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  • July 15th, 2009 | 8:44 PM
Of Dogs and Writing - Finding Your Place

Cassie has a rug about 10 feet from the front door. It's her place to go to when the doorbell rings and she has to wait until we tell her she can get off it and say hello. The idea, of course, is to keep her from hurling her giant self at the person coming through the door. In the kitchen she has a rug too. It's her kitchen place and if she is in the way in the kitchen we can tell her to go to her place and that's where she waits. In the library, which is where we spend the evenings with our laptops and the TV, she has another place. When she's done playing for the night she crashes there, getting up to rotate every so often but most of the time staying there as though it were a giant doggy playpen. She has another "place" in my office and yet another up in our bedroom. And of course she always has her crate when she wants to retreat to her cave.

I think she likes knowing that when life gets too overwhelming and she needs a break she has a place she can go to rest and restore her spirits. When she's feeling rejuvenated (or when we release her from a stay) she bounds forth ready to be here, be now, and be real.

What a smart dog.

I have a place too. I have a beautiful big office with a view of my new garden. There are still things to be done there, tweaking and some more shelves and I probably ought to throw a few things away, but it's a beautiful room with a big antique oak teacher's desk for my computer and an antique library table facing it, covered with my latest research books. I have a comfy reading chair facing the garden with a view of the bubbling rock and the bird bath.

But I don't write in my office.

Instead I sit on the couch in the library with a lapdesk on a pillow across my knees. I shove a couple of pillows behind my back and type in a position that is far from ergonomic. I know this because my shoulder is getting worse and my wrists are complaining and basically I hurt all the time.

What a silly human.

Right now it's late evening. Cassie is curled up in her bed in front of the fireplace, grunting or groaning every so often, reminding us in her doggy voice that she is still here, still watching over us. Her tail goes thump, thump, thump, and I have to smile, wondering what she's dreaming of.

What a smart, happy dog.

Me? I'm sitting on the couch, hunched over the laptop, trying to remember if I have any Motrin left to take later.

I don't know what keeps me from writing in my special place but I think I need to figure it out.

There are so many stories only you can tell.Tell them, please.


( 15 comments — Leave comment )
(Deleted comment)
July 23rd, 2009 06:33 pm (UTC)
Okay, I am way way late in catching up on responses but life is more insane than usual.

Perhaps it is a chi issue though I have my back to the one solid wall.

I think it is more of a self-esteem issue. I don't feel like I deserve such a pretty place to work. Or, as I think Peni says in a comment below, I think I need to be in pain in order to write.
July 16th, 2009 01:10 pm (UTC)
I think you do, too, because obviously place - your house - is important to you, and because physical pain is bad. I can literally write anywhere that holds still (not a moving vehicle) so I can't extrapolate from my own experience with helpful suggestions, but here's what occurs to me based on what I know about you:

If you're not uncomfortable, you don't feel that you're working.
You've spent so much of your life writing on the sofa that your writing reflexes only kick in there and need to be retrained.
You designed your office according to some ideal vision of what a writer's office ought to look like, and not according to your personal needs.
You're intimidated and distracted by how nice your office is, alternately feeling that you somehow don't deserve it and that you can make it even nicer if you do this, that, or the other thing to it.

Any of that sound near the mark? If it's something like the first two, you'll need to retrain yourself, possibly using techniques you'd use on Cassie. If it's more like the latter two, you'll have to redesign your office; but take heart. It might only involve shoving some furniture around. If none of it sounds right, do the factors that make these the wrong possibilities create other possibilities?

While you're figuring this out, see if you can find some stretching exercises that will address your problem areas. Laptops have inherently crappy ergodynamics and getting into a writing posture that minimizes that will still leave you reaching for the Motrin, which is going to become less effective over time. Stretches really do work on muscle problems, and it'll make your gardening ever so much more pleasant, too. When I work on the balcony I put the laptop on one of those freestanding TV trays, which reduces the hunch and is almost as good as a desk. Maybe better, because the laptop takes up almost all the space and the horizontal surface doesn't get colonized the way most of them do in my house.

Good luck; but you don't need luck, because you have skills.

July 23rd, 2009 06:36 pm (UTC)
Peni, I'm sorry it took me so long to get back here because you, of course, nailed much of it.

I think it's a combination of a couple of things you said, if I'm not uncomfortable, I don't feel that you're working and that I really don't feel like I deserve the office.

A lot of retraining in baby steps is what I am trying to do. thanks for the reminder on the stretches. I need to go find the ones the physical therapist gave me years ago.
July 16th, 2009 02:06 pm (UTC)
Maybe it's not the furniture but its placement that is bothering you. Take a look at a book on Feng Shui and see whether there's something you can do to make the room more attractive for you. When you sit at the desk is your back to the door? According to Feng Shui that would make you uneasy because you can be approached unexpectedly.

Also I wonder whether facing that table filled with research books is daunting. Try clearing off that desk and placing just a lovely flower vase or something else you would find calming. Think Zen.

Another possibility is that you prefer the laptop to the desk computer. Try moving the laptop to the office desk.

July 23rd, 2009 06:40 pm (UTC)
Another very belated response from me. Sorry. :(

I think the Feng Shui in the room is about as good as it is going to get. My back is at the only wall. The other three walls all have doors.

I don't have a desk computer. I just plug the laptop into a monitor there. I just need to actually DO it. LOL

Yes, you're right that looking at the research spread all over can be frustrating too. A lot of it is getting the room more organized because there is a lot of stuff everywhere.

And I fear the second part of it is accepting that I deserve such a beautiful space in which to work.
July 16th, 2009 02:19 pm (UTC)
Susan, I have the same problem. Maybe we won't figure it out. Maybe we can't. Maybe we should just make a pact to get to that place and try it out.

Writing shouldn't have to hurt.
July 23rd, 2009 07:36 pm (UTC)
Here I am, a week behind in replies again. Sigh. You're right, writing shouldn't hurt except for the part where we spill our guts on the page. Here's hoping we can both find a way to write more and hurt less in the future.
July 16th, 2009 04:01 pm (UTC)
Ouch! Watch that shoulder and those wrists! Mine got so bad I had to see the doctor, who referred me to either PT, a chiropractor, or a massage therapist (I went with the massage therapist, who is local). It took months to get the flexibility back in my shoulder.

Good luck with figuring out how to get to into writing in your special place. What would Cassie do?
July 23rd, 2009 07:54 pm (UTC)
I am late, as usual, in responding but yes, I am looking for a massage therapist myself to try and help my shoulder.

Love the idea of what would Cassie do. Will have to ponder that.
July 16th, 2009 06:09 pm (UTC)
Sometimes it just takes time to adjust to new places...or maybe the place needs to be adjusted? Either way, I hope you find your comfort (in all ways) zone soon.
July 23rd, 2009 08:00 pm (UTC)
Ugh. I am sooo behind in replies. So sorry.
We've been here a couple of years so I don't think I can use the adjustment excuse. I think I need to just start doing baby steps into the room. fingers crossed.
July 16th, 2009 06:13 pm (UTC)
I love that sound that big dogs make when they're just "being." I know exactly what you mean.
July 23rd, 2009 07:59 pm (UTC)
I think I need to start recording those sounds. LOL
July 18th, 2009 03:10 am (UTC)
I'm wondering if you want your office to be perfect--and "until" it is, you're not ready to claim it? I know I can get like this. I try to make things closer to perfect, then settle in. Take care of your shoulder!
July 23rd, 2009 08:03 pm (UTC)
This is me late again on blog responses. Ugh. It could be that I want the office perfect to claim it. Or at least part of it. I also think it comes back to (like so much of my stuff) a matter of not believing I'm worthy of the room. Working on that too.
( 15 comments — Leave comment )

Who am I?I was born on the Cancer/Leo cusp and share a birthday with Ernest Hemingway and Robin Williams. The similarities don't stop there as I can go from depressed to ecstatic without ever passing go. I feel scared most of the time though my friends call me brave and I find it easier to believe in my friends than to believe in my own abilities to make what I want out of my life.

Who am I? A wife, a mother, a daughter, and even, gulp, a grandmother.

Who am I? A writer who never gets tired of playing with words, even when the words are hard to find. A writer of books for children and articles for grown-ups and many things in-between.

Who am I? A motivational speaker, writing instructor, workshop leader and full-time follower of dreams.

Who am I? Read and find out.

Susan Taylor Brown

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