A Room With a View

I am looking out of the window from our hotel room at the Westin Bonaventure in Los Angeles, California. Thankfully, for this professional conference my husband is attending, we were given a room that faces the Los Angeles Public Library, an historic and beautiful building. The hotel itself is the location for several films: In the Line of Fire, True Lies, and Nick of Time, to name a few.IMG_2800Film crews have been setting up all day to film at 5th Street and Flower just beside the library, and I have enjoyed watching them unload huge lights, gigantic cord spirals, and other items I do not recognize. Amplifiers and generators? Storage containers? Electric tools? They have built a structure that looks like a portion of the street after an explosion, and now they are spreading around a black powder that will likely produce some special effects. We were told by the hotel staff that there will be shooting sounds and a car explosion at 10 p.m. tonight. With such a lively and interesting view, I am writing, contentedly settled at the desk in our room, where I will be for several more hours.IMG_2813I know many writers, poets, painters, and musicians, and as you would expect, they all have individual methods for their work, settings they like, environmental preferences. As Alexandra Enders noted in her article called “The Importance of Place: Where Writers Write and Why”:

Conrad Aiken worked at a refectory table in the dining room; Robert Graves
wrote in a room furnished only with objects made by hand. Ernest Hemingway
wrote standing up; D. H. Lawrence under a tree. . . Ben Franklin wrote in the
bathtub, Jane Austen amid family life, Marcel Proust in the confines of his bed.

She also notes that many writers “choose libraries, intermediate spaces that aren’t totally isolated but are quiet, protected, and controlled.” When I toured the Los Angeles Public Library earlier today, I felt myself being drawn to the quiet spaces scattered here and there, especially spaces that displayed tables.IMG_2815I am ultra-sensitive to the environment wherever I am. My long-suffering husband is the exact opposite. He can thrive and work almost anywhere, especially if he has a cup of coffee. My friends know that the ambiance in any given restaurant is supremely important, and it may take me a few minutes to select the right spot (away from bright light, chairs not too hard, tables not wobbly, tasteful décor, no brash TV noises, no traffic behind my chair). Thankfully, they usually allow me to select the space. My senses are so acute that loud noises can seem traumatic, bright light can feel like an assault, and the wrong person seated in the next booth or at the next table can ruin the day’s experience.  At home, I can create the right environment, and when we are traveling or venturing out, I love it when an opportune setting is available. This desk at the Bonaventure is now a sacred spot, and as the sun and clouds shift and create new moods on the landscape, I am having a productive writing day.

Earlier, I sat in the lobby, and I occasionally venture out to hotel lobbies to think and write. The Bonaventure lobby is splendid for many reasons, not the least of which is the beautiful fountain. People watching, the sound of water splashing, a sound table and a chair that doesn’t wobble — these are gifts.IMG_2771 (1)What is the setting in which you write? Are you particular or easygoing about your setting? Do you require certain accouterments? Whatever the case, we all seem to find our way through whatever impediments present themselves. Vive la différence!

Enders, Alexandra. “The Importance of Place: Where Writers Write and Why.” Poets and Writers: The Literary Life. March/April 2008. Web 30 Jan 2016.

A Clear Horizon

The banner photo that you see was painted by my beloved and talented stepfather, Eric Peavy, in response to a poem I wrote. For a long time before the poem was published, I had gone to numerous galleries trying to find just the right seascape, but all of them had clouds, ships, sailboats, children playing in the sand, or just waves. I wanted only the horizon line between the sky and sea, no other features. During my search, the image was in my mind persistently, but I didn’t really expect to find it. Thankfully, once he read my poem, he comprehended what I wanted and painted it. Later, he added a sister-painting of the same horizon line depicted either at deep twilight or the earliest part of the dawn, and both of them bring me a kind of elation, hanging jubilantly together in the living room. I’m certain that I will carry this image in my imagination for the rest of my life. But why does it resonate with me so strongly?

It has something to do with writing, creativity, and focus. The landscape of my imagination is both cluttered and compartmentalized. Finding it easy to detach from one thing or another, I can roam around in the various compartments easily enough, but often I don’t seem to find the one I need. Instead, I veer off the magical path of productivity and concentration into another place, full of tasks and engagements which are either very important or inconsequential. Confusion seems prominent. Trying to find that region of the mind and delve into a writing project can become a wish, a dream deferred. Over the years I have learned that this is almost entirely an internal issue, not dependent solely on circumstantial elements. It relates to what I allow myself to ponder, accept, or deny. Beyond that, it has to do with what parts of my identity I am allowing to have a place. Is the writer going to be allowed in today, or only the struggler, the crisis manager, the laborer? Of course, I will often write anyway, but without clarity or focus.

In my spiritual life, I am also perpetually in search of a clear horizon, that place of communion that refreshes and renews my spirit. While the standard devotional practices can be enlivening, the desired deeper connection happens rarely. When I seek more earnestly, with intention and persistence, profound moments seem to occur. Fresh breezes invigorate me, and the clear horizon appears somewhere in my being. So the image also resonates into my spiritual life.

I must work through inner complications and find my way to the clear horizon more often. What are your obstacles to the concentration you desire? The focus you want? Or do you easily move into your writing activities without a struggle? My hindrances still seem somewhat undefined, nebulous, beyond my reach. Yet, I am preparing to venture out regardless of how it feels. I am taking my cues from people around me who seem to reach their goals, and friends who encourage me in particular ways.

Here is the poem that inspired the painting. It appeared in the Fall 2013 edition of A Clean Well-Lighted Place.

A Clear Horizon

Let there be yes,
and let there be no more
encumbrance upon it.
Let all be unconstrained and even,
sharp as a bright flash of light.

Each year the gulls sweep across,
the same raspy call; the view is hindered
by one thing or another – a boat with full blown
sails, a collection of clouds, or just a gray mist –
all acceptable by some standards.

But right now, a melted sapphire
in brilliant sun, the sea opens out,
the sky widens to unclaimed space,
and here is a startling edge,
like a line of perfect thought.

As for purity, this view
may be the final interpretation –
a clear horizon,
like a cleansed soul,
flawless and gleaming in the light.

Finding Shangri-La

In Frank Capra’s film about a group of people who are on a hijacked plane that crashes in the Himalayan Mountains, Lost Horizon, the arduous journey through narrow, snowbound mountain passes leads them to Shangri-La, a beautiful region hidden from the cold, an area that has perfect climate and magical properties. A small utopian society has been established there led by a High Lama who is looking for a successor now that he recognizes he is about to die. The aging process there being decelerated, he is now hundreds of years old. Based on the 1933 novel by James Hilton, the film is now a Capra classic. For me, it is a metaphor of the repetitive journey to reach the zone, that place of focus when I can write freely, immersed in a project. Getting there is not easy for me. It sometimes feels as if I am trudging through snow, blinded by a blizzard. I don’t always make it. But when I do make it, clarity occurs. I can write with focus, come up with ideas, and concentrate. While there, I am not deterred by the “outside” world. In the film the main character, Robert Conway, leaves Shangri-La but regrets it and much later manages to find it again. I am still finding ways to get myself to that place where I am the most productive and focused, and though occasionally I can slip into it without too much strain, other days it feels like an onerous effort that may or may not succeed. Once there, I am reluctant to leave. As Annie Proulx said in an interview, “when I’m in the groove, believe me, I’m in the groove. Nothing gets in the way. I do it.” However, she adds, “I don’t have a routine. I struggle to find time to write” (Paris Review).

Many of my writer friends do not struggle in the same way. A few are able to get to the zone quickly, without incident or struggle. One friend is a binge writer. She escapes to a timeshare or mountain cabin and writes steadily for weeks though she may not write again for a long time. Other friends are the proverbial daily writers, up early or late, with regular patterns, hammering out a few pages at each sitting. Each writer I question has a specific routine, pattern, or method that might involve a variety of elements. Some writers prefer to write in the same place, a desk or the dining room table, while others like to mix it up by writing in hotel lobbies, coffee houses, or parks. Some write in longhand, others only on the computer, and some on old-fashioned typewriters. Whatever the elements, I am interested in what I am calling “writing customs,” the settings that writers choose, the writing process, writing habits, and writing preferences, and these things are at the heart of this blog.

Last year, I spent a lot of time at Starbucks and found that I had good concentration there. A story, just published in an online literary magazine, emerged out of my times at a few Starbucks locales (Shark Reef Literary Magazine). Although I have seen myself as a home-desk kind of writer, and I enjoy the micro-environment of my desk space, more often than I would have thought I find myself in public spaces, writing with the desired abandon, inspired by the atmosphere around me.

I invite you to share your ideas, preferences, and writing customs.

(Painting, “A Clear Horizon,” by Eric Peavy).

McGill, Carla. “Starbucks Chronicles.” Shark Reef Literary Magazine, Issue 27, Winter 2016.

Proulx, Annie, interviewed by Christopher Cox. “The Art of Fiction No. 199.” Paris Review.Spring 2009. Web. Jan 12, 2016.