Writing is like interior design. I’ve been doing a lot of the latter this week, though “design” might be too professional a word for what this is. “Decorating”, on the other hand, feels too superficial. I am furnishing an interior. And one consequence of my room in this new apartment being bigger than before: I now have to get more stuff .
In my old bedroom there was a vintage stereo cabinet within arm’s reach of the bed. I left one side of the cabinet open, clipped a lamp to the door and used the shelves inside as my nightstand. In my new room the cabinet is against the far wall opposite of where I sleep. I’d been using a wooden folding chair as a temporary night table and last week bought a pouf to replace the chair. The exposed brick and honey amber floors room suggested the pouf, which has a golden straw weave with the bottom half dipped in white. The pouf suggested a new comforter, and that I get a fitted linen cover for the box spring I use in lieu of a bed frame. The change in the sleeping area suggests different window treatments, roman shades instead of curtains, and now I’m thinking about moving the stereo cabinet into another room and replacing it with a small, lighter-wood desk. With all due respect, Mr. Carlin, what I’m seeking isn’t more stuff, but an exceptional harmony.
I wrote this in my first novel: “Connor had always admired people who had a knack for interior decorating, like the stylists who composed the rooms for the spreads in furniture catalogs. They were working with the same furniture and accessories as everyone else, but it always came out so much better, even without all the photographic tricks … you needed to be able to see beyond the beauty of any stand-alone object – a desk, a chair, a piece of decoration – and instead see it working within the larger system.”
I hadn’t realize it at the time, but I was writing about wanting to be an author. Every novel ends up being about its own creation.
When we respond to a thing in situ, whether it’s a table in a room or a graf in a story, we’re responding less to the thing itself than to its relationship to what’s around it. You buy the table you saw in the catalog and bring it home but something’s off about it, it doesn’t work here. Some people buy the catalog spread, the whole room for $965. Others, the artists and poets, the ones who become the stylists, can detach themselves from the standalone object. They can see it in imagined context, or they are willing to try it out and if it doesn’t work take it back to the store. Great writers take full advantage of the return policy.
Every story is a room. And a room, it has space and the space has shape; it catches the light in a certain way and there are things you may not feel the license to change. Genre is a wood floor and an exposed brick wall.
Most authors have a few key pieces of furniture that they take with them to every story. Along with hand- or boxfuls trinkets and knick knacks, smaller but no less present. There is a fear of clutter, that if you fill the room with all your stuff it won’t feel right the way some rooms on Apartment Therapy feel right, the way the books you love feel right. But there is also the possibility of unity, exceptional harmony, of an interior thread being found in the process.
I think about the kinds of rooms that I want to live in and stories I want to tell and they’re both furnished with things that have personal meaning, things from my past, from my travels, pull-tabs for memories and tinder for joy. The snake pipe and the orange bear, the black jar of palo santo from Peru. A five-sided crystal and a rock from an ex. Things collected, things made my own, things well-built and lasting. A few off-the-shelf things seen elsewhere but given new context. And things not there, still pools from which the future emerge.
For now this is happening in rented space. No walls will be knocked down, yet. I’m still working on getting this one room right. But when the day comes when I’ve enough know-how to build my own house, even then, I think I would still want to tell stories that are specific to, and appropriate for, the time and the place.