Do you have a place in your home where you let all the things you don’t want to deal with stack up? And then ignore it for so long that you can feel its teeth in the back of your neck every time you pass it by? I do. It’s my office. The room at the bottom of the stairs, one step removed from family activity. A place I could steal away to when I most needed it. The place that for years was my refuge, my creative container, filled with trinkets from my travels, artwork that fueled my muse, feathers and heart-shaped rocks, shells, sea glass, petrified wood, tiny beautiful things that I’d arrange like mini cairns marking my creative way. They were glory days. I wrote while my babies napped or went to school or had play dates. And sometimes I wrote late into the night or early in the morning. I made time for myself and my passion, and I was proud to model it for them—to show them that we need to create our sacred space and fill it well. Still, I vowed to keep what I called The Grandmother Chair, empty, just for them, if they needed to join me in my office and share about their day. The door was rarely shut with the Shhh…sleeping sign that I picked up at a hotel somewhere. Over the years they’d tape signs on the door: Mom Rocks, Keep Munson Weird are two of my favorites. I’d even overhear them saying to their friends as they’d pass by, “That’s my mom’s office. She’s a writer.” And I’d smile. It was a peaceable kingdom.
Then life hit hard and my office became a dumping ground for paperwork and forms and bills and things that had nothing to do with creativity and everything to do with surviving. Things that scared me like divorce papers, a parenting plan, college applications, financial aid, taxes, a new business to run, a house to keep as the sole adult. And a whole lot more. I’d shove that scary stuff in fast, shut the door, and flee, because I could feel the beast growing in there, holding dominion over that prime real estate in our home. Suddenly, the coin was flipped and I was the one coming into my children’s space, finding a place to sit and share and check in. They were teens. They only sort of wanted me there. I no longer wanted to be alone in my office, creating. When it was time to write, I wanted to be in rooms where life was being lived not just survived. Where my children were coming and going with friends and plans, and where I could sit and at least catch a glimpse of them, steal a moment, a phrase, a “can I fix you a sandwich?” And maybe even, “how are you?” with a real answer that helped me to know that they were okay.
And so my office grew in mouse droppings and dust and photos that didn’t make it into albums any more, bills I couldn’t pay just yet, forms I didn’t understand, and DVD discs, and thumbdrives, and old computers, and chords for things no one makes anymore. As long as that office door was shut, with the permanent Shhhhh…sleeping sign hanging on the door knob…I could pretend that none of it existed, only hearing a low growl when I opened the door to deposit yet another thing I’d “deal with later.” The hard part of life could stall out in my office while I lived the part I loved. And that was getting my last child through high school and off to college, helping my first one get through college and move into her adult life in San Francisco.
Then they all left. And the beast got oddly quiet. Old. Worn out. And maybe I did too. I’d open the door to peer in, see all of the detritus of those hard won years, sigh, and close it. I made it, I’d think. It didn’t take me down. I’m better for it. The kids are thriving. I still have this home and this office, even with its dying beast. I love my work leading writing retreats. I can breathe now.
Finally…finally…last week, I tackled it. It wasn’t because the heavens opened and it all suddenly felt easy. It was because it was the Fourth of July and everyone was coming home and bringing friends and I needed the spare room for my mother. I did NOT want her to have to deal with my beast. And so I opened the door and stared it all down, and collapsed in the middle of the mayhem and just wept. And the beast spoke. It sounded different. More like a sad, old dog that feeds on poetry, the good old days, and anything that has to do with Italy. “You did a good job, woman,” it said to me. “You made it. Mom Rocks, indeed.” Then it perked up a bit. “Let’s crank the Violent Femmes and drink Fernet Branca and git er done!”
And we did. For two days.
It was one hell of a purge. We rolled around in it all. And it was deeeeeeeSGUSTING! Hunta-virus disgusting. I’m allergic to dust, and so I was disgusting too. A snot/sneeze-fest. On top of that, I made myself read every difficult letter I’d kept in a growing folder, so there were gut-shaking tears on top of the rest, and I realized how much misery was in that room. I had to get rid of those letters. And all those stacks of legal papers and tax stuff—that once held so much power. It was time to get rid of anything that brought with it any flash of misery.
I kept the vacuum on the whole time, letting it suck up the dusty scum of what I was releasing in every way. So it was the Violent Femmes droning along with the vacuum cleaner’s breath, on top of dust motes in my nose, and the click click click of not computer keys, but mouse crap being sucked up from under the day bed, and in the closet where my first tries at writing books live. I did not get rid of those. Nor the photo albums. But all the things I’ve been saving for this proverbial “rainy day”—like my son’s report on Ben Franklin. Like old score cards from gin rummy games on the screened porch. Time to go. Time to make this room new.
Here’s what I learned: Life doesn’t stall out for too long. Just when we are in a place of dread, fearing that we’ll be in that low tide for too long to bear…things start happening. I dreaded this time of my life, even though I knew it would come. The kids would grow up and leave home and good for them. I had children to put them out into the world and to see them thrive. I love my adult children. They are so deep and wise and they teach me and challenge me and even take care of me from time to time. But the question has been: what to do with this next chapter? Maybe keeping it all in my office was a way to be my own Miss Havisham, waiting…waiting…waiting. And for what? All of them to come bounding through the door again with little busy legs and fingers and huckleberry juice on their cheeks? That’s not going to happen. I’m in a time of my life where there are long stints of alone time. Still, there’s writing time. But there’s also living time. And I have to claim it.
So…I decided that next week, after they all leave, and the house drains out to just my dogs and me…that I’m going to re-claim my writing space and deem my solitude delicious. To go into that room again with intention, and to go out with intention too. In this room, I will do nothing else but write, contemplate, read, savor my aloneness, which is required to get into that intuitive place the writer must court and claim. When I go out, I can be a human lint brush, letting things stick to me that are of the rest of life. And life can move and morph that way—in a way that it doesn’t move and morph in my office. In my office I am every single part of me from birth to today and I am mining it all with a third-eye-wide-open aperture that is sacred. In my office I’ll long for this sacred solitude: I am a child getting away with something. I am a child with butterflies in my stomach for all that the day can be. I am a child faking sick to stay home and finish the Black Stallion series. I am a child opening her journal and turning to a new blank page, connecting self to self through words. In my office time is a relative term.
And then when I go out…time as we know it…starts again. It flashes.
There is a poem by Wallace Stevens taped on the back of my office door, on the other side of Mom Rocks and Keep Munson Weird, that I’ve read too many times to count. The last stanza goes like this:
Only this evening, I saw it again
At the beginning of winter, and I walked and talked
Again, and lived and was again, and breathed again
And moved again and flashed again. Time flashed again.
Time has flashed again. May it flash for you too…
Haven Writing Retreats: Fall 2019
Do you long to find your voice? Do you need to take a big bold beautiful stand for your self-expression? Come to Haven this fall and fill your cup.