Friday, December 29, 2017

April Ford: “These days, when I can’t write, which is typically every day, I turn away from the capacious Ikea pine desk I bought when money didn’t matter, and I stare at a painting of my dead cat.”

Last December, very early in the month, I told my husband I wanted a divorce. We had been together for eleven years. I had no good reason to want out of the marriage, except that I had been unhappy for a while and fallen in love with someone else. From afar, many people would have said, and some certainly did, that I wasn’t in my right mind. My husband was a marvelous person and partner (100% true), who had enabled me to pursue my raison d’être: Writing. Indeed, I celebrated numerous successes during my enabled, married years, including the worldwide release of my award-winning debut short story collection, a Pushcart Prize for one of the stories in that collection, and the ongoing privilege of teaching creative writing at the university where my husband held tenure. What more could a M.F.A.-holding writer of literary fiction, destined to never earn a living wage on her own, ask for?

During my enabled, married years, I would rise at dawn not because I had to get children ready for school or embark on a long commute to a job I loathed, but because I loved spending the earliest morning hours alone in my home office, quaffing stovetop espresso while I developed a character or scene or story idea. When my husband and I had purchased the house together, I had aspired to furnish my authorial space with a tanker desk—teal, or maybe Mad Men orange like that spectacular refurbished one I had seen on eBay. After all, I needed something massive and vintage upon which to set my anachronistic MacBook Pro and finish the novel I had begun five years earlier. And since the narrator wore porkpie hats and two-tone spectator shoes, my writing space should reflect the world I was creating. I needed to go “method” in order to be true to the process.

That all turned into a load of unrealized shit. Never mind that I never got my tanker desk because the stairway leading up to my office was too narrow and angular. What really set me back was when my husband asked me to move out, being that I was in love with someone else and all, and then my office—my sacred authorial space—rejected me, too. The bookcase, for example. When I look back now, I understand it was pissed at me for throwing away the writer’s dream. But on the day it busted for no reason, vomiting books and files filled with paper all over the place as I glumly sorted my precious archives into boxes labelled “to keep” and “not to keep,” I received the bookcase’s action as hostile. “Traitorous, harlot-ous author, be gone!”

As I gawped at my chaotic office space, which was evidently a metaphor for my inner landscape (when you’re a writer, this sort of thing happens all the time), I came to an important conclusion about my writing process: It, like the warning I was going to be sorry for leaving my marriage, was a load of shit. The miniature cactus in a copper pot on my writing desk? I didn’t need that to help me write better or longer. If anything, the tiny plant was a source of distraction and anxiety; while cactuses don’t need to be watered often, they do need water, and I never quite figured out that one’s schedule. The tacky 80s-style pen holder and faux-50s butter dish-cum-paperclip dock? These items didn’t improve my writing days; they took up space on my desk because people had given them to me as gifts, gifts befitting of an author, the people had said, and I hadn’t known how to politely respond with something like, “Well, thanks! But actually? I know we love to imagine what a writer’s typical day is like, and I know there are plenty of writers out there who actually do compose their oeuvres on old newsroom typewriters or yellow legal pads as they listen to Bach or Tom Waits, but me? I’m really just so basic, grumpier than I am mysterious or trendy, about what I need to have a good writing day: A screen, a comfortable seating arrangement, silence, and the presence of no living thing.” Oh, and I need to be in a good headspace—not inebriated or euphoric, and certainly not depressed. Just…balanced. Neutral.

I’m building a life now with the person I fell in love with. We are in Montreal, and we share my writing desk because it’s all we can afford. This is the first creative piece I’ve written since last year’s vomiting bookcase incident. I’ve done a lot of other writing, cover letters, fussy variations on my curriculum vitae, Facebook rants, but I haven’t felt compelled to write from the heart. These days, when I can’t write, which is typically every day, I turn away from the capacious Ikea pine desk I bought when money didn’t matter, and I stare at a painting of my dead cat*. To some people, this fact is in conflict with the fact that writers write all the time. Writers must write all the time. We are machines; it’s all we are designed to do. My partner tries every other day to get me to write. “Hey! How about just a half-hour?” He wonders if it will make me feel better, and he’s right. I know it. I just have to get past the excruciating slowness of beginning again. 

* R.I.P. Troy, 1997 – 2012. 

April Ford’s fiction, non-fiction, and poetry have appeared in numerous print and online journals, including Grain, Ploughshares, New Madrid, Atticus Review, Lascaux, and Gargoyle. Her debut novel, Carousel, is forthcoming in 2019 with Inanna Publications.

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