In my living room is a lovely desk with a lovely view. I like sitting at that desk. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to write there. The space is consumed by the needs of the family, by the tasks waiting to be done, the bills needing to be paid or filed. As Robyn Sarah wrote, “things you couldn’t call poems.” To write, I must escape.
This past year, I have been a creative nomad. Every couple of weeks or so, I stay out late one night after work to have what my husband calls “a creative evening” – I escape the house and the family to write in anonymity surrounded by people. We don’t say “Kristina is spending the evening writing” because I might feel pressured to produce. As in many areas of life, euphemism eases me toward the truth.
I need to escape myself to write.
The main floor of our house is an open space that combines kitchen, dining area and living room, and its walls are lined with bookshelves holding books I adore, books I haven’t yet read, books I won’t read again. Their presence is comforting, like family photos, but oppressive when I sit to write, like photos of judgmental relatives whose expectations you could never hope to live up to.
And then, there’s the actual people in the house who need attention and feeding and reminding and answers to questions.
I have a room of my own, upstairs. It has a window to the outside and another that opens into the stairwell to help with airflow and light. Perhaps, eventually, I will find a way to write there. For now, I must seek out public places: a restaurant in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue with a terrace looking out onto the water; a couple of breakfast places near Papineau; three West-Island pubs. The list grows longer as the months go on. One of these has become my regular haunt. I sit at a corner table on the second floor where I can plug in my laptop. Even on Wednesdays in the dead of winter when the upstairs is closed, I’m welcomed. The manager turns on the lights and the heat for me alone. He calls what I’m doing “working” and I don’t correct him.
I have a Lug Tread and, later, a Lagavulin. Sometimes I eat, but I find the business of eating interferes with that of writing at the most practical level: I need my hands free and my paper or laptop close.
Usually, I start by reviewing a piece in progress. Like euphemism, it eases me into the necessary mindset, as if the act itself of improving something gives the thing value. By focusing on improving the already-written, I enter the headspace where writing isn’t folly. The work of creating takes on legitimacy, which is a concern I’ve often struggled with.
Here, I am no one. I am only the woman who arrives every so often with a laptop and work to do. No one asks anything of me. No one judges. When I leave, the manager asks me, “Got a lot done?” and I say “yes” because sometimes just choosing to try is an accomplishment.
To start a new piece, I often start with a free-writing approach, writing with pen and paper. Oh, I may start with a nugget – a phrase or an image – that has sparked me. These I jot down (if I can) when they cross my mind, or I repeat them over and over in my head until I’ve memorized the key words. But to dig into a new piece, I write freehand with as much free association as I can manage.
I prefer spiral-bound notebooks of lined paper and pages of a certain weight and smoothness. The texture of the paper under my hand helps coax me into the words. The page size, too, affects the frame of the work, the line length and breath and units tend to conform to the parameters of the page, at least initially. I may recopy a piece a couple of times by hand before typing it up. This continues as a dance of paper and computer: writing on paper; editing on screen; printing it to review and edit; back to the screen.
In the same way, writing helps me move into and out of myself – a dance of identity. Although I may go for days and even weeks without looking at a single moment through my lens of poetry, when I am writing, I am able to slip through walls and shells and frames of self into formless anonymity, becoming a wisp of words before returning to the parameters of life.
That’s the moment when I pack up my computer, slide my notebook back into the bag and pay my bill. The drive home eases me into my regular life, readies me for the transition to the other parts – the ones that may not be poems, but that are just as essential.
Kristina Drake writes and edits in the wilderness of East Hawkesbury, Ontario. Her poems have previously appeared in Carte Blanche, Soliloquies and Yalla!, as an above/ground press broadside, and as a Tuesday poem on Dusie. In 2017, Kristina published Ornithology, a chapbook with above/ground press.