Saturday, June 9, 2007

A View from My Desk Chair, or Why am I getting Viagra ads?

Deborah Turrell Atkinson (Guest Blogger)

This morning’s paper, The Honolulu Advertiser, had an article on making a part of the house “your private space.” The journalist interviewed a couple of local artists, who recommended using different color paint, area rugs, incense, Oriental screens (you get the picture) to make a special space where they were free to create. They were colorful, eccentric-looking people.

It was a nice thought. So why were feelings of inadequacy muddying the nice caffeine buzz I was working on? I’m a failure at special, private spaces. Would my work be better if I had one?

Not long ago, I finally got my own desk in an office. Our house isn’t large, so this is significant. And I’m grateful for this entire designated room (except for the full laundry basket in the corner), because my first two books were written along one cluttered wall in our bedroom. The third, which comes out this August, was written in the new office on a computer that I purchased with a business credit card, for easier tax deductions. I feel like a grown-up.

But life intrudes. Last night, it took three tries to kick my sixteen year old son off the computer. He reminded me that we’d taken away his computer (instant messaging at all hours of the night? not turning in homework? hello?), and he absolutely had to download music for the school jazz band, in which he plays electric guitar. Okay, I say. Five minutes.

Fifteen minutes later (I got distracted), he was finished and I darted into the office to find my husband sitting there. He’d forgotten to bring his laptop home from the office, and he needed to check his email. God forbid he forget a meeting, a conference, or a needy student.

I wandered off to fold those clothes in the laundry basket, but it was nine o’clock, and I was running out of steam. Half hour later, I tiptoed back to my private space to find my nineteen year old son, home from college, checking movie schedules. He and his friends don’t even think about going out until ten or so. I wish I had that energy. I asked him to turn off the computer when he was finished and I went to bed.

So here I am this morning, alone at my little desk and I remind myself that it’s not a space or someone else’s judgment of what I look like or where I work that counts. A vermilion-painted corner with incense and a Chinese landscape wouldn’t be my style. Nor would limiting my wardrobe to white linen suits, draping black shawls, or a dapper fedora work for me. I’d probably trip on a shawl, though I always thought Louise Nevelson looked stunning.

In terms of my family, I wouldn’t have my life any other way. Though the easy-going sharing that goes on can be nuisance at times, it usually goes two ways, and often three or four. My college son helps me with ideas, grammar, and is a terrific critic. My husband loves to contribute his specialized knowledge. The younger son adds creative expertise and a wonderful perspective on teen culture, the surfing world, and Hawai‘i beach life.

I’ll never keep these guys out of my private space. But what I can do is exercise a little better self discipline, with less goofing around on the internet. I need to write so many pages each day, and I need to do the best I can on that given day, whether the muse smiles over my shoulder or not. Sometimes I require another cup of coffee. Some days the creative spirit never does wake up—but I can fix the awkward sentences, the plot gaps tomorrow.

What matters is learning to write a better book with each effort. It also helps to know I’m not alone, that others face the same—or even worse!—obstacles than I do. Reading my colleagues’ thoughts, frustrations, and inspirations helps. Connecting with the mystery writers’ community, and joining groups like Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America is valuable beyond measure. But most of all, planting my butt in the chair and enjoying my work will get the job done. To get paid for it? Bliss.

But while I have your ear (or your eyes) can anyone tell me why my computer history has been erased? And why am I getting emails from Russian girls who want to meet me? They would be very disappointed.

Deborah Atkinson's mysteries illustrate a rare, exciting perspective of Hawai'i, its traditions and culture. Atkinson lives in Honolulu with her husband and their two sons.

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