2006-04-28

A House of My Own

I’ve been meaning to post an ode to my office for months now. I’ve wanted to share the sense of purpose I felt each day, driving to work in my own private space. I wanted to talk about the joy of having all of my books and papers and files around me, arranged exactly as I wanted them, never touched or moved by anybody else. Nobody bothered me because I didn’t have a landline, and I didn’t send or receive mail. At my office, I could be totally the WRITER ME, independent of anything else. Plus I was two blocks from Starbucks. It couldn’t get any better than that.

Then something unexpected happened: Husband took a full-time job at an office out by the airport, and I surprised myself by deciding almost immediately to give up my lease and move my working life back home.

I first bought this house because it was small and bright and tucked high enough into the hills it seemed appropriately cloistered for a writer’s purposes. The views of Hollywoodland and Griffith Park were hypnotic and inspiring. I thought I’d get a lot done here, and I did—this was where I finally finished the MFA thesis I’d been working on for four years.

Then Husband moved in, and like me, he was a work-at-home type. The problem was the work he did. He’s in advertising, which means he has to deal with clients—dealing with clients means a lot of time on the ringing AND speaker-enabled phone. Being in advertising takes a special sort of person, a person who works and speaks in ADD-style bursts appropriate to short, grabby headlines and tiny chunks of punchy, easily-digested text. Which means Husband takes a lot of breaks throughout his workday, checks out a lot of streaming, audio-heavy content on the internet, sings to the cats, watches a hell of a lot of CNN.

I tried not to let his style bother me, but the fact was I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t get still enough to hear myself, and there was never any forgetting he was there. And the more present he seemed, the more difficult it was me to consider myself independent of him. When Husband is there, I am very much a wife. So I fell into wifely stuff—cooking, cleaning, organizing our lives.

I realized pretty quickly I need space where I was independent of him in order to write.

He wouldn’t rent space, so I did. I found a tiny little room near my gym. That was pretty much all that was good about it. It had a vent in the ceiling through which I could smell everybody’s lunch, and the guy upstairs was a sound engineer for the moves, who listened to every bit of music with the volume up high. Plus I shared the suite with two other people, one of whom insisted on constantly visiting with me, another who brought in people to help her handle big projects, groups of design students who laughed and smoked all day just down the hall.

I was almost relieved when I lost my lease. My new place was bigger, brighter, more private. It also cost twice as much, but I loved it enough to get there everyday and I really focused. I wrote several stories, two essays, two-hundred-plus pages of a new novel, and launched my editing business in a year.

But it wasn’t all perfect. First of all, I didn’t like paying the rent, which seemed incredibly inflated for a tiny space in an illegally subdivided house on a crappy street. I didn’t like that walking from my car to the door to my office required crossing a lawn covered in dog-shit and bordered with wildly overgrown aloes that obscured the perimeter path. I shared a bathroom with another apartment, and the doors locked from the outside. Plus the walls were paper-thin. First there was the single mom who left her kid with the grandmother for several weeks—all three generations were loud and mad. Then there was the woman with the vocal cat. Finally, recently, a girl’s moved in whose got a very very energetic boyfriend. They go at it top volume at least three mornings a week.

None of this was enough to make me want to give up my office. Despite the drawbacks, it was still, first and foremost and most importantly, MY SPACE. But then, last weekend, while trying to navigate the filthy lawn in a pair of Italian heels, I fell into one of the aloes and cut open my forehead.

When the landscaping attacks you, you stop thinking of anywhere as YOUR PLACE.

So I’m coming home again. Sure, I have worries about becoming distracted by the stuff of my day-to-day, and I’m not thrilled at being here for the UPS guy, or dealing with the ringing phone (which rings a lot, I’ve discovered—mostly telemarketers, especially a firm called SD&A which calls at least three times a day). But I’m also excited about coming back to a space where I have snacks in the cupboard, and my very own bath. And since Husband is away all day, the WHOLE HOUSE, at least from nine-to-five, is a room of my own.

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