A Desk of One’s Own
Until very recently I had an office outside of my house, but then my landlord raised my rent and I decided — since I am “between books” — to hold off until I’m actually starting a new book before I rent an office again. That office was (bizarrely) a retail space in the small town ten minutes down the hill from my house. I could have been selling hats or scarves or real estate. I was the only person in the building who didn’t have a shingle. On gloomy days, when my lights were on, people would tell me they could see me framed by the picture window, writing as they drove by. The accountant who worked on the other side of the tissue-thin wall was possessed of a, shall we say, sonorous baritone. I found myself knowing more than I should about the tax situations of my fellow neighbors. I found myself listening to music while I wrote (in the two years I was in that office I wrote Black & White as well as a few stories) through very excellent Bose sound-deadening headphones. Sometimes–when I could still hear the accountant through the headphones, found myself aggressively turning up the volume on my stereo and playing Glenn Gould’s Goldberg Variations really really loud. Nothing worked. So here I am, back at home, at the desk of my own, in lieu of a room of my own.
Today’s desk: a notebook open to a list I’ve started to scribble of people to invite to my book party for Black & White; a Buddha head bought last summer at a local Tibetan festival, Tibetfest; photos of my husband and son; one of my husband from when he was a war correspondent, taken on a rooftop in Somalia (this picture reminds me that there is a side to him I’ll never fully know); on the bulletin board, some favorite quotes: this one, from Nietszche, reads “That for which we find words is already dead in our hearts. There is always a kind of contempt in the act of speaking.” (I keep this one to remind me not to talk through ideas for novels or stories or essays when they’re new in my mind.) Also on the bulletin board, a print of my son’s baby feet; the paperback book jacket of Family History; more photos, which appeared in Real Simple, of my family. An invitation to the party for my friend Jonathan Wilson’s new book about Marc Chagall, coming out in March. A small grouping of essential oils (violet, lime, basil, tamarack, vetiver) which I haven’t opened in months. A pile of galleys, including Amanda Eyre Ward’s compelling new novel, Forgive Me, which will be published in June (this is the only one of the books on my desk which has migrated from the need-to-read-pile to the whew-I’ve-read-it pile); Peter Godwin’s memoir, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun; a book my editor at Anchor gave me at lunch last week, which just got a great New York Times daily review, Still Life With Husband; Old Calabria, a book about the part of Italy where we’ll be next month, sent to me by the owner of Le Sirenuse, the astoundingly gorgeous hotel where we’ll be launching the Sirenland Writers’ Conference along with One Story magazine — a copy of which is also on my desk. A manuscript of a non-fiction book about nannies. And that’s just ON my desk. Both to the left and the right of my desk there are many more. Hopefully by the time I take inventory of my desk again, at least a few items may have shifted.