What Waits For Us At the End of the Journey

I thought a lot last week while I was away about the many stories you told, dear Readers — stories about how you went about making changes in your lives.  Many things struck me — the courage it takes to pick up and strike out for something you only hope will be better, the number of places a person can live in a lifetime, the remarkable variety of jobs people have had, the decisions to say no to material things to do other things that matter.

I also noticed another current in those stories, one that’s about subtler changes, things that don’t look like change at all because you can’t actually see much outward motion.  Sometimes what you need are just little course corrections, small adjustments.  And sometimes all you need to do to really make a change happen is to get something right at long last and then do it over and over again.

Many readers made the very sensible point that you shouldn’t change anything in response to a vague feeling that things aren’t what they should be until you diagnose your problem.

So that’s what I’ve done.  My problem?  Well, beside the fact that my husband and I will have to each work until we’re the age of Moses (500 I think) so we can put our children through college, my biggest problem is, I’m pretty sure, that I don’t have enough separation between myself and my family.

Which seems a little weird to say, because I love my family — all five guys (including Archie).  But lately I’ve been feeling like they’re standing between me and my soul — which is a dramatic way of saying that I can’t write in my own house very well, or at least I can’t without making everyone leave it so I can have some peace and quiet.  And I’ve also gotten into the not very nice habit of opening up my computer on the dining room table (especially on a day when I didn’t get to write on the train) and telling them to leave me alone.  Believe me, they hate that. There is nothing worse than having your mother right there.  And not right there.  It is stressful for all concerned — for those who would like someone to help them with their homework and for those who are trying to write about love and loss and longing and strippers who look like rotisserie chickens.  So far, all I’ve been able to do about this is tell myself that it’s fine to write on the train and work in more writing when I can and won’t it be good for the boys, in the end, to have seen their mother concentrate so hard on her writing that she can’t actually hear William playing the drums?  Not really.

As it turns out, change is the thing that waits for you when you get back from your roadtrip.

In my case, it came from my husband, who decided while I was gone that change would come about in our family life and in my writing life if he turned over to me the little apartment under our house, the one we rent out to UC Berkeley students, the one with the (gasp) completely separate entrance.  He carpeted it and painted it and removed all the stuff in it and then moved my writing table (the one I don’t write on because it is the place pn which we put our bananas and oranges and stone fruit) and two lovely chairs from his mother’s house, chairs that are very old and very pretty, and a bookcase, and some curtains, and a nice new, small fridge into this space.   We have agreed on office hours.  They’re times when he’ll be with our children — afternoons on Saturdays and Sundays, after family mornings on those days.  And early mornings, before the school rush, which he is in charge of dealing with.  If someone needs to know the capital of Tibet, he’ll let them know.

And in return, all I have to do is leave my writing life down there and not plunk my computer down on our bed, or the dining room table and try to write while children are trying to get me to help them with their homework or he is trying to talk to me about how we are going to pay for college — much less that expensive trip to Washington D.C. Jack’s class is taking next fall.

It’s true that I have been thinking about this writing room for a while.  My idea was that it would be great to have a writing studio time share thing for other bay area writers who need a space to work — including me —  one where they won’t be tempted to clean out the fridge or make chocolate chip cookies.  But I was not anywhere near getting close to executing that idea before he went to work on it.   And that is what comes of marrying a practical Swede — he might sometimes not know the right thing to say, but he almost always knows the right thing to do.

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24 thoughts on “What Waits For Us At the End of the Journey

  1. Dear Bloglily,

    What a wonderful gesture on your husband’s part and what a great space!

    PS. I dig that iPhone.

    PPS. Lhasa.

  2. Some people can write in the midst of chaos — Jane Austen. And some need a room of their own — Virginia Woolf. I prefer distractions around me. You clearly need boundaries. In the short run, a room of your own won’t solve the problem of having to work to the age 500. It may even making it 550. But in the long run, by nourishing your particular writing needs, the extra fifty years will surely fly by.

  3. I am speechless.

    Mostly.

    That is the most considerate & understanding & loving gesture.

    That’s explains the freakish neatness of your desk…it’s a new set-up!

    Good for you on all counts!

  4. Oh my gosh, Bloglily! That’s so absolutely fabulous — your husband is a gem, truly, and I just adore that you have a writing space for yourself! Wow…wow…wow.

    I’m going to go smile now. 🙂

  5. Bora, That iphone is probably one of the reasons for the working-until-I’m-500 problem. Still, I have a good job and a lovely family and a great husband and a writing place, so it wouldn’t be so bad to live to 500 — or 550 as Gloria suggests. Oh, and Bora? You’re a bay area writer — when I get around to my writing space/community/time share thing, I’ll be getting in touch with you!

    Gloria, You’re right. I need boundaries. One of my problems is a kind of porousness of self — which is good and bad, but in the case of wanting so badly to get work done, it is bad, bad, bad.

    Yes, that neatness isn’t going to last, Marie! Already, there’s a bunch of paper on that desk and a couple of books, including the “bawdy shakespeare” — a guide to all the dirty bits.

    Hi Genie — How nice to hear from you! He is a gem, and I will be sure to mention that tonight at dinner if I can get a word in edgewise. xo

  6. Wow, you have the super awesomest husband. That is so so so great. I have a lovely writing room but is is not quite separate enough – it is off the dining room.

    I have tried to have a writing studio in a rented space away from the house, and it was hard to get myself to pick up and GO THERE. I always longed for the cottage in the backyard, or the studio with the separate entrance. You are a very fortunate person!!!

  7. you have a great husband — maybe i should borrow him for a few days to clean up the disaster known as our apartment. not that i’m trying to steal him or anything.

    but you should also try to get a writing space going for the bay area. my wife is part of such a “writing room” where we live. she pays a couple hundred bucks a year and has unlimited access to what is essentially office space. it’s worked wonders for her productivity.

  8. A friend and I have been talking for a year about trying to do an East Bay version of the SF Writers Grotto, on a smaller scale. We envision a modest space where writers could cheaply rent office space, enjoy privacy and peace, but also belong to a community. As far as I know, we don’t have anything like this in Oakland or Berkeley.

  9. Dear Tai, I love this idea. We need to meet up, have tea or something, and talk about the east bay grotto-ish space. I’ll e-mail you, okay?

    Why bookfraud, I can’t wait to tell him about your offer. He’ll be amazed. As for the writing space, I think this is such a wonderful phenomenon. I think the community aspect of it is great, and also I like thinking about how if you put together a place where there are stamps, and envelopes, and some expectation of people getting their writing done and out there, a lot of good writing can go out into the world.

    Susan, For some people (Nova Ren is a good example) the writing time/space really works. For others, though, it’s like the paid up gym membership. You feel like you’ve used it, just because you’ve paid for it, and then you can stay home and eat cookies!

  10. Lily, I felt positively weepy reading this post. How wonderful for you to have an actual room of your own for writing. I love that your husband recognized that you need this and made it happen. And I love that you’ve made your commitment to your writing clear so that he could recognize it. Think of the fabulous writing that you will do at that table!

  11. I must say, tears came to my eyes when reading this post. Such a lovely, considerate man you’ve married 🙂

    Closely following the tears, however, was a bit of a panic, thinking about how responsbile I’d feel to really produce something wonderful in this lovely room of my own. But that’s just me all over 🙂

    I do think a woman’s home always poses many distractions, whether it’s occupied with children or not, for there are always other things calling for our attention. And so the ability to pop downstairs into a room of your own, effectively putting your hands to your ears and shushing all those noisy things clamoring for your attention, will be a wonderful thing.

  12. That’s truly beautiful! I’m touched.

    And, oh my, maybe you were actually a little serious about one day opening up your room to rent to other writers as you commented on my blog… All I’ll say is I wish I lived in Berkeley, I really do. The place sounds perfect.

    Happy writing in your new space!

  13. Hello Lily! And welcome back. And congratulations on your foresight to marry that practical Swede!

    Last January I spent a week in Berkeley –for several reasons, but one was to try to get in a bit closer touch with my writerly self. How lovely it would have been to have a writers’ retreat to rent. Will an east bay wanna-be from Minnesota be allowed?

  14. I wrote a comment earlier today, but it hasn’t turned up. Anyway, what I said was what a lovely husband you have and how thrilling to have a designated writing space with designated writing time! I look forward to the lovely things that will emerge.

  15. Oh how lovely! Your own space. I hope it gives you inspiration, and that you can find your way to your soul again.

  16. Hurrah, a writing room of your own! Or, at the very least, space to dream in, which is equally important to let the muse in. What a wonderful husband you have – I love the “he doesn’t always have the words but he knows what to do” comment. I hope this helps with your desire to change, that this is what needed to change. Welcome to your room, and I hope you grow to love it and use it well.

  17. Dear Danielle, He’s a good guy. Sometimes he just hits it out of the park. Without breaking a single window in the process.

    Thanks Susan. That desk is a lot messier now. Which is a relief.

    Hello Becky — one of the things in that room is a really large stack of paper with a post-it note on it that says, “send to Becky.” Believe me, I haven’t forgotten about your lovely request for a copy of my ms. xo

    You know, Charlotte, so am I! Plus, all those cups of tea. And that clean fridge to put my milk in.

    Deborah, You are, Herewith, an Honorary Member of Whatever We Decide to Call the Retreat Place Thing. (places wreath of daisies on Deborah’s head)

    Nova, I would like to mention the weather, in case you are sway-able. Beautiful. Smells like jasmine. Clear and clean in the morning. View of the bay. You can see, you know, forever from here.

    Yes indeed Jade. And I also don’t get weird, periodic “headaches” which force me to withdraw from the world, either. My favorite thing (well, I have many favorite things) about Leonard and Virginia is that whenever she handed him a ms to read he’d say, “You’ve done it again, Virginia.” Even if he didn’t actually think she had. My own husband has been known to say things like, “Man. This sounds like…. a real book.” Which is a nicer compliment than it actually sounds at first. Sometimes just being plausible is good enough.

    RR–Oh, I know the panic. But I feel it in pretty much any place I go to write, if I let myself. I try not to see writing as self-indulgent or taking away from others. It’s just the thing I do. A job sort of. A really good job, in addition to the other really good job I have as a lawyer. And the other really good job I have as a mom. Many people work more than one job. And it’s good I think to have a different site for each of your jobs.

    Dear Cam. Yes indeed. I am thinking, by the way, about that photo challenge.

    Sylvia, there is indeed a very romantic thing about a person who loves you enough to schlep your stuff down a flight of stairs to make you happy.

    Dark Orpheus, Believe me, I plan to mention that to him when he returns from the trip he’s on this week.

    Dear Kate, I’m hoping that what comes of that room will be a LOT of writing! Fabulous would be good also.

  18. I’ve always suspected that you have a wonderful, wonderful husband, but this clinches it. My problem would be that after setting up such a space for me, my own dear husband would call me from upstairs (even during my “office hours”) to ask me (after a preface of “I know I’m not supposed to bother you, but this is really important”) if I know where the Hebrew Exegesis paper he wrote three years ago is. So, I’m thinking what I need is a place of my own with no telephone and no cell phone reception. Maybe one day…

  19. How absolutely wonderful. Maybe I will send this post to my husband! I actually have a writing space in an extra bedroom upstairs, but it’s the designated time and the feeling of being unable to “unplug” from family concerns that holds me back. Mostly it’s my own doing…

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