I once had someone say to me, “If I had a room like that, I could write a novel too.” It wasn’t someone I knew, a friend of a friend, I’m proud to say; I like to think none of my friends would say something so foolish. “Really?” I wanted to say, “you think the room’s the one writing my novels?” But I kept my mouth shut. I had no stake in humiliating her. Like I said, she was no one to me. I haven’t seen her since.
The room she was talking about was the little room off my kitchen. It looks out onto the garden. When I’m thinking, I can watch hummingbirds feed on my salvias. It is a sweet room, but only because I made it that way. When my partner and I moved into the house, it was the room where the previous owners had clearly imprisoned their dog, or I hope it was a dog. Something was imprisoned in there. The door and windows were grooved with scratches, the carpet and walls filthy. The lovely garden I look out onto was in similar disarray, all crabgrass and one persimmon tree, which, due to a lack of grafting, dropped zillions of tiny inedible fruits that even the birds wouldn’t touch, which turned to mush after a day on the ground.
So my partner and I pulled out the stinky carpet, and sanded the cedar wood floor we found beneath. We painted the room, replaced the door, the windows. I hung artwork. Outside, we dug out the tree, rototilled the earth, planted perennials in a round flowerbed I regularly tend. Creating an inspiring place took work.
I’ve been in the arts a long time, mostly in theater, more recently I’ve been writing fiction too, and I’m always amazed by people who sit safely on the sidelines telling anyone who will listen how they could have done it better. In my experience, people who actually do improvise, or do write fiction, offer critiques only when asked, and go about it gently even then. They recognize the amount of discipline and stamina it takes to do the work, the guts it takes to put the work out there. Then again, apparently there are rooms that will write your novels for you. Who knew?