I love my office. It calls to me. The sleepy glow of the computer is a beacon as I go about my household chores. It’s in a hallway and yes I can think of better locations. But for now it’s an okay space.  Tempting to put down my basket of laundry to check my email or jot down an idea, to sneak away from the family, glass of wine in hand, to reread a passage.

The fact that my office is in a hallway may have something to do with why I also like to work in cafes. I love the anonymous crawl space at the edge of a crowd, the kind of concentration possible in chaos. But not if the music is rubbish, not if it’s one of those places that specializes in babyccinos or 423 varieties of muffin holes.  I have my favorite joints based on the pure grunt of the joe, the quality of the music and/or whether or not they are friendly to dogs. There’s a place up the road called Scrambled, where the lesbians churn out nothing but pitch-perfect espresso, brilliant breakfasts and non-stop tunes. And another, a slightly longer walk away, where there are tables outside and a big bowl of water for the dog.

But in the end, and hallway or not, it’s my office that calls to me. I love that first kiss of my fingers on keyboard. Don Quixote cheers me on from a small set of drawers I picked up at a garage sale. The Don is a present from my kids and is one of my most precious possessions. My prized collection of City Lights Pocket Books—Kerouac, Ginsberg— is stacked on a shelf above him. Oh there is a cactus, and my speakers, and CDs and pictures and maps.  A pile of papers I shuffle from a pile labeled ‘In’ to a pile labeled ‘File’ and back again. A grape vine that snakes its way past my windows. I can step outside onto the back steps and look up at the clock tower of the Petersham Town Hall, where Baz Luhrmann filmed Strictly Ballroom. And at my feet, the dog.

Across three continents and over a dozen years, I remember all my offices. In San Diego it was a tiny patch of space off the end of my daughter’s change table. She was in the car with me when I drove to deliver the first piece of writing I was ever paid for. In Christchurch, a cold corner room I shared with my husband. In Sydney, a fabulous sunroom I had all to myself in the bowels of a sprawling Victorian pile on the harbor foreshore. And now this cluttered little passageway that is stifling in summer and too cold in winter and from which I can hear my son on his bass and my daughter on the phone and the neighbors playing Mahjong and through which my better half may wonder at any time, oh, looking for his reciprocating saw or trumpet mute… a space which I can and do make into a room of my very own.

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J.S. BREUKELAAR is the author of the novel, American Monster and the collection, Ink. You can find her work at Juked , Prick of the Spindle, Fantasy Magazine, Go(b)et Magazine, New Dead Famlies, Opium Magazine, and in anthologies such as Women Writing the Weird, among others. You can also find her at www.thelivingsuitcase.com

21 responses to “Room to Muse”

  1. Matt Bialer says:

    I love hearing/reading about how writers work. Great, funny piece. I hate places with crap music too.

  2. Kris Saknussemm says:

    Here’s to the concentration possible in chaos. Brava.

  3. Richard Cox says:

    It’s interesting the different environments in which writers thrive. I was talking to someone the other day who said she can only write or concentrate to the sound of the television. Music in particular distracts her. Whereas for me, the TV is the last thing I’d want on if I were trying to be productive or set a certain mood. And I definitely need music.

    Concentration in chaos. I like that.

    • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

      Richard! Long time no talk, my friend. At the T.N.B.-L.A. thing they were interviewing the writers after their readings about this topic. Music on or off while writing, etc. It was cool to hear what people had to say.

      This is a lovely read, J.S. The headspace and real space are an interesting crossroads for writers. I’m the type who’s gotta do the dishes, straighten the bedspread and change the cat litter before I can get into the zone. It’s a creature comfort once I’m there.

      Loved this: “I love the anonymous crawl space at the edge of a crowd…” I grew up near New York City and now live on the fringes of the Venice Boardwalk. Throngs of strangers put me in a trance.

      • Richard Cox says:

        Hi LRC!

        Trance is a good word for it. In fact I sometimes listen to actual trance music while writing. All the best music I’ve found has been because of a search to find new things to write to.

        I like to sit on my sofa in the dark, laptop display glowing, music thundering out of the speakers. It feels like writing a film that’s actually occurring as you type.

        But it makes me wonder if writing among crowds might also be effective, seeing those faces, translating them into your work…

        • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

          You’ve already done it, Coxy. Remember that piece you wrote from the airport? You were girl-watching… I recall the flirty ladies in bright summer clothes and the quiet woman in neutral tones reading from a book.

          Have you ever tried writing to Sigur Ros or My Morning Jacket? They’re both so ambient.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Ah, yes. The pink blur. Haha. Thanks for remembering that.

          I own three Sigur Ros albums, though I mainly listen to the first one, Von. I’ve never heard My Morning Jacket. I’ll check them out.

          As it happens, today I’ve been listening to a playlist I made called “Ambient Post Rock.” I’ll PM you some of the artists if you’re interested. I’m sure Jen doesn’t need us hijacking her post to discuss music preferences. Haha.

        • Hijack away kids. I’ll just pretend I’m at Scrambled. 🙂

  4. A trance—that’s it! A good word.

  5. Simon Smithson says:

    Have you ever been to Melbourne, J.S.? Have we spoken about this before?

    • Yep, and nope, Simon. Last time I was in Melbourne was in July for about 15 hours to watch the Bledisloe Cup. Oh, and it’s Jenny between friends. I loved your Halloween piece—you nailed the whole voyage thing. Glad you finally made it.

  6. M.J. Fievre says:

    I’m jealous of your space… I’ve always dreamed of having a little corner to call my own (even if noisy, as I too like “the kind of concentration possible in chaos). But no… No luck.

  7. My workspace is terribly chaotic, and it’s weird, but it is the only way I can concentrate. I’m glad I read this. I love the atmosphere you bring with this piece. Thank you.

  8. Michael Stern says:

    Fantastic….but then again I’m prejudiced. From Sarah Heartburn to this. Who’d a thunk it? Wonderful!!!

  9. Michael Stern says:

    Fantastic….but then again I’m prejudiced. From Sarah Heartburn to this. Who’d a thunk it? Wonderful!!!

  10. Matt says:

    The biggest fights my last live-in ex and I had were over her unwillingness to respect my writer’s space, even though it was just my desk in the corner of our bedroom. Never seemed to grasp that, when I was sitting there working, I wanted to be left alone to write. Constant, constant interruptions. Needless to say, my desk is still in a corner of the bedroom, but she’s long gone.

    I have to keep my desk clean, if I’m going to write. No piles of paper or stacks of bills. Like I equate room to spread my arms with room to spread my mind. There’s always the ritual cleaning of the desk before I sit down for a long-form writing project.

  11. sharonlmurphy says:

    Chaos breeds concentration in my life too so I also say BRAVA!

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