My first desk as a professional had belonged to my Dad. He was a builder, and his head carpenter crafted an architect’s desk from pine, with a black stripe around the heavily shellacked tilting top.
My second was the center of an Austrian armoire, the only affordable piece of furniture we could find that was deep enough to hold a computer monitor a foot deep. I homeschooled two young children and worked from home, so closed the door to return our living room to a living room or to forget pressing deadlines. (As if I ever forget deadlines. And aren’t all deadlines pressing?)
My third was a six-by-six English oak partners’ desk. Business growth merited a desk of some size, and we had moved into a beautiful country European house with an office just inside the front door. I still worked from home, and this piece served my clients well.
Then I retired. We moved to the mountains, and I purchased (for $300!) a simple French dining table. It would suffice for doing family finances and small tasks.
I didn’t count on writing fiction. The ergonomics are horrible. My hands are well above my waist when I type, my wrists at odd angles. After every five-thousand words, my posture ages ten years. My husband became concerned. For Christmas, he suggested that we have a desk made. He appreciates the fine art of woodworking and has a woodworker friend in this valley.
Given that my husband has not read ONE of my books, I thought the gesture was epic. And I am not a stupid woman, so accepted his offer.
After much thought, measuring, and discussion with the woodworker, I settled on a contemporary interpretation of one of my favorite styles: Beidermeier. I went to a fine lumber yard in the nearest city. Beautiful burled cherry timbers with faint pink, lavender, and green whorls <sigh> caught my eye. I could see the desk in this office that cantilevers over a mountain valley. From here, atop an antique Heriz rug in reds, oranges, blues, and fawns, I would write the next installment in archaeologist Grace Madison’s adventures, glancing at bald and golden eagles, peregrines, hawks, and the occasional freak-me-out predator.
The woodworker starts next week. I was the perfect excuse (I know one when I hear one) to buy a new lathe. He’s studied the grain of wood blanks that will become legs, marking them so that he turns them and places them to look as if they splay.
As we’ve developed this project, I’ve been struck by how like writing a novel it is. Gathering facts and bits and pieces, projecting the storyline (or developing the design in CAD), thinking forward and backward to prevent going down a path that becomes a dead end.
I’ll be documenting my desk in the coming weeks, comparing its development to that of my work in progress. I hope you walk along with me to observe a lost art, a throwback to the time when every piece of furniture was handcrafted for a specific purpose.
What a privilege! What an adventure!
“Never trust that thing between your ears.
Brains will get you nowhere fast, my dears.
Haven’t had a need for mine in years
On the pages where the truth appears.”
Rabbit, from Pooh’s Grand Adventure, the Search for Christopher Robin
by A. A. Milne
I am under attack.
Rabbit trails crosshatch our meadow, going everywhere and nowhere. Each intersects another that leads to the burrow under an stone bench, a monolith on its side on the ridge. Many pass bits of exposed shrubbery that will testify to epic bunny topiary skills in May. (I brace for landscape impact, displeased but committed to a xeriscape scheme of environmental responsibility that attracts the deranged furry little hoppers.)
These signs of frenetic activity in a frigid winter scene remind me of my writing world. The book I completed in 2015 has a life of its own with major publishers. The long synopsis for the next book thrills me, the research an impeccable foundation for a harrowing interpersonal ride in international suspense. Two other stories take shape in the foggy recesses of my psyche. I bat them to the end of the gray-cell line to focus on the book I’ve promised next, knowing that they continue to form in my subconscious.
Snippets of and scenes from these three unwritten books crisscross my mental landscape like the rabbit trails in the meadow. Some will be left on the cutting room floor, so to speak, but I still drop ideas into files. There’s no telling where the writing will take me when I’m buckled into the office chair for the ride.
Just as the small, medium and large rabbits on top of my mountain seem to have little idea where they’re going, this stage of writing resembles a spiderweb of trails. Most are intentional but not all are conscious. I wish these books would queue in a neat, orderly line in my brain. Instead, they crash together and tussle, and I have to separate them like unruly preschoolers on the playground after lunch, or Rabbit trying to keep everyone on the organized straight-and-narrow path in Winnie the Pooh stories.
If you follow this blog, you know that my mother died last month. We enjoyed an unparalleled mother-daughter relationship. Memories of things like taking her fly fishing for her 80th birthday (above and right) are precious to me, and she would want me to push on with my gifts to embrace life. So that’s exactly what I’m doing.
I was out of state, tending her, for almost eight weeks. I returned to a stack of mail the size of a compact car, lots of good news from my literary agent (who kept tabs on me during this trial), and the need to process a transformative change.
Like a good daughter, I was with Mom at least twenty hours a day, dozing in ICU each night to a medical equipment symphony. I grieved. The hospital staff respected my privacy and replaced tissue boxes. I ferried my 87-year-old Dad back and forth and ensured that he was eating.
My emotional swings were penetrating and broad. I noted reactions and feelings, aware that this experience would bring new depth to my writing. I read my fiction backlog and studied photos (on my iPad Air—keep that Kindle-type app close at these times!) of locations in book 4, plotting twists and turns of the story. This literary research kept me tethered to the land of the living while surrounded by the certainty of death.
My faith and graduate degree from Dallas Theological Seminary are a solid foundation for the context of eternity. But nothing prepared me for my personal loss, even though I recognized years ago that my octogenarian parents were statistically living on borrowed time.
I closed the book on a relationship nourished by daily calls and regular visits, but turned a page on a new story. So glad you’re here.