Photos: The Writing Attic

Dear you,

This is morning. Every morning, if the sun is not yet up. The room is painted in sunrise pink and when I’m up there working, the windows glow for the neighborhood.

 Mornings in the attic are a ritual. Coffee first, of course, but then straight upstairs to get to work. The kitten comes too, every morning. Her level of helpfulness waxes and wanes; some mornings she’s right there with me, watching me type. Most other mornings she’s playing with everything but the immense lot of toys I bought her.

I love this attic. It is my pride and joy, my own little slice of heaven. To have this space to stretch, toss papers around, be as maniacal as I want, is something that I still marvel at, even a year later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And of course, the kitten has her own desk, where she does all her important work.

I love this attic because it is filled with gifts and creations from my friends and family. The stained glass books are a gift from my mother-in-law. The antlers were a joint effort from my niece and my brother; she shot the deer and he created the mount. The picture of the lady is a gift I gave myself; my grandmother has a figurine of a lady in a similar dress. But this lady’s hair is tied back and proper, her hands are gloved and holding a bouquet. She is prim and small. The lady in the picture above (titled Vivacious) has her hair down. She is smiling and dancing. The picture is part of a calendar created by the local electric company, year 1950. 

The walls upon entering are decorated with an intentional purpose. Artwork from Texas, gifts from new friends, a photograph taken by my best friend from home during her first college photography class (her grown self now an accomplished photographer.)

Ahead are more reminders of how loved I am. There are photographs taken by my father-in-law when he was young paired with photographs taken by my husband when he too was a teenager. Macrame art from a friend named Lisa. A mobile of seashells, sand dollars, and petrified wood created by a friend on a whim and given to me because I happened to be there when he finished it. There is a canvas art print thrifted and created by my mother-in-law for my husband to outfit his first college apartment, something I vividly remember hanging on his wall when I went to this same apartment for the first time. We were sitting on the couch watching Commando. He laid his head near my lap. This was the night of our first kiss.

When I was four years-old, my mother used to dress me in my sleep at four am and take me to my grandparent’s house so she could work her shift at the hospital and still go to nursing school at the same time. My dad drove truck and was long gone by time the four am wake-up call rolled around. My grandfather waited for me in this chair every single morning. We would sit in it together and watch the weather news until my grandmother woke up and made breakfast. When we moved my grandmother into assisted living, she sat in this chair every day with an oxygen tank hooked to the back. After she died, my mom used it as her sewing chair but once I had room for it, she drove it to Nashville so I could use it in the attic, which tells you everything you need to know about our relationship and what kind of mother she is. Now, it’s the chair where I read my drafts.

There are mementos and memories strewn about this room that breathe life into every word I write. Here, my brother’s glass horse forever memorialized in the broken-hearted essay I wrote when we left Texas. Here, a stolen cup from Olive Garden pilfered for me by a boy with a crush on our high school band trip now used to store idea notes. Real good ones like “widowmakers” and “Do the lord’s work” and “artifacts” and “JUST DEAD INSIDE.”

old attic

And here it was before, the week after we were lucky enough to buy it, just a little dead inside but filled to the brim with potential.

To the writers at this write-in

Dear you,

When I arrived here at this coffeeshop early in anticipation of all of you, I feared for a moment that no one would arrive. But like the writers you are, you arrived late.

I am sitting at a table of fourteen other people, none of whom I know, and we are writing. I am at the head of the table because I am supposed to be the head of this thing but you all know what you’re doing. You would all prefer for me to quiet down so we can get to the writing and we have.

I have managed to infiltrate the Porch here in Nashville. They are a fantastic, non-profit writing institute that offers classes, readings, author events, and small things that make my heart go pitter-patter like this write-in. I show up enough that I have been put in charge. That’s how it goes sometimes. I’m not complaining. I’ll show up every time I can and if you know me at all. you know I love to boss.

But right now, I would just like to admire my own dumb luck. I have stumbled into a write-in on a night that promises tornados at a table full of people I don’t know. But I do know them — I recognize the furrow of their brow as they squint at their computers, the hover of their pens and concentrated stares. This coffeeshop just turned the lights down for a mood that no one wants. We are here to work.

Nail-biters. Slight shakes of your head as you hit the backspace. Long, languid sighs. Blank stares that aren’t blank at all. I watch your mouth as you silently read your words, shake your head, and erase them. This is how we do the work.

I was told to offer a prompt before we started. I personally hate prompts. No, I don’t hate them. I just never use them. But we are writers of different stripes — some are here for novels, short stories, a blog — and some are here to extend wings. For those of you, I offered this prompt:

Write a piece in which a celebrity is doing something utterly mundane.

Not being a prompt person, I had to change it for my own purposes. I wrote about all of you doing the most mundane thing you could all be doing. Chewing your lips as you work through a plot. Shifting in your seat as you type faster and faster. Showing up on a rainy night when it is cold and the lights are too low and the kids are out of school tomorrow. Utterly mundane and utterly important. After all, it is the mundane things that matter, the simple act of tearing off a new sheet of paper, of opening a new document on your computer. Nothing about it is slight.

Every morning we sit down to work we are trying again. It’s always the same. There’s the scroll through news feeds, the myriad of ways we can avoid the page. But we get there, eventually. And out of all that — all the typing, the nail-biting, the scribbles, the torn pages — we have our souls. So mundane. And yet, so sacred.

So I am glad to be here, with all of you that I barely know. I am happy to watch your quirks as you type. God knows, I have many.

And now there, I think. I have fulfilled the prompt.

The Me Just Out of Reach

Dear you,

I have been particularly homesick lately. This should come as no surprise. I am a Texan living in Tennessee and if you know any Texans you know our particular brand of blind love for the state. The state becomes a kind of quirky family —  hip cousins in Austin, big rich aunts in Dallas, drunk uncles abound. You know the kind of cowboy you’re dealing with by the make of their boots. You can guess at a person’s history by asking where they grew up and where they live now. No matter how big the state, how varied the experiences, there’s a kind of collective nod between the people born or naturalized here — we just get each other. Strangers aren’t strangers for long, if we take the time.

Or perhaps this is just me smoothing over the rough edges again. Obviously, there’s plenty to not love about the state. I could go on at length about the politics, the stubbornness, the holy ornery temper of us, myself absolutely included. Outsized egos and under-sized compassion. Not all, but many.

But I’m not focusing on those things right now. In fact, right now I might even look on them lovingly because they are traits I can recognize. I know the extent of those rough edges, where they may come from and why they’re there. We were raised up in the same way. To be a Texan is to have a certain talent for possessing and tolerating conflicting values. Someone here recently described Denton as a place full of aggressive hippies and I felt nothing but pride.

Which is where the homesickness comes in. The hardest part about this move for me has been that I feel like I no longer know anyone at their core. (Save for the Texas expats I’ve met so far and you can guess what we spent all our time talking about.) There’s a current running under this city and state that I have yet to tap into. Slight differences in how people approach and speak to others, little variations in the pleasantries just enough to make me feel lost. I find myself among a sea of cowboy hats and think, “Yes, but where are the real cowboys?” I wonder, often, if I’m too much. Then I’ll turn around and wonder if I’m not enough.

I have this image in my head of me as an older woman. The only way to describe her is open but resilient. Someone who has seen much, done the work, and come home to rest. She is comfortable where she is and where she is matters little because in my mind, she’s the same wherever she goes. She’s made up of all the things she’s done and experienced but at the core of her is still the little girl who grew up in the cattle pasture. I yearn for this woman, contented and confident, and actively wonder how I can become her.

What’s funny is I had this same kind of image in my mind the year before we moved, but this time it was me only a few years older. Happy in Nashville, knowing this city and the people as well as I knew everything in Texas. I wrote more than I had ever written before and I treated myself well, exercised, meditated, read. I would be the same, but better.

And here we now are — I am happy in Nashville (don’t misconstrue this post; homesickness can’t be denied), I am learning this city as quickly as I can, settling into my haunts, making a map in my mind. Just the other day, I gave another lost girl some directions, no small victory. I am writing far more every day than I ever have before. I find some form of exercise almost every day, take long walks. I meditate every morning. I read every night. I am living the exact me that I pictured except that now I am picturing a different me, another level of me that I want to attain. I am always just out of reach.

I have always been wary of procrastination. If I catch myself saying “I’ll do X when Y happens,” I do X as quickly as I can just to prove I don’t need Y. But lately I’ve caught myself saying “I’ll be X when Y happens,” a far more insidious internal comment because there’s no way I can simply become something, with or without Y. And so often, what I want to become is already a version of what I essentially am — the same, but better.

To have a perfectionist nature is to always look for problems. There is an ideal that will never be attained because there is always something missing. Here, I have attained exactly what I wanted but it is still not perfect because I do not yet feel at home. So I pine for Texas, imagine an older, wiser version of me drinking beer on her front porch and sharing a private joke while I sit and drink on my front porch in Nashville and laugh. Like I said, to be a Texan is to have a special talent for being comfortable with cognitive dissonance.

I am settling in, trying to recognize that I am already the thing I wish to be, as long as I can stay that thing, as long as I can keep the path. It’s hard to remember, when you’ve left everything behind, that some things never leave you. The authentic self is there if it is not overlooked. And I’m in good company; Nashville is a city of transplants and we are all searching.