When I’m deep in the world of a story or the unfolding of a poem, it doesn’t matter where I write—café, home, writing retreat. The hard part, of course, is getting to that point. That’s where a good writing space and desk come in, a designated spot that holds my place and beckons me to dream and create.
These days it’s the sunroom of my house and a vintage library desk I recently found in a thrift shop. The desk called to me from across the store with its worn oak simplicity, its rustic charm. When I saw that it had a little library shelf built into the side, I was hooked. I looked up its provenance on-line and found that its design is from the American Craftsman movement whose ideals are “simplicity, honesty in construction, truth to materials,” and whose motto was “to the best of my ability.” The surface of the desk is etched with “medullary rays” known as “tiger marks,” caused by the sap in the tree moving through the wood “from the heart to the extremities.” Metaphor upon metaphor. No wonder it called to me.
The sunroom surrounds me with light on even the dullest day and looks out on my backyard and bird feeders. It is my cabin in the woods, but attached to all the amenities of my house. There is a window feeder beside the desk and all through my morning writing, birds wing in and land with a surprising thud, even the tiny chickadees. The solidity of the desk, the airiness of the space, even the weight and presence of the birds, encourage me to write that first tentative word and see where it goes.
On the desk are various talismans—a stone Buddha, a glass polar bear, a serene seated ceramic cat (and sometimes a real one), a lavender candle. And a small framed school photo of me at five or six. The little girl’s clear gaze reminds me of the child’s view that I never want to lose in my writing—that seismographic sensibility we’re all born with and live from until experience makes us cautious and correct. The Buddha reminds me to breathe and be present; the polar bear, that I share this world with others; the ceramic cat, to not take myself too seriously.
When I want to make sure that no phone calls, e-mails, or chores call me away, I might pack my notebooks and retreat to a café and a table by the window. There I can be among people in this solitary practice of writing, even as the babble of voices around me fades away. But my desk and sunroom, that I come to each morning, where I watch the snow fall in winter or the trees green in spring and flame out in fall, is my sanctuary. A place that welcomes me and whatever thoughts, mundane or profound, I bring to the page, “to the best of my ability”.
Melinda Burns is a writer and a psychotherapist in private practice in Guelph, Ontario. Her writing has won awards for fiction, including first prize in the Toronto Star Short Story contest in 2001. She has published poems in various magazines, read her essays on CBC radio, and published essays on writing in Canadian Notes and Queries and The New Quarterly. She finally had a story published in Persimmon Tree after two previous rejections. Melinda lives in Guelph, Ontario within walking distance of the public library.