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A place in the world [Duplicate]
Creating a space that creates me
When I declared to myself, with more conviction in my voice than my heart could support, that I was going to be a writer, for the first time in my life I felt the desire for a place. Nine months have elapsed since that day. Nine months that resulted in over 73,000 words published, thousands of dollars spent pursuing this devotion, and the first place I’ve ever truly loved as my own. Nine months of home.
The first thing to notice is the books. Growing up, my parents used to bribe us to read books over the summer. $50 for 50 books, maybe the fairest trade I’ve ever had the pleasure of agreeing to. Not that the money made a difference, my first love was always books and they feature prominently in my altar.
We need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.
The two large bookshelves burst at the seams; more books overflow into the hallway, my nightstand, the kitchen table, the living room, even the floors on occasion. They are pure chaos and they validate the anarchy I intend to imprint on the page. These books are hundreds of years of inspiration, a gift more precious than the money I insist we need not calculate has been spent on them. Or rather, my wife insists I don’t need to and I love her all the more for this small gesture. All of them play their part in molding the clay of my identity; none of them could be removed without losing the sense of this place.
They call in many voices. The unread spines begging to be ravished in a fit of inspired ecstasy that prolongs the intimate conversation their authors started years ago. The previously enraptured tomes live in silent satisfaction, hoping for a second, third, even tenth reading. It’s a collection as diverse as my life wishes to be. And it grows every day, with every trip to the local bookstore and every new recommendation from a friend.
These are my collection of the great spiritual texts. The Quran, the Bhagavad Gita, The Tao, even Plato. Not pictured is the copy of Bibliotecha, whose arrival I anxiously await. I couldn’t tell you when I collected all of these; I only know they found this home before spirituality found a home in me. Turns out maybe my spirit was preparing me for a fight, arming me with the words I would need to start understanding what was to come. The mere presence of these words comforts me, these stories which inspired the best and the worst in people, from the mystical love of Teresa of Avila to the holy wars that preceded my own legacy of warfare, and strengthens me to continue the fight for my undying soul.
My journey to a creative life has been years in the making. A dog-eared copy of The Artist’s Way elicits memories of four am morning pages on the kitchen table, encouraging the meek voice of aspiration fighting for a place in my life. At the top are some of those very journals, along with the many others that are always accumulating words that lead to ideas that lead to new friends. Since my declaration that I am a writer, I’ve immersed myself in so many books of the craft, many of which have yet to make their way back among their brothers in arms. This is the place where they’ll live.
The beauty of math and physics is forever etched into my heart, and this little corner of my congregation refuses to be silenced. For years the logos was science. It offered the secrets of the universe, and I eagerly bestowed my offering to their wisdom. The thrill of watching a radio signal appear on a control panel I made, the joy in bringing a qubit to life from the sweat of my own brow, and the simplicity in a friendly “Marhaba” still holds court in this place.
These books can light up the room – and my imagination with it – through an eloquent turn of phrase. Or they can summon storm clouds as they whisper from the shadows a subversive idea meant for darker, more perverse delights. Some day, these books will be my greatest gift to the young minds and furrowed brows that wander through here, perusing the spines, wondering aloud about the secrets contained herein that they could spend a lifetime submerged in without ever finding the edges of the great literary conversation. These are merely a selection of the books that have entered this house. I don’t read to collect books but to consume ideas and be baptized in the best of them.
We, my friends, only commit crimes out of love, only in the service of others, and never against our own spirit.
Years ago, a dedicated place to work seemed a ridiculous idea, a fanciful flourish that risked enshrining the wrong liturgy. Whether work was done in a cubicle, staring at a non-descript computer screen set against a non-descript felt divider, or at a desk in the open floor plan buffeted on all sides by the symphony of others in a chorus which would make a wall street trader run for solitude, or in an airplane looking onto the world below me like Icarus before the fall, place didn’t matter. Sure the view might be different – nothing beats the aquamarine ocean stretching as far as the eyes can see, so enticing it blends into the sky at the ends of vision until two become one in a presence known only as Earth. But the message was the work, and it could be done anywhere.
My relationship with work changed and so did my understanding of place. More than a location where work gets done, because work can get done anywhere, I sought a reflection of myself, someplace to sit in, immerse myself, welcome the muses around a small circle with a cup of freshly ground, naturally processed coffee beans coaxed to perfection through the filters of the french press as we simultaneously exhaust and refresh ourselves with the possibility of new understandings of the world. This work requires belief: in myself, in the power of art, and in the inspiration of the past. I longed for more than an office. Calling this place an office would be a crime, and we, my friends, only commit crimes out of love, only in the service of others, and never against our own spirit.
If a person who had no taste for drawing were at once to be endowed with both the taste and power, he would feel, on looking out upon nature, almost like a blind man who had just received his sight.
In front of the fireplace, illuminated by the flames and standing proudly apart is the easel. I need to be surrounded by art. Not the finished products which adorn the walls of museums waiting to be observed and quickly forgotten, but the daily struggle, the scratches and eraser marks and grinding of graphite into the bite of paper as a portrait or a still life or a landscape comes to be on the page. This is art in the making; living art, though it will never be seen beyond these walls. This is a participatory ritual, because to be separated from the making of art is to lose the holy war for our souls.
Today’s effort shows the light blocking of my daughter holding a bouquet of flowers. It’s been etched into the paper and then backed off to make space for the future, for her features. This step should be an hour or two, but it will remain this way for weeks as an errant pencil mark is added and then erased, only to be added again at the rate of a few marks a day. I’m not just drawing; I’m remembering how to observe. This labor of love is savored, never hurried. What would be the point anyway, when the worst crime imaginable is an empty easel?
If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:
The only proof he needed
For the existence of God
Along the far wall are my instruments. There’s even a spot for the record player waiting to be christened. As someone who’s chosen words as my weapon of choice, I wasn’t sure if these pieces would have a place. Those misgivings seem laughable now, as music shapes the creative process that forms my identity. When words fail, and they often do, music speaks. The effort to play them is the rare combination of intellectual, emotional, and physical work, letting my brain rest long enough for inspiration to find a home. Those earlier muses, when they’ve wandered away after our morning coffee, often return drawn to the tender music which comes from these instruments. So nearly a third of this space is dedicated to music.
Years ago, I bought this piano as a gift for my wife. She had been raised on the piano and violin, and though we couldn’t afford the baby grand piano I envision in our house, this was a great start. Little did I know that this instrument would call to my heart. I would rush from flights to piano lessons, and later rush to recitals after work. I delight in this instrument, even though I may never be as graceful as she. Sitting at the bench, my stiff fingers stretching to play Chopin’s Prelude in A Minor or Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is my act of unrestrained amour. Out of those moments, words begin to unfreeze and I remember why I manifested this space.
The guitar has been mine since college. Though I rarely play it, and was never very good at it to begin with, it will never leave this place, for it’s more idea than instrument. My children love to sit with it draped over their body, far larger than their little arms can reach around and too thick for their small fingers to masterfully control the strings. They bathe in its presence. When we do play, the sound of its notes resonates from the body and out to the heavens, joining Voyager’s golden record as a message that music is our humanity. The baritone ukulele next to it belongs to C, as he explores his own voice through music. Someday we’ll build a creative space for him, adorned with everything from Legos to music to the seeds and flowers and trees of home.
This room is my labor of love. But ultimately, it's not special because of what fills it. Rather, the act of intentionally designing this space has taught me what it means to live fully. It contains the energy, the aliveness, the devoted thought that reminds me, every day, that I must write. And if I’m going to write (not that I have a choice), then I aspire to write to the best of my ability, with the conviction that what I have to write matters and that the passion, the fury, the reckless abandon in my words can make a difference in this world, even if only because you may read it.
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This post was inspired by The Book Will Kill the Building by, ’s tour of his own studio, and a recurring theme, in conversation with . If you liked it, you should check out their pieces as well.