Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner

On Writing is a wonderful book. It is a fine piece of storytelling from a fine storyteller, and full of concrete and useful advice. But I think it steered me wrong in one respect. “Don’t,” Stephen King said, “put your desk in the middle of the room. Place it in the corner to remind yourself that your art is a support system for your life, and not the other way around.”

Fine advice for a person who is wont to place their own needs and the demands of their art above that of their family. But not the best plan, I would say, for a woman who has been waiting for permission to speak for 20 years.

I come through the very hierarchical knowledge tradition of the university… last gasp of the guild network? It is not a place for radical ideas (unless you can refer them to the ideas of prior radicals). It is a place where certain questions are unaskable, fitting outside the parameters of all the existing containers.  These are the questions that require art, rather than academics. For 15 years, I tried to make them fit into the inappropriate box of one university degree program after another. Some I finished, some I didn’t. In the process, I “obtained” an absurd amount of education (as though it were something one could have). Yet I internalized the message that it wasn’t enough, that it was never enough, that if it wasn’t approved by external bodies (with funding and appointments and invitations to speak) I was not enough. The university is not a good place for a person with radical ideas and a need for permission. Those are not compatible. Actually, those are just not compatible. A university education/institutionalization simply reinforces the existing structures. You may speak when you’ve finished your degree… No, when you’ve finished your Ph.D… No, when you get a faculty position… No, when you have tenure… You may speak when you have tenure. The problem is that, by the time you have tenure, the desire to speak may have left you some years earlier.

I went to a conference on Science and Society in 2005 at which global warming was not mentioned. Some of the most innovative thinkers in the country came together to discuss the impacts of science and technology on our lives, and we ignored the most obvious and pressing issue of the day. This is the culture I was “raised” in (intellectually speaking). We are well trained to play it safe, to make sure that we don’t say anything too far out of the box. We may expand the box slightly, but outside the box? That’s for Stars. And you, my dear (They Say again and again) are no star. The ones who escape that are the ones who have the courage of their convictions… who learn to listen to the secret voice at the back of their heads that says, “Actually, I think that is important, even if I haven’t managed to convince you of it.”

That is the voice of art. It is the voice I was raised to ignore.

Our spaces and actions betray our interior lives. For me, the act of placing my desk in the corner of the living room put me at the center of the maelstrom of family life, always prone to doing “just one more load of laundry” or reading one more story to the children, or finding one more task of maintenance that must be done to the house before the writing could be allowed to take the stage. For four months this spring, I participated in the Post-a-Day challenge on WordPress (under another name). I managed to do it, but only by writing late into the evening, and only (often) by writing below my own standards, and only (occasionally) by fudging the date of a post backwards by 25 minutes. It’s fine; the whole point of it was to make my writing a part of my daily practice. What it taught me, though, was that I didn’t feel entitled to write. I didn’t feel entitled to think. And I certainly didn’t feel entitled to make writing enough of a priority that it took up actual space in my life. My art, by being stuck in the corner, was consigned to the scraps of time and resources left over when everybody else’s life was taken care of.

In starting this new blog, I am taking up space. I am taking the risk of being called arrogant. I am taking the risk of being wrong. (I will almost certainly be wrong… again and again and again. It is the nature of thinking.) I am taking the risk of being thought ridiculous. But I am taking up space. I have claimed, as my office, the very center of the room that is to become the yoga studio and classroom. I have the best view on the property. It is in a separate building, without phone or laundry or the chance for me to do just 10 more minutes of work on the kitchen. It has a place of honor.

I honor the art. For a time, my life must become the container for true practice.