by J.T. Ellison
I’m in New York today, running around being a tourist post-Edgars. Since this was also my birthday week, I’m taking the shortcut of posting a piece I wrote for a magazine called The Verb. I hope you’ll forgive me for not checking in until later — but check in I will. Happy Friday!
It’s beneficial for a writer to be asked this question every
once in a while. Metaphor aside, the place where we create is vital to our
I have two desks. One is upstairs in my home, in a bedroom
converted to an office. It’s a funny little room, a connector into the bonus
room over the garage. It’s got awkward angles, but a nice big window which
looks out onto the river birch. The tree is big enough that it blocks out
everything else, but that’s fine. In the winter, it’s not much fun, but in the
summer, the cardinals live in the tree, and at 5:00 each evening, they have a
cocktail party. Apparently it’s open invitation, because all the cardinals from
the neighborhood, the surrounding neighborhoods, probably the state congregate
in the tree, jostling for space on the branches. They are gossips and scolds,
and have a merry old time of it. When I worked in my office full time, the
cardinal cocktail hour was my signal to start wrapping up for the day.
My space upstairs has
evolved into more of a business office than a creative space. When I first
started writing, I was working on a tiny computer table. The keyboard tray was
so small the mouse wouldn’t fit, so I developed shoulder issues from the
constant up and down movement. When I started my second book, I decided Enough!
We bought lovely furniture to replace the tiny desk. The pieces fit snugly into
the corner (I’m a big fan of angled placement) with a desk to the right which holds
my printer and files, and a bookshelf to the left. The desks are two-tiered,
with cavernous hutches that are loaded with books, magazines, files and knick
knacks, including my precious Ted the Bear from Harrods. He’s there to bring me
The top two shelves of the bookcase to the left hold my
favorite titles – LOLITA, ANTHEM, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, all my Austens, Hemingway,
Dickens, Conrad, Norton Anthologies and Greek Mythology texts. My shelves of
Classics. Most are the books I read in school and thought were fabulous enough
to keep. Which was pretty much all of them.
The center desk has my computer screen, a full sized rip-off
desk calendar, a small desk calendar called “The Year In Space” which has so
many cool photos of distant galaxies and stars that if you’re stuck, a quick
glance will humble you. I like to be reminded that while I’m struggling, there
are things that are much more important happening. There’s a black rubber,
bendable string cat that I’ve had since I was ten, and a green-faced Wicked
Witch pencil topper. Next to those childhood trophies is a small golden clock
that was a gift from the Secretary of Commerce. Tons of paperclips in magnetic
holders, post-it notes and separate containers for pens and pencils finish out
that section. There’s also a fantastic Mexican ceramic tissue box cover, the
cords to my iPod, the envelope that stores all my business receipts, speakers,
and the box that holds my special embossed cards for thank you notes. Along the
top, front and center, are my special books: the ones I’ve gotten signed by
authors I love, and my first run Harry Potters. Friends get co-op space too, so
the first thing you see when you walk in is their current title. A POISONED
SEASON by Tasha Alexander is at the forefront right now. As you can tell, I
love having everything in its proper space.
On the shelf to the right is a framed print of a Chinese
character from the I Ching called CHAOS. The small print below says “Before
the beginning of great brilliance, there must be Chaos. Before a brilliant
person begins something great, they must look foolish to the crowd.”
I love that sentiment. It’s how I approach my work, and my
life. Chaos equals risk in my mind. If my life is organized, it leaves plenty
of room for my mind to be chaotic, and as such, my work to push the edge.
My big black leather chair swivels, and to the left of the
window is another chair, cushy and comfortable, a table with a lamp, a white
board for plotting and a corkboard. All
my conference and self-congratulatory detritus, book covers, important emails
and notes go onto the corkboard. There’s another sign on the table, this one
stone. It says, “Don’t Piss Off The Fairies.” Amen to that. Without the magic
sprinkles of fairy dust, where would we be?
But I spend my creative time downstairs, in my black leather
recliner. The windows have a view of the street, I can distract myself with the
neighbor’s comings and goings. The cat sleeps on the bench to the left of the
window on a large red plaid flannel, snoring and twitching her way through my
day. There’s a slate table to my left that holds my drink, the phone (whose
ringer is off,) an Italian pottery catch all for pens, and a basket below for “stuff.”
A magazine rack to the right handles my notepads and current files.
I sit in this chair with my laptop on my lap and write.
After all the care and feeding I put into creating the perfect office upstairs,
my lap has become my desk.
So what’s on your desk???
Wine of the Week: From a pre-birthday dinner this week, a fabulous and surprisingly affordable bottle.
Be sure to let it breathe for about fifteen minutes before you try it. Nice and dry with a beautiful finish.
This essay first appeared in The Verb in February 2008, a very cool ezine. I asked for and received permission to post it here.