That’s my desk, and to the side a wall or Jane Austen books, near it another of Anthony Trollope — my stills and pictures are meant to surround me like nest of comforts — you can just make out Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth, some from the Palliser series (picturesque shots of women friends in the park) … Canaletto provides my screen saver.
The other side of the desk; my library table. You can see Hattie Morahan as Elinor Dashwoood, a Constable picture of Salisbury cathedrale where Trollope says he thought of The Warden, impressionism, there’s Diana under a tree with a cat.
I remembered it after rereading a poem, sent me by my dear friend and fellow poet, Farideh:
By Marina Tsvetaeva
(In a letter she wrote to Pasternak :my desk is kitchen table)
Translated by : Elaine Feinstein
My desk , most loyal friend
thank you. You ‘ve been with me on
every road I’ve taken.
My scar and my protection.
My loaded writing mule .
Your tough legs have endured
the weight of all my dreams , and
burdens of piled-up thoughts.
Thank you for thoughening me.
no worldly joy could pass
your severe looking-glass
you blocked the first temptation,
and every base desire
your heavy oak oughtweighed
lions of hate,elephamts
of spite you intercepted.
Thank you for growing with me
as my need grew in size
I’ve been laid out across you
so many years alive
While you’ve grown broad and wide
and overcome me. Yes ,
however my mouth opens
You stretch out limitless.
You are a pillar
of light.My source of Power!
You lead me as the Hebrews once
were led forward by fire.
A couple of days ago she asked me how I discovered poetry and came to translate Vittoria Colonna, Veronica Gambara and work for a number of years on the poetry and life of Anne Finch, Charlotte Smith, Mary Wortley Montagu (among others). Well, I discovered books. I’m an only child, I did have cousins and aunts and uncles but none of them except my father (now dead) were at all congenial or read serious books that I know of. Two of my aunts read popular romances (my father’s sisters), ; some were probably capable of reading but never did — they were poor, under pressure and schools and American culture made no effort to encourage reading for real.
It’s wonder how I did it in a way. I’m the first of my generation to go to college never mind getting a Ph.D. Like some of the stories the people on Wompo tell, I just gravitated to what I could find for solace in life and it turned out to be books. I found myself isolated at around age 18-19. I was anorexic (I weighed 78 pounds), miserably married (I divorced my first husband at age 21) and really with only a couple of friends I rarely saw. As a girl my father had a wall filled with old classics and my mother belonged to the book-of-the-month club. My father took me to the library as soon as I was old enough to take out a child’s book and read it on my own and he read to me (e.g., RLStevenson’s "Sire de Maltroit’s Door" and "A Lodging for the Night").
When I went to college, I found I loved what I was reading and could lose myself in writing and reading. I must’ve been about 19 when I sat on a bench with one of these girlfriends and told her and myself how I would try to survive and more than endure life, get something out of it I find joy in. I faced the reality of my lack of social skills in politicking and my lack of connections; I gave up on making money. I told myself that my goal would be modest, but I would stick to it. How I was going to spend my life writing and reading I didn’t know but I was gonig to hold to that.
Then again in the 1980s when I was in my late 30s I found myself living in Virginia with a baby on an apnea monitor and I began to go to a research library at night, and I found these poems by Renaissance women I never knew existed. I was so excited. Then I found the poems of Vittoria Colonna in French translations by Suzanne Therault; I loved them and wanted to translate them. Then I loved one of Gambara’s poems and so that started it.
And I think along the way I did now and again make decisions which saved me from spending my life working for money. We have a small house and never tried for a big one. We have not decorated it fancily at all. We have modest old cars. We don’t try to "entertain" as it’s called. I never made an expensive event for myself in marrying nor my older daughter. I did pay for their colleges but it was within reason. I never borrowed any big sums. My husband had a government job which provided health care and a pension.
Farideh who is Iranian called me a Darwish: "a person who prefers a spiritual life in this world and doesn’t exchange his or her inner life for or with money and power." to which I siad, it wasn’t that I preferred it necessarily. It was that I found myself unable to cope with the world given my position in it: I hadn’t the connections, power, know how, social skills to put myself forward. I didn’t like the social world most of the time in any comfortable way. So I choose a path I could do. The alternative was suicide or take some horrible 9-5 job 5 days a week of work that was soul destroying, well a living suicide.
I was able to pull it off because I found a loving man I was congenial enough with who respected and supported me and encouraged me to write.
Jim in the early morning, still in his robe, our front room: his rocking chair, not far from the fire place.
He helped me create this room of my own I described on my first blog (which I have now recreated here below). I sometimes think we made a mistake when we had children, as we cannot help our daughter very much but she has become our friend, a comfort and real presence who we offer ourselves to. We did goof when we left NYC. But both decisions were natural and the second forced on us at the time; going to DC gave him a good job in the government where through merit he could rise (not so possibly any more), and which we live off of still, from his pension (he too lacked connections and money and power and his social skills are not great either).
She told me her son has written a novel (at age 16) and it was published. I know her daughter reads Austen in Farsi and they watch the films together. I have to tell her Izzy has written a novel, a publisher shown interest and we are waiting to see if the company will publish it. Here is Izzy with and without our girl cat, Clarissa-Marianne.
And now for where I read and write from, beginning with this photo from the photo albums at Women Writers through the Ages at Yahoo (where I have a set of photos of writing places for a number of women writers — from magazines and articles on the Net)
By the puzzle pieces on the table, we see she did love puzzles — as the photo was published before her recent memoir with jigsaw puzzles.
On wompo we had been talking about where we write from and how it’s a reflection of our psychic needs. But as with
partners/husbands/companions/significantothers, it’s often hard to predict for our social and writing selves in public are not the same as these selves in private nor can we see how others see things.
For myself while I have written away from my "workroom" (see below), as in a small house in Desert Island, one summer I did all the Austen calendars (extracted them from the books) while sitting in a very quiet nook, a window nearby, looking at a lake where I heard only loons – tranquillity, stability, a sense of security, all of which are things needed by me (craved0, mostly I’ve written in a small room in my house and herewith is a description.
I invite others to describe their writing or reading spaces as comments or meme blogs.
I post at all sorts of hours, but try hard to keep it to before 9 in the morning after 8 in the evening (though I break this "rule). I live in a small private house (that’s a NYC term which means unattached) in a neighborhood once made up of similar houses. No more. Most have been renovated and expanded. Don’t ask. When the 4 blocks where the houses look like mine were built, people had an ideal of much grass and space between houses so there is still a lot and a wide sky one can see. The most recent houses have this ideal of filling up the lot and opulence and they build fences and plant high trees.
I post from a room 9 feet by 12 feet. My daughters used to call it Mommy’s workroom; but a part of it has my husband’s desk. It’s not a study distinct from the rest of the house as most of the rooms are lined with bookcases like this one. It is the only one where there are desks and tables for writing. It does have a bookcase with nothing but Jane Austen books and another with nothing but Anthony Trollope books. I don’t know how tall the room is. The ceiling is high enough.
It has two large windows: in all the rooms of my house 2 of the walls have large windows. Built before air-conditioning became more or less universal in Virginia. To the side of me one window has an awning and in spring and summer finches sometimes nest there, make babies and have ferocious fights over the territory (if a second couple comes along). I like watching them. Out the front of my house I see the street, grass, my wooden fence. If I stand and peer out I can see a pink tulip tree which much of the year is bare; it has green leaves just now. Across the road down the street are some cherry blossom trees. Also lovely for said three weeks.
We have no less than 6 computers in this room, 6 monitors (some are servers), a scanner, keyboards galore, and a printer. Much of this is my husband’s. Every man his own Houston space center. I understand how to use one computer and one machine which plays DVDs and videocassettes, and the scanner and printer.
I have managed to stuff three tables into this room, two library ones on which sit some of these computers and a microfilm reader my husband bought me for my birthday one year — from a local junior high.
My desk is large and old. I bought it in 1972. Mahogany with deep drawers and a wide surface. I have books in piles on the floor in baskets. Books on my desk, including dictionaries Italian, French, Fowler’s Modern English usage, my beloved Thesaurus which I’ve owned since 13; it was my father’s before me. It has gotten me through everything I write. I keep it in my lap when writing for publication. I have had it recovered recently. It’s the second book I have done this for: the first is my French Larousse.
Those parts of the walls which are not covered with bookcases (which do furnish a room — we have 43 across the house) have posters and cut-out pictures Scotch-taped up. I have rows of photos and postcards trailing up, across on top, and down again — postcards from friends (Diana has a bunch), photos of me and Judy Geater and me and Angela Richardson when we spent an afternoon in London together. Diana under a flowering tree looking at a cat. I have a big poster of Clark Gable gambling as Rhett Butler (my favorite) too and Ronald Colman in Lost Horizon (looking very drunk and melancholy), numbers of coloured print reproductions of late 18th century picturesque/ gothic scenes (Claude, Hubert Robert), [photos of friends. Lamps.
My younger daughter sit in her environment in a room behind me, also two windows, also a couple of computers, also books, but many other things different from mine, including a huge stereo outfit.
Where do other post from? What part of the world or your patch of the earth? What time? What does the world look like from your seat? Environment.
It’s a wonderful subject, for we are not just talking about literal space, but a psychic space we create for ourselves to
dwell in while we read and write; some need a room and tranquillity, but some prefer (as we’ve seen on Wompo) to be among people or on the fringe of activities; like me and Fran (who sent to WWTA description of her room) some do have a certain room to return to; others have a space inside a house or their office (s?).
Mine has evolved. Yes it began with a desk that was to be my central area — and it has remained so even if "I" now share that area with a computer. But next to the computer is my writing space and space for immediate books wanted. But now I have more tables: my room is not big so I have accommodated but two. Hmmm. I also do have bookcases so that may account for my only fitting two tables in: next to me (close to heart, near at hand) is a bookcase stuffed with jane Austen books (by and on) and notebooks, xeroxes, and notes and another across the way a bookcase filled with Anthony Trollope books & notebooks, xeroxes and notes. To my back are two large bookcases mostly stuffed with folders but some books, and mostly on women poets and writers (big spaces for Anne Finch, Vittoria Colonna, Veronica Gambara — though they have migrated outside the room too). My art books are two long shelves in the front of the house; Jim my husband has two long shelves on top of them of music books (his love).
I too enjoy the neighbor’s gardening. That tulip tree I so love has never been worked on by me :)
Jim comes in here sometimes, but not often — even though to the right of me is his desk and all above, around and below it all those computers I mentioned which I don’t understand but provide our blog, our website, and he calls "our servers." Since he so rarely uses (he has as I wrote turned the front room into his workroom too) it, I have one of my two fans on his desk area for writing facing me. Laura (now on this list) used to like to come in and talk at length with me when she lived here; Izzy comes in to watch Jane Austen movies with me — as I have the only player in the house which will play the British tapes Judy has kindly sent me (and only they plus a couple of Region 2 DVDs I bought) play the whole of these movies. Once upon a time Laura would come in here to talk privately.
As an adjunct I have no other space. I’ve been told the lecturers’ room is my space too, and I’ve seen adjunct colleagues actually work there. I can’t. People come and go, and I just don’t feel right there. It’s stigmatized in my mind.
ON Wompo someone developed the idea of psychic space which struck me as good, but then I thought about Anthony Trollope. Basically he wrote everywhere and anywhere. Famously, he had a long-time servant get him up at 4:30 in the morning so he could write until 9 as he had to get to work (for the post office, sometimes to an office, sometimes by travelling) by 10 and he forced himself to produce 250 words a day. But he also wrote on trains (he made himself a small desk), on boats, and all day long in the interstices of his job. He worked for 37 years full-time while producing novels in the first part of his career. I’ve two reproductions of rare photos of him, one which shows him standing up looking alertly at something and writing away. So he wrote standing up too. Probably the only place he didn’t write was when he was on horseback (I assume he didn’t, but who knows?). In his case he was (I think) a compulsive writer; he wrote to escape and kept it up all his life. He tells us in his autobiography that before he began to write, he would dream his stories, and learned to discipline himself to work them into coherent narratives. So writing was simply getting down what he was escaping to — all the livelong day apparently and he could do this all his life and when surrounded by others.
And also earlier women before the 19th century: how often the space they had was not theirs properly and they had to endure much hostility. Germaine de Stael who (it’s said) wrote standing up in her own study lest she incur the ridicule of her father. She was hiding her writing from him. Jane Austen is said to have written in a room to which access was had by a creaking door. The creak enables her to thrust her papers below her desk so as not to be observed writing. I’ve thought the story of Austen an exaggeration, but now I think to myself her nephew’s description makes this experience sound so cozy and accepted by her. Maybe it was not. Fanny Burney wrote late at night to hide her writing and wrote her final manuscript out in a forged hand. Imagine that.
But not to be sad this warm afternoon, it seems that most people who do write have to have and do get some space and time for themselves, women over the centuries and in repressive cultures too.
Today I look out my window and see this bright sunny autumn day — variegated leaves and autumn chrysanthemums and flowering bushes too still. I can dream here.
The long shadows of a day and life richly spent together, with recent addition of two cats — one named by Izzy, and one by me and Jim:
Clarissa-Marianne. She has a passion for dead leaves. She is also a bundle of anxiety, on the edge. ever giving and seeking affection, alert, on the run, move, tenacious, bold and vocal.
Ian, quieter, loves to stay in his grey round bed (his pod we call it), stands off to the side watching, sometimes aggressive but often wary, cautious, hesitates, likes to sit and watch, or sleep.