Since high school I have been studying and writing in coffee shops, bars, and restaurants. It started when I worked until 11:00 p.m. at Dot’s Café in downtown Cass Lake. I was fifteen—actually illegal to be working—but I loved going to work. Cass Lake downtown was busier then—the Greyhound Bus stopped there, the back dining room always had a few railroad guys sitting around passing the time until their trains left again.
Having a job helped me get over my shyness, taught me to add rows of numbers on the fly, and began my habit of studying at a counter. Later, in college, I worked at Jack’s Supper Club and always brought my books when I worked an early shift. People would ask how I could possibly study with so much going on. I learned to just close it all out and focus. So began the long practice of writing at someone else’s table. Later when I tried to work at home all I could see was the unwashed dishes, the laundry that needed folding, etc., etc.
So, for the first time, I am writing this post from my new little writing studio. I am still “leaving home,” but my studio sits just a few hundred yards from the main house. And it has no other purpose but for me to come and do my work in a private and uncluttered space. The two tall bookshelves are still empty and I am working at a plastic banquet table, but wow, already I feel at home. I moved in just last week and today Milt and Chris finished the siding. I mowed all the grass and weeds around it, swept the front deck, and brought a philodendron from home. It has no outside light and the woods are very dark, so at night I drive down. Sounds crazy, but it is working for me.
I remember Virginia Wolf’s “a room of my own” and, when I first read it, I didn’t quite get it. Growing up in a family with 8 kids, “space” was not something we had. Back then I just retreated into my books—in fact that is probably where I first learned to just tune out all that was going on around me. Today the idea of having my 8×12 writing space with nothing in it but my books, manuscripts, files, etc. holds a very strong appeal. The idea started two years ago when we bought this additional ten acres and the man we bought it from left a lot of lumber lying about. I thought it would be cool to take all that wood and build me a little space. And here I am. It didn’t get finished last year because we were all involved in adding the bedroom and bathroom to our little straw bale house.
Besides keeping up with my work stuff, my main goal is to reconnect with my storytelling self. I miss taking the time to spin stories. On my first night in here I opened Still Mountain, a novel I started several years ago but have never finished. In the story there is a special camp where children go to be trained in the art of storytelling and story keeping. The world has become so complex that the Elders fear that it will be a lost art. In fact, they believe that if people lose the ability to weave stories, the world will end. Spinning stories is a creative act that helps to renew the race and life on earth. For this story, I even began building a board game called Still Mountain. The game begins with a little game piece that you name as your central character. “My character’s name is Marcus. He is ten years old and is afraid of the dark—and his father.” The game is a story generator that allows the players to weave an entire world around their character. There are points along the board where obstacles or helpers are presented. My favorite is when they land on “The Great Desert of Lost Ideas.” The goal of the game is to reach the center of the board—which is Still Mountain, the birthplace of all ideas.
Anyway—that is one that I very much want to get back to. I have to ride the summer wave as best I can for the next month but plan to spend at least one session here a day. This week we have a family reunion and then the garden is beginning to explode!!
And then back to Still Mountain, and my little studio.
Stay well. Stay creative. And when I get my board game done, maybe you will come and play.
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