Wednesday, September 8, 2010

{Guest Blog} My Writing-Space Makeover: A New Year's Resolution Accomplished

Thank you to poet Hila Ratzabi for today’s guest blog post about her writing space. As someone who has moved often and lives in a small, city apartment, I am inspired by the thought of a more comfortable writing space. I’m sure you’ll enjoy her piece as much as I did.

I have a confession to make: for the past three years since graduating from the MFA program in Writing at Sarah Lawrence College, I have been a writer without a desk and chair. Going back in time even further, throughout my seven-year post-college career in which I moved a total of four times (twice in Manhattan, twice in Brooklyn), I have owned exactly two desks and two chairs. The first desk in my first Manhattan apartment was a nondescript and awkwardly screwed together IKEA cliché. All I can remember is that it was briefly functional and it boasted a nauseatingly neutral fake-wood glow. By the time I left that apartment, the desk had all but fallen apart as a result of my own faulty DIY craftsmen skills. The chair was a gray suede roller from Staples that I eventually gave away when it seemed useless and a bit sad without a desk to go with it. I vowed to find the perfect replacement desk, perhaps even made of real wood, with a matching chair to go with it, but my search for perfection eventually led to stagnancy as no desk that fit my standards simultaneously fit my price range.

In my first Brooklyn apartment, an old desk and chair (mismatched to each other and clearly found on the street) had been left in the living room by a former roommate, and I decided the price was right. However, the chair didn't fit properly beneath the desk, making it impossible to tuck one's thighs under the desk comfortably. I promised myself to resume the search for the perfect desk and chair, but unsurprisingly the holy grail of authentic woodenness and sleek comfort failed to materialize. I finally threw up my hands and ordered a cheap desk (made of real wood) online from Gothic Cabinet, not realizing that the desk's cheapness went hand-in-hand with its size, designed for--at most--a ten-year-old child. Separately I had bought a chair on sale at a local furniture store that was going out of business, and when the child-desk was delivered, it became instantly clear that the chair was by far too large to fit the desk. Yet again, my legs didn't fit under the desk (unless uncomfortably squeezed), and I was left in a state of dejection from one more failure to set up a proper space for my post-MFA writing life.

This is not to say that I stopped writing completely due to lack of a basically functional adult-sized desk and chair. As I always had, I continued jotting down drafts of poems and essays in miniature notebooks that I carried in my purse, writing on subways or in parks, and typing and editing on my laptop on the sofa or in coffee shops. I had also joined a fairly regular informal monthly poetry workshop with fellow MFA alumni, thereby establishing a source of discipline and inspiration for generating new work.

But the long sought-after desk and chair remained unfound. Finally in my second (and last) Brooklyn apartment, which I moved into with my boyfriend eight months ago, I brought along my miniscule child-desk, fresh with hope that in our new (and much larger) living space I would be motivated to find the perfect chair to fit the tiny desk, or the perfect desk to fit my oversized chair. But again I put it off, instead focusing on filling the space with a luscious new sectional sofa, thick and soft, in deep red, found on sale at a Macy's furniture outlet. I indulged in playing adult by decorating the apartment with framed poetry broadsides and a combination of mine and my boyfriend's art work. I had hoped to set up a nice writing space in the large bedroom, the location of most the apartment's natural light and the peaceful view of a neighbor's backyard. My boyfriend's desk was set up in the living room, where there was less light, and he didn't mind. My ill-fitting desk and chair remained in the bedroom, awkwardly taking up space, practically frowning at me as I turned my attention to other areas of the apartment. The desk and chair search fell by the wayside.

Thankfully a few weeks ago my writing-space fate would change when the lovely and talented Chloe Yelena Miller posted an exhortation on her blog to perform a writing self-evaluation. I dutifully accepted the challenge, considering it was the month before Rosh Hashanah, a time for self-reflection and making the commitment to change and improve one's life as the New Year approaches. I decided, as the rabbis say, "if not now, when?" I immediately went onto and then, comparing desks and chairs by size and price. When I was able to calculate that a particular desk was much larger than the baby-desk that sat at home, with lavish amounts of leg room, and a particular chair was the precise right height, shaped ergonomically and with an inviting and professional burgundy faux-leather exterior, I was sold. I purchased the desk and chair and they arrived exactly one week later.

After almost breaking part of the desk trying to put it together myself (I would love to get a side job writing clear and easy-to-understand furniture-assembly instruction manuals), in most un-feminist fashion I let my boyfriend take over, leaving him to figure it all out while I typed away quietly on my laptop on the living room sofa. An hour or so later he emerged and announced that the desk and chair were ready. I helped him position the desk right by the window with the optimum light and view, sliding the chair in place to the sweet, pure sound of plastic wheels rolling on a hard-wood floor. The transformation was complete. Now all that was left was to try it out. I slowly sat in the chair, adjusted the height, and rolled myself in to the desk, like a first kiss. As I type right now, a cool end-of-summer evening breeze puffs and deflates the curtains in a slow, easy rhythm. A new year is just days away, and I am writing, and this is as close to perfect as it gets.


Andrea said...

I have been trying to get myself a good desk for years, but I also keep moving too frequently to justify buying something nice. I knew I'd need some outside inspiration to finally get me going on this, and went straight to Chloe' blog to look for it! Great post. How is the desk working out now?

(And thanks, Chloe', for inviting this guest blogger!)

Hila said...

Hi Andrea,

I'm glad this inspired you! I would still love to get something a bit fancier one day, but my Target desk and chair are working out great. The key was that I found something that felt physically comfortable. I haven't set a real writing schedule, but I have a feeling (since I've tried so many times to discipline myself) that a strict schedule isn't going to work for me.

Nevertheless, what's nice is that I have this "landing pad" to go to when I am ready to write. Just this weekend I found myself with a chunk of time, so I went to the desk and edited an essay that I had ignored for months.

It also reminds me of an art class I once took -- every week the teacher would rearrange the easels, and when I asked him why, he said "Change everything!" Changing/rearranging furniture really helps free the creative mind to see things differently.

Hope you have luck finding something that works for you!