The first step

This weekend I moved a tiny desk into a large room with high ceilings, freshly refinished floors and a giant window looking down on Missoula’s downtown. Seth and I carried the desk into an elegant ancient elevator and down a dark hallway while Eliza and Lucille ran ahead of us to open the door. We slid it gently, close to the wall and called it good. It was raining or snowing or doing something in between outside and we needed to return the truck we’d borrowed. I stood for one second in this rented room as Eliza and Lucille raced for the elevator. It’s the first step, I thought.

I’ve had that desk since an old boyfriend found it in the basement of a house we were living in in Asheville, N.C. He asked the owners if he could buy it and he wrapped it up for me. A writing desk, he said. It was a moment of tenderness between us in what turned out to be three years of heartache. But I’ve always appreciated the gesture, and the desk.

It’s small and wooden with two drawers and a shelf on the back edge. It’s simple with no bells, no whistles. But it is an antique and beautiful. It has clean lines and straight edges. There is nothing modern about it and I like that. I like to think it looks like a desk where Fitzgerald might have written. Or Faulkner.

I wrote my master’s thesis at that desk, waking every morning at seven, writing until 11, taking a break to take my puppy for a walk. As impractical as it was to get a lab puppy while trying to finish graduate school, I never regretted it. Imogene is 13 next month. She still sleeps at my feet. I’d come back from those early walks with her through a soggy Eugene spring morning and write until 1.

Then, whiskey.

Or tea or something with the other women in my six-person writing program.

A few years later I moved the desk to a farmhouse on five acres and that’s where it’s lived ever since in a space that was all mine. I started this column there staring out at the postcard view. Then, another baby and time was not on my side. I would slip out there though, steal a few minutes, sometimes hours, before being discovered by a little girl with ringlet curls and a baby who always wanted me.

In those years, like so many other things, writing took a back seat. There were only so many hours in the day and I’d get from one to the next, somehow. I took notes but had very little time or energy to sit down and put them on paper.

There is also this: I can be very practical. I do the taxes. I pay the bills. I make sure we don’t run out of toilet paper. There are days, weeks, years when this side dominates the rest of me. It tells the poet in me to write in sentences. It whispers to the night owl in me to turn off the light. It tells me to wait, that the time is not right. Just a little while longer. Buy the house. Have the children. Buy the other house. Pay off the debt.

Then…then. For the last little while, I’ve been feeling like then may never come.

I have a daughter who is unspeakably brave. That child is two parts grits, one part sheer will and one part simple grace. She believes she is entitled to be the person she truly is at her core. She is keen-eyed, open hearted and determined beyond measure.

Maybe, it occurred to me recently, I could be a little brave too.

The image of my lovely girl, the thought that I have put in a lot of time practicing this craft and a few words from Nelson Mandela have pushed me to rent a space a write. “It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us…your playing small doesn’t serve the world.” Thanks, Nelson. It’s not serving me lately either.

The perfect blueprint for a writing life isn’t going to come knock on my door. No one is going to rescue creativity from the outskirts of my days but me. And, now, after years of fretting over how, I think I’ve figured out it’s just a matter of doing it.