Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Elf on the Shelf

The office: messy but quiet
Thomas Kies’s interesting post “Writing Space” got me thinking about how space and ritual help us do whatever the hell it is that we do.

Last Sunday, my wife came downstairs at a little after 6 a.m., entered the kitchen for her first cup of coffee, and was startled to find me at the tiny kitchen table in the glow of my laptop.

“Why aren’t you in the office?” she asked.

I’d left the office a week earlier, finding the tiny kitchen table suitable for the pre-dawn hours. I’d begun the fall in the living room, in the leather chair, computer on my lap. (I’m writing this from the office once again.)

“I’m like the Elf on the Shelf,” I said and turned back to the glow of the computer screen. “I change locations all the time.”

She ignored me and left the kitchen.

For me, it’s not place as much as it is distractions –– or, rather, the avoidance of them. At 4 a.m., the house is quiet, and unless the stuff really hits the fan, so is the dorm to which my house is attached. I’m the lead dorm parent to 60 girls, ages 15-18. I don’t know everything, but I know the teenage species sleeps at four o’clock in the morning, so my 4 a.m. writing time almost guarantees peace and quiet.

And I need a ritual. It might be listening to the same playlist as I work on a book (Everclear and Third Eye Blind –– remember them? –– when I wrote Jack Austin novels; more like Coltrane for Peyton Cote). My coffeemaker is set to start brewing at 4:00.
Kitchen table
The first cup is ready at 4:03. I’m at the desk with my Yeti travel mug by 4:05. And if it’s a good morning, I can get a thousand words by 6, when I bring my wife her coffee.

Not superstition. Routine.

A routine that offers a way to help me, for lack of a better expression (and I apologize for the terrible sports cliche), enter The Zone. I love writing in airports. No place offers anonymity like an airport. The ability to know I won’t be disturbed is what I need in order to enter a mental space where I can work.
Leather living room chair
Isn’t that what we’re really talking about? Some people clean their desks in order to feel ready to write. I like to have my old copy of Strunk and White within arm’s reach. Most of us just need to figure out whatever it is that helps us to settle back into our story, re-enter that world, relocate that voice, and continue pushing the story up the next hill.

The Elf on the Shelf works in the dark. He’s got it figured out.

No comments: