On the evening of August 4 I lost my office in downtown Greenville to the Dixie Fire. I shared that office with Jane Braxton Little (she in the office above me). We later took on a third office mate, Eva Gorman, who is a fiber artist. We jokingly referred to our office as ‘Fiber, Fact, and Fiction’–acknowledging Eva’s Josefina Fine Knits small business, Jane’s award-winning environmental journalism and me–the mostly fiction, poetry, and playwright.
In light of all the people in downtown who lost their homes it barely feels right to grieve about an office. I acknowledge that fully. But for an artist like myself, this was the spot on the planet–the only spot on the planet–that was truly my own. I rented that space for the low price of $80 bucks a month–given a break because the roof often leaked on the stairs and sometimes in the middle of my room. The building was built in 1860 and it definitely had it’s quirks, but that room was mine. (Oldest building in Greenville).
My history was in it. It had two desks and one of them housed every journal I’d ever written (that I didn’t read thank goodness) since I was in the second grade. The closet under the stairway held all the costumes and posters and some sound and lighting and film equipment for our theatre troupe Pachuca Productions.
There were over 1000 books in there–mostly poetry, plays, and fiction. An old mac that didn’t really work anymore but housed all my music.
My grandpa Jerry’s rolltop desk I wrote at. An altar to my grandpa tom.
A mid-century cabinet that held the letters of all my dead for many years and trinkets from my long gone nana and grandmother among other people I held dear.
Art work from Farrell Cunningham–a beloved man and artist from Genesee Valley/Indian Valley. Original works from many southern Californian artists who I cherish both the work and the life of.
Typewriters, my fetish. There were 8 of them in there–from an Underwood from 1903 to an Olivetti from the 60s and a few others in between.
And then of course the filing cabinet of stories published. Stories unpublished. Notes from projects. Teaching tools.Student work. Binders from each show we did as Pachuca. The SD cards full of interviews for our film project. I also learned how not to kill a plant there.
The drawer in the bottom of the cabinet filled with art work from my two kids.
Since moving to Indian Valley in 2002, we’d four times as a family and then in 2017 as I divorced my kids’ dad, the office served as home. It was the constant. It was the safe reliable space.
My office was my mind and heart turned inside out. My thoughts on the walls. The color was ‘Tuscany Orange’ with a ceiling of pale blue sky and clouds my husband painted for me —with the clouds along the lines where it sometimes leaked so I could turn the old buildings failings into art–and sometimes rain (and yes we put a bucket out underneath).
I had at the time a folder on my desk with the hand edits of a printed out copy of my novel manuscripts, a print out of my poetry manuscript with some new edits, and the play I was working on in a neat pile to the right of my office chair–and one of them on the right of the desk. I can still picture where everything was.
For mother artists everywhere carving out space –the proverbial room of one’s own is often a daunting task. You have to care about yourself, your well-being. It is the ultimate self-care to give yourself room in which to become yourself. I was privileged and lucky that Jane Braxton Little came along and asked me to be her office mate, privileged again that Kevin Goss, the building’s owner and supervisor of our district, gave me a sweetheart break on the room.
For many years I didn’t have time to be there. I’d carve out time after the kids had gone to bed and my ex-husband was home to watch over them. Pete, the guy who owned the gas station across the street and I would wave to each other when we each left around midnight to go home. The older cops at the sheriff sub station across the drive way would school the younger cops not to park in my late night space. When other Indian Valley residents would go fishing or hiking on the weekends to enjoy nature –I’d steal away a few hours to work on my writing instead.
I wrote eight plays in there and saw three of them to production.
I wrote my current manuscript of poetry there –most of the 90 pages of it.
I abandoned my first novel and started a second and then returned to the first one there.
I signed my contract with Tolsun Press for my short story collection Graft which will come out in October 2022 there.
I corresponded with my students at CCC prison there and wrote them their assignments there.
I danced when no one was watching there.
I cried there. Oh how I cried there. I made the decision to leave teaching at the community college there.
I played Nick Cave way too loud there.
I tried to help people from there.
I got inspired there. I read there. I sung there. I paced the floor there.
I applied for grants there. I prepared there.
I helped kids write their first resumes and college applications.
I sent out wedding invitations to my surprised friends and family there. And I sent graduation announcements for my son graduating in the COVID year from there. And I grieved more than a few deaths from there.
One of my favorite things about the office was when Jane was there–my office mates were more 9 to 5 about their existence in the office then my late night and weekends. She’d run a sentence by me or an idea. I’d get to watch her in action meticulously developing a story. We shared the write anguish of rejections and cheered on each others accomplishments and meet on the stairs between the two offices sharing whatever our families were going through. She always welcomed me and my kids.
I built many an altar there.
It had its own personality but it also had my personality there. The gifts from my travels there.
When my kids got older they used the office –a clean bathroom downtown, a place to print out their homework, the place for their friends to pick them up to go do something. I counseled students there, held auditions there, changed for the gym down the street. Family meetings.
Before COVID, our office mate Eva hosted a weekly night in her space for knitters. Knit Night. Jane and I would leave to the happily frustrated conversations of knitters in the front room.
It was the ultimate room of requirement for a mother writer without much income–something I could always manage to provide.
When I met and then married my husband I introduced him to the office and gave him a desk so that when he was in my town he had someplace to work while we were attempting (in vain now) to develop a property in which to live. We had hopes for that property–we wanted to restore it from its years of neglect put a tiny house and garage on it and make an outdoor kitchen/bath so that friends and relatives could come camp out with us. A co-op campground where Writer mothers like myself could come write in the beauty of our valley for very little cost. The planning all took place in that office.
Even with my son and his girlfriend and my husband and sometimes me migrating to southern California for work and school , I vowed to always keep the office. Upon our returns it is the first place we go to.
I’m writing this from the new office space in the house in southern California. I am grateful and thankful that I set up this space here on the side of our kitchen and backyard a year ago and that I began the slow transition of bringing things down here: half of my books, chapters of current projects, a friend’s antique desk, my grandpa jerry’s mandolin, my grandpa tom’s guitar. The altar to my grandma gloria. Compared to my friends and neighbors in downtown Greenville, I am incredibly lucky and I know that.
But I grieve its loss just the same.
I actually *do* still live in the area. My kid doesn’t graduate high school for one more year in Quincy. Just transitioning south.
I haven’t left yet! My kid has one more year of high school and THEN, I’ll just be here every other month.
What a room, it’s things, it’s view and the space it gives to grow and take shelter in, only an artist can understand. Truly feel for you buddy. Take care 🙂