WHERE I WRITE #6: Blood Red Desk


It’s kinda moved.

Where I write.

Probably because my understanding of home for the longest time was nomadic—movement and the body.

I guess I started writing in my twenties. I say “I guess,” because that’s the decade I lost my marbles from both grief and drug and alcohol use, and spent some time sleeping in other people’s apartments or cars or porches, or by the river or the tracks or in the park. Don’t get me wrong. I had a place to live. A good one. And my sister lived in my town, so I could always go there. And I had girlfriends and boyfriends.

It’s just that sometimes I slipped out of normalcy and good citizenship and wound up with my face on the bad side of pavement. Sporadically. And incognito, as I was also a “student” in my twenties.

You know my son, who just turned ten, calls people he sees without homes “hobos.” He says people don’t care enough about hobos. He says we should bring them sandwiches and beers. He says Obama should build free apartment buildings for hoboes and give them medicine for sadness.

I wasn’t a hobo. But you could say I had some hobo days and nights in my twenties. And during a very specific timeframe in that decade I stole a giant blank book to write in. You know those big ones you find at art stores—with the giant black hardbound covers—lineless white pages inside? That. And I filled the big black book with pages and pages of spilled emotions. With the thoughts and feelings of a woman on the brink of psychosis.

Some of the pages had safety pins in them. Some of the pages had ketchup smeared on my drawings to indicate blood. I peed on a page or two. Not sure why. Seemed true to the body, at that time. I stuck feathers and shit inside the book. I made some twat prints by smearing my business with paint, rorscach like. I didn’t understand the concepts of “writing” or “stories,” though I heard what they were saying to me in college and I loved reading and I really loved ideas and art. I firmly grasped there were “authors.” Whitman, Faulkner, and Gertrude Stein made sense to me.

I wrote in phone booths and at bus stops and in box cars. I wrote at the edge of the Willamette river the edge of the Mckenzie river the edge of the ocean where rocks have been pummeled into shore in Florence, Oregon. I wrote in the rain. I wrote in cars and on roofs and in bathrooms and on floors. In art studios and music studios and houses not mine. I wrote in the hallways of academia and once in a furniture store I broke into. They had excellent sofas. I wrote under overpasses and in bars and coffee shops and on trains and in 7-elevens. Under trees in graveyards. On dead people.

And here’s an irony: I traveled a gazillion times more when I had no money and ate corn flakes and crashed wedding receptions and stole steaks down my pants for food. I wrote in Paris and Normandy and Bordeaux. I wrote in Ireland in Joyce’s country and the Islands of Synge and the castle of Yaetes. I wrote in the Cyclades Islands and when I got kicked out of Keates’s house in England for getting on his tiny bed I wrote in an alley that smelled like British pee.

The one thing I didn’t much write on was a desk.

I couldn’t stop or my past with its abuse and my present with its dead daughter and my future with its string of failed shitty relationships might settle on me like dust does on furniture.

After a long decade, grief and madness mutated finally, like they do for some of us, but only some of us, I guess.

Then I was guess I became a student of writing like regular people. So I was, you know, in “classes” about writing. Sometimes tripping, sometimes not. Sometimes drunk as a monkey, sometimes not. Which meant I needed a desk, I guess, but it wasn’t anything special. One of the legs was missing and we got it for free from a junk heap. There were no drawers where the drawers were supposed to be. I wrote slanted, blurry things.

In my thirties I had things like a “husband” and a “rental house” and a “job” because I’d been through “therapy” and “rehab” and “degrees.” So it seemed appropriate to have a proper desk, yes? In my house was my second husband. He was a raging artist raging poet raging man. We bought a big oak door at the lumber store and sanded and stained it. We bought two sawhorses for each end. That was my desk. I loved the long hard expanse of it. I liked to stroke it. I liked that we made it from next to nothing. We painted the walls of the back room it was in with vivid dream images when we were drunk one night and we then painted each other’s bodies so being in the room was vaguely like being in a Cocteau drawing.

I wrote story after story in the decade of our marriage. I wrote stories that corresponded to the zenith of our crazed passion and stories that corresponded to the dive toward love’s cadaver. The desk dismantled as easily or devastatingly as a marriage does. I burned the parts in the backyard, years and years later. It smelled like oak and blood and cum and words.

In my forties I have a thing called “family” and we are “homeowners” and there are two dogs and a magnificent son. I have “tenure” and enough to eat and a garden and good boots and pots and pans. And I have a “writing room.”

I wasn’t sure how to make it but when we first moved into the house, one thing was certain. It was my room, and the baby blue walls had to go. The second night we lived there we painted the walls the color they had to be—a deep dark blue—indigo it said on the can, but really, it’s nearly black. Like the bottom of the ocean. It’s a color that makes me so happy I could die in it. Not on the outside of my being, where things get translated by brain and sense. On the inside. Where my body and consciousness flap and jerk and ride inside the skin house. It’s almost a water room. Which is important. Before we put any furniture in it I cried and cried just to be in it and call it something called “mine.”

Now it’s a mess in there.

I’m not tidy. I have never been a good woman or a decent citizen. I love the mess of it. Like an underwater animal cave.

There are long Marguerite Duras bone colored curtains hanging over the windows all the way to the floor. There are floor to ceiling bookshelves with haphazard books lovingly collected on them. A giant purple sofa chair that has its own story. And the only desk I have ever purchased. By myself. For myself. But what’s kind of funny is that I made the room like novels I’ve read over the years. I didn’t really know what it meant to have a Virginia Woolf room of my own, and besides OF COURSE she could write that because she wasn’t POOR AS DIRT, though I’ll give her this—she did understand the cusp of psychosis—so I just copied novel feelings. Like I made a chapter you could walk into and sit down and luxuriate in. It’s what I always wished… that reading could be that. That you could go into the book like entering a room. Literally.

So that’s what my writing room is like.

And yes the desk. The top of the desk is blood. I mean red—dark red. But blood is my favorite color.

This desk has been with me for all of the years my son Miles has been alive. The miles we have come—the miles I had to come to have him and the miles in his eyes already—all I can tell you is, numbers lie. He can’t be ten, and I can’t be forty-eight. It isn’t possible. Haven’t we lived oceans together? Sometimes, when the light is right, the low orange hue coming through the Duras curtains across the blood desk, I almost can’t see the shore of my own dumb and puny past. Besides, stories happen here now. Is that what desk is?

I can tell you, it’s quite something to have a desk that doesn’t move unless you move it. A thing just mine. In a house that stays put no matter what your life erupts with. With a husbandloverfriend and a son who, in spite of your whole crappy ass fucked up life, are there at the beginning and end of every day, looking back at you. Just that. As if you are… present. Fully. Reflecting back to you a self who they understand sits at a desk more than pretty much anything else. Not only not minding that you, but kind of digging that you.

My son just came in. To this indigo blue writing room. Bone colored curtains. Blood desk. Woman in language.

I love you, I go. You’re awesome.

I love you too, he goes. You’re pretty.

Thanks, I go.

Pretty much we say this several times a day. For years. It’s ritual. Motherson made-up speak.

I’m pretty sure people call this thingee a “family.” I wouldn’t know. It’s not where I came from. It smells good though. Like skin stories.

And then he puts his hands on top of my hands on top of the lame ass little keyboard in front of the Cyclops Mac. He puts his cheek against my cheek. I can smell kid. And Andy husbandishness. DNA and space dust and love junk. My son Miles’s face is illuminated by computer glow. The faint hum of electricity wavers in the air. All the miles of my life are in the skin of his cheek. We hold very still. As if my life were able to do that. We just sit there like that for a long second. Nothing happens. Neither of us say anything.

The crouch of dreams in our fingers.

What is a boy that life is this sentence.

Lidia Yuknavitch is the nationally bestselling author of the novels The Book of Joan, The Small Backs of Children, and Dora: A Headcase, and the memoir The Chronology of Water. She lives in Portland, OR. More from this author →