a scattering of blue and red glass ladybugs. Seven worn-out cock-and-hen salt and pepper shakers stand on the windowsill, and there is a small glass chicken and a tiny plastic one from a playset. A somewhat abstracted (in all possible ways) raven of carved wood stands on a old round box, and a pair of carved doves cuddle on a branch extending from the tall bookcase. The raven and doves were gifts in honor of two of my books--you can figure that one out!

2. Seven sea urchins of various sizes, pink and green and purple with horns.

3. Books that I didn't know that I owned.

Siegfried Lenz, The Selected Stories.
Eugenio Montale, Satura.
An Everyman Library version of Rudyard Kipling's Kim. I have two copies, it seems. I love that book. If I could read both copies at once, I would.
Somerset Maugham, The Collected Stories.
Willis Barnstone's translation of the four gospels, The New Covenant. Well, I guess I knew that I owned that one. But I hadn't seen it in an awfully long time.
Edna St. Vincent Millay, Selected Poems (McClatchy edition)

4. Books that got lost in the mess while I was reading them.

I refuse to admit how often this happens. But I will admit that I'm constantly losing and finding Yeats and Shakespeare. That happens on a nigh-weekly basis, except when one of them goes AWOL and cannot be hunted up for an extended time.

Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Now that is shameful. How could one lose such a big and such a red book?
Steve Stern, The Angel of Forgetfulness. How very appropriate. And I'll finally get to read the end.

5. Dust bunnies under the Shaker bookcase.

6. Soft gray dust lawns for the dust bunnies in the space between the two rows of books that line the shelves of the Shaker case.

7. A soot sprite. Well. Might've been.

Okay, probably not, so how about an alternate:

7. A note from N. in my green cloth box with the three mice puppets.

The upshot of all this is that my room is cleaner and many more books are on the shelves (fiction and poetry in alphabetical order, starting with "Y"--I'm tired of being in the bottom right-hand corner, next to the passing feet and the bookstore cats), but it still doesn't look tidy. There are still what my cleaning lady will see as too many books and too many papers.

And here I am, soon to be making my bright messes, and leaving more peelings and cast-offs everywhere.

***

Illustration: at CooperstownTshirts.com. Get your own Kingfisher Tower! The t-shirt picture seems rather fabulous to me, as Kingfisher Tower is on the wrong side of the lake--at least as seen from my writing room window. And what are those creatures (sailor rabbits? levitating angelfish?) approaching on the surface of the water?

23 comments:

  1. Hi Marly,

    I am so sorry you are sick. I hope you get well soon.

    I love your description of your writing studio, I can picture it.

    I knew you'd find chickens!!! As you know I collect them as well, although they have not yet invaded my studio.

    I also collect angels. The angels have been confined to a shelf, and my kitchen window. I think they need to spread out.

    My art studio needs a good cleaning too. It is the girl cat's "home" as well, and so her fluff is all over.

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  2. Oh, yes, I have tufts of blue fur as well, and the curtains tend to accrue a soft blue and calico fringe at the lower edge, where the cats run through to their Japanese bathhouse of luxury.

    I am not a Chicken Maniac. All I have is the chickens mentioned plus a chicken pact with my novelist penpal, Howard Bahr.

    I am sorry, too, but it is the fate of a mother with three children!

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  3. I love your room, Marly, and hope you feel better. I am a dismal housekeeper (and storekeeper) but am seized by cleaning frenzies before storms. I think it is something like the ants. Perhaps I have ant ancestors.
    Cleaning women terrify me. Fortunately I have never been able to afford them.
    And I don't trust people who want to put books in boxes.
    In my cabin we just put the dishes and pots and pans and clothing in boxes.
    Makes room for more books. Books are fine in pantries, really they are.
    I hope you feel better soon. Today I am seeing SUNLIGHT! for the moment.

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  4. The cleaning woman is mama-largesse. It does eat at my writing time, though--people always have questions about what to do, what to do. And they don't understand about books, why we need to have them so close at hand.

    I liked the description of your own mama very much--I was just now reading about her.

    Probably I should just read your blog instead of writing one. I could read yours, look at the pictures at laurelines, and go visit giornale nuova for a bit of spice. And be perfectly content...

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  5. I love the fact that you alphabetized your books starting with the letter Y! I'm thinking of doing that, in your honor. I hope you feel better, too, of course. I'm going to do a major spring cleaning (I hope to at least start one...) tomorrow. I will be looking for lost Yeats, plastic winged things and soot bunnies. Will be in touch.

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  6. Oh, that's good! Perhaps it will catch on and become a "thing," and "Y" will become a desirable letter... Think we ought to have a bookstore campaign for starting with "Y." I'd accept Z, too. That's close enough.

    If you need more plastic winged things, we have p-l-e-n-t-y.

    ***
    Make that giornale nuovo...

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  7. What was in the note?

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  8. No cats here! Achoo!

    Marly, I hope you’re feeling much better. At least you'll come out of this sneezing, hacking blue with an inventoried, tidied writing room. If one starts with Y, is the next Z or X? Alphabetizing has never worked for me. My books huddle in beloved clusters on shelves, rather like the frig where my favorite indulgences bunch at front center. Others gather on and under tables, on the stairs, under windows, in baskets, and yes, Jarvenpa, in my pantry, but I’ve not yet put pots and pans in boxes!

    I too have a special room, not a writing room, rather a waiting one, waiting for the courage to trust the process and create. But, paralyzed and pensive, I arrange and rearrange the journals, pens, paints and brushes. . . UGH, I need a kick or an antidote, or both.

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  9. Message for Connie: don't wait, my darling. Start. Please just start. "How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives." I think Annie Dillard said this, but it could have been Epictetus. Marly will know.

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  10. Yes, these are Annie Dillard words. Yet it's the knowledge and appreciation of A. Dillard and Marly poetry and prose and your sketches and . . . . . . that stop me, for I fall woefully short. You'd think an old gal could free herself . . . Another hurdle.

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  11. Comparisons are hideous, though. If you must make them, look at early Van Gogh paintings and drawings. Rarely have I seen more lumpish work. He started, though, and look where he ended up. Well, no, don't do that. Look at his later work. Marly, I apologize heavily for hijacking your blog. I promise not to do it again. My fingers aren't even crossed. Can't help it if your blog is so stimulating to your fans ;D.

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  12. Hello all--

    Hijack away! I like to see interesting people clicking together...

    Connie was in my nccat seminar, and she can write when she stops waiting.

    What was in the note? Don't exactly remember, but there was a kitty--probably scared the mice.

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  13. Laura:
    Hideous, you say. I know you're right. My critic wields too much power. So, I’ll just begin, with ear plugs! After all, I just want to create for self, not for publication. Now that should be simple. Regarding Van Gogh: If my memory serves me correct, those last paintings (blackbirds above wheatfields) are pretty weird! Oh, but the self portraits and irises and Starry Night. . .

    Thanks for the kick.

    Marly, many hugs your way.

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  14. Am wandering freely--but the black ribbons and lilies trouble me a bit..
    May all be well with you.

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  15. Connie, I'm sending you all manner of supportive thoughts and wishes. Marly, I'm worried, too. Black and lilies sound sad.

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  16. Thanks to my invisible friends! And for pestering me so nicely... It's cheerful, really.

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  17. That sounded a bit like my bedroom- dust, books (although mine aren't in any obvious order) and things I didn't know I had. I have yet to lose a book though- with only five hundred plus, I doubt I shall soon. I love the randomness of a chicken!

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  18. Yes, it does sound a bit like a messy-but-jolly teen bedroom. I'm afraid it's the last on my list to clean. There are so many more rooms that people see... And I don't think I can write without creating havoc among my papers.

    Perhaps there is always something "random" about a chicken. Odd creatures that they are.

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  19. Being born in the year of the chicken, I feel as if I must defend them, but you are right. Plus, I can't find a good agument!

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  20. No worry. I am a great supporter of chickens. After all, I have the Great Chicken Pact with my fellow novelist, Howard Bahr.

    Chickens loom large...

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  21. I love a good story, and when one is unveiled, I hunger for more. I sense a story behind the Great Chicken Pact. Do tell. Please?

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  22. You'll just have to figure it out!

    My name would be Great Steaming Radish if I revealed the terms of the pact.

    But if you look at our books, you may find some feathered friends...

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  23. Grrrrrrrr...
    Okay I will figure it out- it shall be my next challange!

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.