Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Door of My Own

I’ve observed a fly trapped inside the open-slat mini-blinds of my window now for hours. It flies up and down, walks across, buzzes crazily, flies forward and smacks into a blind, returns to the window pane. How like us, trapped between two worlds, not perceiving the doors open to us. The world outside the glass, the world on the other side of the door. We see out the glass to another world, yet the world to which we have access is a route to the other world. We must go through the route available to get to the place we see outside the window. The world is there. It’s available for us to enjoy. Getting there is the adventure.

Doors have been on my mind for the last few months. It began when my firstborn and only daughter accepted an offer to attend a five-year Master’s to PhD program at George Washington University. Elisabeth lived on campus during the four years of her undergrad studies at a university only a half-hour from our home. We saw her frequently and she slept in the bedroom she’d decorated and redecorated since she was six years old. When she packed up her belongings for the move to D.C., she pulled every poster, photo, sticker and cartoon from the walls and stripped the shelves of books, knickknacks, and picture frames. What she didn’t want to take to her new life, she donated to a local thrift shop. The only things she left in the room were bare furniture and a few stains on the carpet.

My preoccupation with doors actually began in 1993 when we moved into this house. We fell in love with the huge room addition that the original owners used as a family room and a game room, plus the house had a bonus room that had been a third-car garage option. My studio would be in the bonus room, a spacious retreat with a large picture window facing the street. The room had a lovely, natural wood, French-paned door.

Many people have real estate horror stories and here’s ours. During the time we made the offer on the house to when the escrow closed for final sale, the original owners took weekends away at the Colorado River and left their male Rottweiler closed in the bonus room with water and food. It doesn’t take a lot to imagine what a Rottweiler trapped in a room for two days can do to the walls and carpet. The stench was unbelievable. After dragging out the carpet, we bleached and deodorized the cement slab. The cedar wainscoting, stained and reeking from the male dog leg-lift, came down to reveal even the drywall had seeped up the stinking slime and had to be replaced. The room would simply not be ready for human occupancy by the time we moved in. Hence, my studio—computer, drafting table, bookshelves and cabinets—was set-up in the game room that faced the family room.

This turned out to be the ideal setting for a work at home mom. With a four-year-old boy and six-year-old girl that needed watched and guided, I found the situation contributed to my productivity and kept them occupied. They had their play area and craft table just over the oak railing from my studio, and the TV was right there. That’s right. The TV. The one-eyed babysitter and great distractor of multiple generations.

In all fairness, my studio really did have doors. A set of French doors separated it from the dining room. It was a large area where the original owners had a pool table and juke box. Yet, my studio was separated from the family room by a low, oak railing. A sliding glass door led to the backyard from the family room and a door on the opposite wall of the family room led to the garage. Even if I closed the French doors, someone would inevitably need something from the family room or access to the garage. My studio was open to a thoroughfare from one side of the house to the other.

In those days BassMan had regular work hours. He left the house at 6:30 a.m., returned around 5 p.m. When both of the children were in school fulltime, I worked without interruption most of the day. Summers were a bit of a challenge, but we set schedules around my work and the kids’ activities and playtime. I had several graphic design clients during this time, one of which drew me into the travel industry. Most of my writing then was for regional publications; food and family topics generated from my center of purpose. I had started and stopped several novels during this time, allowing the busyness of the house around me to distract from my concentration.

BassMan’s schedule changed in 2000. He moved to the evening crime-time shift: 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. I no longer had the seclusion of time during the day. My adaptation came by putting the kids on the school bus at 7:15 a.m., then writing like a woman afraid she’d run out of words until BassMan awoke around 9:30. Two hours of silence every morning were enough for me to write my first novel in nine months.

Now that Elisabeth has her own apartment across the continent, we’ve shuffled rooms. The object was to put me and all of my mess in the bonus room as originally planned. After it was thoroughly cleansed, BassMan had set-up camp in the bonus room. He refreshed Elisabeth’s former bedroom and moved over his desk and Marine Corps memorabilia. I began a renovation of the bonus room that was only supposed to be a coat of paint, but you know how redecorating often turns into a story of its own. Last weekend I moved into my studio and for a day it was spotless. The desk and credenza gleamed, the bookshelves didn’t sag. Life comes with stuff. Stuff needs a place. Places fill up with the stuff of life. It’s already happening in my new studio.

So you see, I really have nothing to complain about. I’ve had the room which Virginia Woolf said was so necessary for a woman who wanted to write fiction. BassMan pulls in a good salary and my side work has evolved into a profitable meeting and travel consultancy. What I’ve craved is a door to close for creative privacy. As I write this, it occurs to me: What purpose will the door serve? To shield me from household distractions, or a barrier that traps me inside?


ficwriter said...

Yes, I, too, love the doors to my home office. They keep out noise and are a perfect signal not to disturb because I am working.

Carolyn Burns Bass said...

Darrelyn (ficwriter)~ Does your family respect the closed door? Do they ever intrude?

Jessica Keener said...

I love doors and have been obsessed with them myself. In Hungary, where I lived for a year, I spent every day looking at decrepit buildings that all had magnificent doors.


Lanora Mueller said...

Carolyn, Thanks for sharing this narrative about family, space, stuff (and doors). I'm looking forward to the next installment! Lanora

Tish Cohen said...

I'm with Jessica--I love old doors. The carvings, the peeling paint, all so evocative and textured and timeless.

That said, my writing room's doors are usually open.

Carolyn Burns Bass said...

Jessica and Tish~ Doors--both physical and metaphorical--have fascinated me for years. I always take photos of doors when I travel and may be posting some of them in future blogs.

Lanora~ Ah, you caught the comment about the stuff. I still haven't moved all of the stuff from the old studio, so alas, this room is filling.