For my 20th birthday, my husband (oh my gosh, that was so, so long ago… when I had a husband) gave me, among other things, a huge wooden desk, circa the 1940’s, that he’d purchased at a used furniture store. My other gifts—purchased thoughtfully to celebrate and support the launch of my career as a writer—were a four-door file cabinet, a brass stamp holder (because back then, all my submissions went through postal mail; we didn’t have internet yet), a stapler and a box of staples. All of these items except the stamp holder, which was stolen when our house was fumigated, I still have—including the original box of staples (missing a hundred or so).
The desk, back then, was already old and worn, with multiple scratches and coffee rings marring the finish on the top. But it was big and solid and vintage, and I filled it with file folders, manila envelopes, pens, pencils and notepads. Oh, and plain white paper for my IBM Selectric typewriter. And then I started writing.
Just a few short years later, when I was 23, we needed a photo for the back cover of my first book, so my husband took this one:
There’s my typewriter and the stamp holder. A thick, kidney-shaped sheet of glass came with the desk to protect the top, and you can see it reflecting the light from the desk lamp. You can also see my leather-bound, Thompson Chain Reference Bible in the background. I wrote my first book at that desk, typing away between 4:00 and 6:00 in the morning, stopping when my son, who was an infant, woke. He’s 39 now.
I loved that life. My oldest daughter is a poet and a teacher now, with a son who is the same age I was when I began writing that first book. But back then, she was an adorable four-year-old with an incredible imagination and a mind that never slumbered. I would spend the first hours of the morning writing, then stop when my son woke, fixing breakfast for the kids and my irascible husband who would criticize the way I stirred his coffee or buttered his toast (made with the bread I baked myself every week). But then the hubby would shuffle off to work, and the kids and I would be left to have adventures and read books and sing and dance until lunch, after which they would nap and I would return to working on my book.
Happy, happy times. I wanted to live my life that way. Or, almost. While my husband had initially been supportive of everything I did, his criticism and disapproval eventually became toxic. Two more children would join our family before I finally decided I could no longer live with his negative energy or the verbal sparring that had become the daily norm for us. I left him, went back to college full time, then began teaching high school, then returned to college to get my master’s degree, then began more teaching as an adjunct professor at night. I still found time to write, but I had to fit it in the tiny cracks of space I found between child-rearing and working and taking care of the house and the yard and doing the shopping and so many other things. But I longed to return to the long slow days in which I immersed myself in my two greatest joys—my kids and my writing.
In June I retired after 27 years of teaching. In August, I bought a little house I want to live in for a long time, with lots of natural light and quiet mornings, much like I had when my kids were little. I decided to make the den my writing cave, so I put in a new floor and painted the walls a pale green, then set up all the comfortable, familiar writing tools—my good old desk, my file cabinet alongside it. The typewriter has been replaced by a laptop, and on the desktop now is a huge copy of Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary and atop that, the Cambridge edition of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare.
Two nights ago, I came into this room and sat down at this good old desk to spend an hour writing the previous blog post. Before I began, I stopped for a moment to thank the Universe that I have finally come full circle, with long days in which to write and care for my babies, although the “babies” now are two spoiled cats and one very quirky dog. When I looked up from my acknowledgement of blessings, my eyes fell upon that old picture of me sitting at this desk. I’d found it in a box during the move. Now it sits upon the desk, a reminder of how fleeting time truly is, how every moment we spend with our children is an investment in their future, no matter how small or idle the activity we’re engaged in. And it reminds me as well that yes, I can do this; I’m a writer. It’s time to get to it.