When I was living in Los Angeles, I was spoiled. I had an office space on the top floor of my three story condo that consisted of just enough room for my Ikea desk, a chair for my dog and a couple of bookshelves. The wall across from my desk was open, overlooking the living room below, and the windows around me had sublime views of the Pacific Ocean on one side and mountains on the other. Each afternoon, I’d climb the stairs, ready for a few glorious hours of being creative.
“Let’s go to work, Arnold,” I say, and he’d grab whatever rawhide chew he was working on (usually a rawhide shoe or baseball in those days) and race up the steps with me.
I’d sit at my massive desk, take a sip of my water, turn on the CD player and light my inspiration candle. And I’d write – 10, 20, 30 pages a day without a problem. If I happened to get stuck, I’d go up another flight of stairs to the roof and look at the Los Angeles skyline around me.
Just thinking about how ideal that setting was makes me want to slap myself out of jealousy.
Today, while I still have an office space where my dog and I can comfortably settle in for a few hours, I have trouble writing there. While I have a nice view of this manmade lake outside my window, I feel clausterphobic in that space. The massive Ikea desk that I purchased for that room (the same model as the one that I had in Los Angeles and missed so much) doesn’t quite fit in the room. Due to my years of going back to school, my bookcases spawned, and now there are random books written by composition instructors, 20th century poets and self-indulgent screenwriting professors. There’s too much stuff there to feel free. When I go into that space, I feel like I need to get work done.
And since becoming a professor, “work” isn’t getting the voices out of my head. Writing has sadly become something that I fit into my life whenever I can and not my career.
When I’m in that dedicated office space, I feel guilty for working on my own narratives. Whether it’s my YA novel, my fantasy screenplay or my self-help Ebook, I just don’t feel the right energy to work there. I’d rather check student emails and balance my checkbook.
So, as much as my dog loves me writing at home, I’ve had to find new places to go and be creative. I’ve had to get away from my life as professor and get into a space where I feel like my commitments aren’t so formal.
Lately, that’s been the local Barnes and Noble café, where I happen to be writing this blog. Here, I can look up and see people that I don’t know. Since my students are currently all online, I don’t have to worry about seeing them here. I also don’t see my to do list, overflowing with all the tasks that I should be doing instead of getting the world inside my head onto the page. I don’t see my unpaid bills or the layers of dust on my bookcases that need to be cleaned. I don’t see my boyfriend, anxious to tell me about his day. And as much as I loved it in the past, I don’t see my dog, needing to go out.
What I do see is tutors working with struggling students. I see senior citizens with nothing better to do with their time in the middle of the day except hang out at a bookstore. I see college students trying to study. I see middle-aged men trying to sound smart as they loudly discuss some book they may not have actually opened. I see housewives reading a book while sipping a bottle of Izze. I see freedom to be creative.
Here, sipping my Earl Grey with Splenda and half and half, I give myself permission to write. It’s not quite as romantic as the office that I once had upstairs. I have no control over the music or how loud the other people around me speak. But I can write here. And that’s more important than anything else.