I have never had an office in our house, a space where I can write and organize and tack up my lists. There was a section of the basement where I used to work on the computer, but I don’t spend time down there anymore because our desktop computer is so old that it freezes when I try to do anything. It’s not even hooked up to the Internet anymore. (And who wants to sit in the basement breathing radon all day?) So a couple of years ago, I took over the dining room. I piled my books and papers and folders on the sideboard. When I ran out of room there, I began to stack my books and papers on the dining room table. I never thought I would do this. I never thought I would become a stacker because my dad is a stacker, and as a teenager, it drove me crazy: “We shouldn’t have to move eighteen piles of papers to sit down and eat dinner, Dad.”
Unfortunately, stacking is genetic.
But what am I to do? If I move a folder or manuscript or book to the basement, I’ll forget about it, and I can’t forget about my teaching or the revision or writing that review. And if these things are out of sight, they will be forgotten. So this is what the sideboard looks like:
This drives D crazy. (It drives me crazy, too, but I do it anyway.) Six months ago, D suggested we convert the pantry off the kitchen into an office for me. We don’t use the space, except for storing pans and kitchen appliances and the microwave. I loved the idea, but in order to do it, we would have to rearrange the kitchen counters (to make room for the microwave) and, more importantly, clean out the basement to make room for everything else from the pantry. Our basement is a disaster. It’s full of the clutter of our lives: tools and reusable gift bags and winter jackets and an obscene number of plastic toys and large bins of Stella’s old clothes, years of my class prep and books and copies and copies of my manuscript. (Seriously, I must have twelve copies of the damn thing from different stages in the writing process.)
Well, last weekend I went up north to my friend Emily’s parents’ cabin with the girls. I was feeling torn about going because D was home and I hate to leave when he’s actually in town. But Emily lives in Colorado, and she’s only in Minnesota for a few weeks, so we both packed up our kids (Emily has two boys) and drove caravan-style to the Iron Range, our children whining and screaming in our respective cars. Most of the weekend was spent trying to make sure Zoë didn’t maul Emily’s youngest, Henry. (I was successful only some of the time. Poor kid.) The rest of the time was spent trying to minimize the competition between our older kids. (I did it first! Mine is bigger! It’s my turn! She took that toy from me!) Emily and our friend Maureen (who accompanied us, and who I’m sure wondered what she had been thinking) had a little time to hang out and talk when the kids were in bed, but not much.
But the trip allowed for something else: on Sunday afternoon, we arrived home to find a clean basement and an absolutely empty pantry! I was beside myself. That night, we went to Ikea and picked out a desk and chair, and now—I can hardly believe it—I have an office, a very tiny room of my own.
Yesterday, I arranged and tossed and arranged. I successfully de-cluttered the sideboard. And though I still have to go through the piles on the dining room table and the piles in the basement (D didn’t know what to do with these), right now I’m basking in my 3 x 3 office.
Here it is:
It doesn’t matter that it’s small. It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t have a door. It’s mine.