It is the Sunday after Thanksgiving and everyone is home, in the house, while I write. I’m in the basement at our Ikea secretary, writing 15 minutes on the here and now, in the same spot, every day for 30 days. I hear it may get tedious after a while.
The heater rumbles on. It blows dry air, flaking our skin, chapping our lips. Our son plays his new WiiU behind me. He sits cross-legged on the black futon, staring at the TV screen, a red velveteen throw blanket over his lap.
Morning light shines through the sliding glass door on my left. There are ice chips strewn about the brick patio from the crystal spear the kids found yesterday. They laughed as they threw it down on the red bricks until it shattered into a thousand pieces. The patio furniture my husband made – white Adirondack chairs and a hunter green lemonade table – is covered for winter with a mint green tarp. I swept leaves off the brickwork a couple of weeks ago, and our fenced patio is still relatively leafless. I think the trees have shed the last of their garments.
Inside, at my desk, the heater still blows. I smell lotion and the metallic tang of ball point ink. I hear the soft bloop bleep bloop of Mario Brothers behind me as our son clicks buttons and conquers mushroom worlds. Before I started I told him, “I’m setting a timer for 15 minutes so I can write – I won’t be able to answer questions. If you talk to me while my timer is ticking, I probably won’t respond.” I haven’t written in four days, and I’m twitchy.
“Okay,” he said. “I’ll turn the Wii down so it won’t bother you.”
My composition book, its indigo lines crisp against white paper, is tilted on the honey wood. The lines are the color of my favorite Crayola crayon, midnight blue, which I have not found in any of the dozens of crayon boxes we’ve bought for our daughter over the past six years. I always went straight for that deep, mystic color when I got a new box of crayons. I’m sad they discontinued it.
My phone, encased in a grey and white Otter box, is at the top left corner of my page, acting as my timer. My coffee is next to the phone, getting cold in its too big black mug that lets heat escape in ways my perfect green mug did not. At the top right of my book, the corner pointing away from me, is the once white keyboard of our computer. In this slanting light, which seems to shine pointedly on the contours of grime on the space bar, I can see how badly our keyboard needs cleaning. The 0 on the number pad, the 5, and the 9, all look grungy enough that I feel dirty just looking at them. I might need to wear gloves before I touch them again.
It is late morning on the Monday after Thanksgiving and the house is quiet. Our kids are at school, my husband is at work. The dryer squeaks and rattles, turning over wet clothes. The washing machine fills with water – sqrsshhh, dribble, sqrsshhhh – then rumbles as the tub spins back and forth, water sloshing, agitator agitating.
The light outside is muted. Out the sliding glass door on my left I see a flat overcast sky through the bare limbs of trees. The few paper leaves remaining on branches are still. There is no breeze.
My head feels cool – my hair is still damp from the shower. I have too much to do today. I did not have time to dry it. The wet clumps smell like shampoo – Brilliant Brunette – spicy and clean.
On the walnut filing cabinet to the left of my desk are a stack of notebooks: my journal from France, sepia colored with an antiqued photo of the Eiffel tower; the plastic-covered library copy of Two Old Women, the index card that doubled as a bookmark and favorite quote notepad sticking out from between pages; and my yellow composition book titled “Andrea Reads America.” This is my to-do pile for the day. I must write a synopsis of Two Old Women before it all leaves my head.
On my computer screen are photographs from the streets of Seoul from Cheri Lucas Rowlands’ blog, Writing Through the Fog. A sign outside a Seoul shop says “Free Robot.” My desk is messy – a receipt from Food Lion is stacked on top of the checkbook, reminding me to enter transactions into our budget software; the house phone is tossed on top of them, reminding me to call the property manager in Florida. My yellow notepad reminds me to write my to-do list, and the mouse sits on top of a white business envelope with “Nana and Papa” written in tiny ten-year-old-hand, reminding me to address and stamp our son’s Christmas wish list for his grandparents.
Our desk is the color of honey, with ribbons of dark amber and pitted gouges of blonde. The surface is scratched and has a dribble of wax on it, and the place the mouse rolls over looks speckled and gummy. I run my fingers over the dirty spots that look raised in the slanting light, but the wood is smooth. It does not feel tacky. There are no bumps. The hinges that lift the desk portion of the secretary are dark bronze, a gold black, and are shaped like anime butterflies with semicircle wings.
The keyboard is still grimy.
Six-oh-nine AM. The coffee maker clicks and bubbles behind me. Fluid trickles and steams into a glass carafe. The blinds are closed over the sliding glass door on my left. Vertical slats of fake-brocade cloth in a café au lait color. Only not as rich as the real thing. More of a dull, blah, rental color. It is black on the other side of those blinds. The sun has not yet risen.
My notebook is in shadow. I see my hand’s dark shade move across the page. I’ve turned on the overhead light today, the one attached to the ceiling fan, and it shines behind me. My body blocks the light, throwing the page in front of me into darkness. Our desk faces the wall. Another light – a college-type paper lantern that I think hung in the kids’ room in Tampa when they were babies – hangs from the ceiling on my right. It throws another set of shadows to the left of my moving hand.
The navy cushion underneath me is compressed and hard. It covers the seat of our wooden chair, but it removes little of the discomfort from the unyielding pine board. I’d love a real office chair, with contours and a seat that gives and swivels, and feet that roll.
To my right is a dark waist-high bookshelf. A tiny green statue of Buddha holding an umbrella sits on top, along with a black framed photograph of neon Spartina grass that our friend Dorothy gave us. The green is striking against the black mat and frame. She signed it in white ink: “1/100 Marsh Grass.” She gave us the first print because a story I wrote inspired her.
Also on the shelf are the folded red velveteen throw blanket and a coil pottery bowl I made in high school. The bowl is glazed in red and purple, and it is filled with stones we collected from beaches in Maine. The cobbles are smooth, worn by waves that clanked them against cliffs off the frigid northeast coast.
Here I am again at the desk. Day four. Twenty-six more to go. The shadows are the same as yesterday – it is early and dark, and the light behind me throws my paper into obscurity. My desk is a mess. To-do lists on yellow-lined paper lay scattered, and pens, pencils and scissor handles needle out of a glittery blue cup like sharps shoved into a pin cushion. A binder clip is wrapped in my phone’s white USB cord. My notebook lays open on top of it. Today is cleaning day. I will need to straighten this up to dust.
It is warmer this morning. I’m wearing sweats, and I may need to pull my hair into a pony tail to keep from overheating. The coffee maker just sighed its completion, and the basement room is rich with its dark aroma. When my timer dings I will pour a cup over the teaspoon of sugar and two tablespoons of half and half I measured into the bottom of my earthenware mug.
The blinds are closed next to me. I don’t like having them closed. It makes me feel penned in. But when it’s dark out I don’t liking sitting next to a huge plate of glass with blackness on the other side. A blackness I can’t see into, but anyone out there could see me, hunched over my notebook, illuminated by the blaze of my writing lights.
I can still see the grimy buildup on the keys. I really need to clean that.
As part of my writing group practice I am spending 15 minutes a day for 30 days describing the same space. This practice fits perfectly with this week’s writing challenge: to create snapshots in words instead of with a camera. Transcribing from my journal was a fascinating practice in seeing what I focus on with my descriptive writing, and where there are gaps. There is a lot of room here for senses besides sight.