I had this great idea for a blog entry. I was going to take a picture of my writing space, and challenge my fellow Femmes Fatales and our readers to send pictures of their writing spaces, and I could post them and we could have this wonderful insight into the nature of our work and our minds and our lives.
And then I picked up the digital camera and looked around and said "What the hell was I thinking of?"
I should have remembered the time a photographer from Virginia Living Magazine came to take a photo of me for a profile. We talked on the phone, and he blithely shared his plan of taking the picture in the most logical setting for a writer--in my work space. In my office. At my desk.
I cleaned for two days.
I was pretty proud of my office when I ushered the photographer in. I beamed as he looked around it.
"We need to find a less cluttered setting." he said.
We settled for the library. (In a normal person's house, it would be one of the three bedrooms). "You have too many paperbacks," he told me, or at least too many paperbacks on the shelves he wanted to use as a backdrop for my photo. I think he was hinting for me to rearrange books so these two five-foot-tall, thirty-inch-wide shelves were filled with hardbacks. If so, he hinted in vain. But he liked the quality of the light through the lime-green sheers at the windows. He put some kind of filter in the camera to keep the lovely aqueous quality of the light while filtering out the lime green tint. It was a long, if interesting day.
Looking through the lens of my own camera, I can see his point. My office is cluttered. I don't normally see the clutter that clearly--it's part of my life. But through the camera...arg.
Apparently I'm not the only person fascinated by other writers' spaces. Photographer and writer Jill Krementz has done an entire book of photos of writers' desks--she is reported to have a collection of photographs of 1500 writers' offices. She puts out an annual desk calendar featuring a different writer each week. And The Guardian has an ongoing feature on writers' rooms.
I've bookmarked this site for ongoing study I covet some of these rooms. Some of them could give me an acute inferiority complex if I let them. How do these people live and write in such relative tidiness? Even when the rooms are cluttered, it seems to be organized, purposeful clutter. Literary or cultural clutter. Classy clutter. "A small cameo of Tolstoy that I bought in his house in Moscow and a bronze relief of Dickens, half obscured by the computer screen, that was my mother's." "On its top there is a brass celestial globe bought in a street market in Mumbai." "A Picasso lithograph of Arthur Rimbaud, done in 1960."
I have a bust of Robert E.Lee that I found knocking around my parents' house when I began clearing it out. I keep meaning to ask my mother where it came from. It feels like a prop for a character I haven't invented yet. I have the nicely perforated target from one of my two field trips to a firing range--I figure it might scare off the more nervous burglars. A framed copy of a letter from my publisher transmitting the signed contracts for SEX GEESE A-SLAYING. A Wolfsbane and Mistletoe mug I got from Toni and Charlaine, with a fetching little stuffed werewolf in it. A toy black sheep. Pictures of my nephews. Action figures. All meaningful, amusing, or useful items, but through the camera's lens, they don't quite add up to a decor.
I found myself wondering how many days those other writers tidied before the photographers showed up. Some of them probably live in minimalist bliss. Others are honest enough to admit that their rooms don't normally look this tidy.
And I threw in the towel. I took the picture above and said, "This is as much of my writing space as I'm going to let anyone see."
For now. But I just turned in the revisions for a book, and while I need to start the next one all too soon, I've got a little space for tidying.
That's another kind of writer's space--the illusory sense of freedom we get between one deadline and another. Right now, with that manuscript back in New York, anything and everything seems possible. Including the notion that I just might turn my office into something I wouldn't mind seeing in a 7x9 glossy duotone.