Mariam Pirbhai’s Writing Space
My Writing Space, in Ginger, Green and Gold
My writing space is nothing fancier than a second bedroom-turned-home-office in a suburban home. Perhaps to offset its builder’s-beige-ordinariness, I repainted the walls an earthy shade of “ginger,” but now this colour only makes me think of dhal, the lentil curry that is a culinary staple in Pakistan, where I was born but only spent the first five years of my life. Maybe this is why I spend much of my writing time thinking about food, or walking downstairs to duck my head into the fridge, where a wedge of Vache Qui Rit (aka Laughing Cow) simulates the triangular slice of cake I’m really hankering after. I’m itching to repaint my room “green” to channel more creative energy—a psychological response a bunch of German scientists have dubbed the “green effect.” As is, the wall colour is not particularly conducive to creative thinking—though food, culture and other homelands always make their way into my writing.
I get oodles of quiet writing time in my room, which faces a quiet lane in a quiet neighbourhood. During the day—especially mornings when my brain is rebooted by the subconscious clearings of REM sleep—I catch myself looking out the window where a car or two might go by, a mom or dad dropping a kid to school. In the winter I can hear the mailperson’s boots crunch down on the snow, or the occasional howls of despair from neighbours’ dogs suffering abandonment issues. Most days my eyes rest on my own front garden, which is a sizeable patch of green lawn dotted with lanky Jack Pines. Perhaps this is why I’m often thinking of trees, squirrels or birds when I write—that is, when I am not thinking about spicy food or other places and other homes. Sometimes I wish for other kinds of distractions that colour busier streets but ours is a small dead-end street in a smallish neighbourhood in a smallish city called Waterloo. Though who am I to complain because isn’t peace and quiet what most writers pay top dollar and travel great lengths to ferret out? My writing space is pure gold standard that way.
Come to think of it, gold might be a better way of describing the wall colour. Or at least aspirational gold because when I had visited the Benjamin Moore store, all primed to convert this second bedroom into my writing sanctuary, I was looking for shades of gold, not this … gingerbread affair. But I can’t blame the store rep for the mix-up. After all, there are as many words as there are paint chips for shades of gold. The deficiency was entirely mine—as a writer, I mean. If I just had the right word that day–Aurum or Halcyon or Gilded, or something less literal like Lion’s Mane or Liquid Dawn, or maybe even more scientific like Element 79—then I may have come home with the right gold pigment.
Words didn’t always come too easily back then. They don’t always come that easily now, but they flow better. Painting, not of the home décor but of the visual arts variety—has a lot to do with this. Because the thing I forgot to mention about my writing space is that it is also a dedicated art space. In fact, some might argue the room has a bit of a split personality, one half filled with books, desktop computer and a writer’s desk, and the other half cluttered with canvas, paints and easel. I also forgot to mention that these ginger walls are covered with my own art work—mainly landscapes and the odd floral. It’s really just a cheap and cheerful way of covering up the old ginger walls. But the self-made wall-art also reminds me that at the end of every writing project I can reward myself with the time to paint. With painting there are no deadlines, no expectations, no audience, except those who are kind enough to follow me on Facebook from time to time. The painting is, in this room, art for art’s sake.
The separation between the writing space and the painting space has decreased over time. Like twelve wedges of Vache Qui Rit or six slices of an imaginary chocolate cake, the writing and painting make a perfect whole. A circular, interspatial, fluid mass, like the liquid dawn of a rising sun, softening the right angles of this suburban home, lightening the load of a multitasking academic, turning builder’s beige into aspirational gold. And if I look outside long enough, where the green effect of eternal conifers and freshly mowed lawns predominate, I get a surcharge of creative energy to write, and maybe even to paint, again.
Mariam Pirbhai is the author of Outside People and Other Stories, winner of the IPPY and AmericanBookFest awards, and a forthcoming novel titled Isolated Incident. Pirbhai is Professor of English in the Department of English and Film Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University.