It might have started at last year’s AWP conference in Chicago, where a group of poets lectured on the craft of assembling a manuscript. They said you need a room of your own, a space where you can hang poems on walls – live with them, listen to them, rearrange them. New Yorkers in the audience (myself included) laughed out loud as we pictured our studio and one-bedroom apartments with wall-to-wall furniture.
But, wouldn’t it be nice?
Pretty soon, I couldn’t stomach the cranky landlady, hang artwork on other people’s nails, or live with Rental Apartment White on the walls. Quickly and miraculously, my husband and I found a good deal, closed on a home and hired contractors to begin renovations last week.
Every other night, we take three trains to Brooklyn to visit our home. I bring a book and enjoy the anticipation. When we arrive, we swing open the door, turn on the lights and find our space transformed.
On Day 1, the floors were meticulously covered with paper. Day 2, a living room wall disappeared and old brick, wood and piping were exposed. Day 3, brick and wood gave way to gleaming white columns. We order pizza and sit on the floor of our empty apartment, appreciating all of it.
Tomorrow, a light fixture might show up. A countertop might come down. We never see the workers – we never see the work – so it feels as if our home is inventing itself day-by-day, eager to surprise and please. I know it’s the product of sweat and craft, but I like to pretend there’s some magic involved.
I felt the same way watching my parents’ first house rise out of the desert. We would visit the dirt lot to take pictures and appreciate every plank. The stakes with little red flags marking the construction perimeter seemed to grow straight out of the ground.
Perhaps not coincidentally, I’m rediscovering the joys of being a reader as I wait for my home to manifest. Usually, periods of reading but little writing fill me with guilt. I should be making something! I should be knocking down walls and writing lines! Who am I to enjoy another’s hard work without doing my own?
But this week, I’m content to admire other people’s creations – an indulgence we writers sometimes strip from ourselves.
I wonder, when you became a serious writer, did you also become a serious reader? Did you start studying the workmanship of novels and poems, breaking them apart to understand how to put yours together? And did that enhance your appreciation but diminish your ability to get lost in it a little bit? Did you start measuring how your own writing stacked up against everything you read, endlessly calculating the balance?
The beauty of the reader is her ability to open a book, be surprised and imagine that it made itself in an instant, or that it always existed. She almost can forget the creator, the toil – a literary Big Bang.
Prompt: Read something, anything for fun. If you’re looking for a recommendation, might I suggest The Paris Wife, a novel about Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley? The author, Paula McLain, earned an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan and published two poetry collections. It's so enjoyable, I'm actually losing sleep to read it.