By Barbara Falconer Newhall
Thumbing through a book on feng shui at the now defunct Gaia bookstore in Berkeley a few years ago, I ran across a chapter on decorating the bedroom. The author wanted her readers to know that bringing pictures of family and friends into a bedroom is a sure way to wreck its romantic feng shui.
Who, after all, wants to have sex with mothers, mothers-in-law, small children – or even one’s college roommates – watching from all over the walls and dresser tops? For that matter, who can sleep with crowds of people rattling around the room, posing, smiling, hugging, and trying to make eye contact?
I’ve decided that this feng shui principle for bedrooms applies nicely to my writing room. There are no big photos in my study. No kids, no parents, no family, no one I know — and especially no one I love.
Pictures of my children send me into worry mode. If a photo of Christina as a 12-year-old catches my eye, four-figure orthodontia bills still spring to mind. If it’s a picture of Peter as a 2-year-old, I see the red bite marks he once left on a babysitter’s arm.
Pictures of my parents are even worse. “When are you going to get a real job, Barb?” they shout from their frames as I enter the workroom. Peering over my shoulder as I write, they pass judgment on me and my thoughts, “You’re writing about that? Shame on you.”
Which brings me to a decision I faced earlier this week – where to put my mother’s old, carved desk with its matching chair, which she got as a wedding gift from a rich aunt?
Like my mother, that desk with its graceful curves and sworls has never left me.
When I was a girl, it stood in the living room window at the front of our red brick colonial house in a new, post-war Detroit neighborhood. Ditto in our more ample cape cod house in the suburb, also new, where I spent my teens. Space was short in my parents’ tiny retirement ranch house on the outskirts of Phoenix, however, and the desk was left forgotten in the guest room.
A few years ago, when my mother got ready to move from Phoenix to an assisted living apartment here in the Bay Area, I rescued the old thing from the Goodwill giveaways and had it delivered to my house.
It’s a beautiful desk. A curved top, delicate swooping legs, solid wood drawers. It was probably expensive. My mother tells me that her rich aunt had had a few drinks over lunch with my grandmother before the two of them set off to shop for my mother’s wedding present in downtown Chicago. My mother, I learned only recently, resented the heck out of that desk (and,
more to the point, the drinks downed over lunch) the whole time she owned it. What she and my dad really needed as they set out on their life together was — a bed.
Beautiful as it is, that desk is so saturated with memories of my mother and my childhood that being in the same room with it is like being in the same room with my mother. Sometimes, it’s just a lovely, graceful desk, complete unto itself. At other times, I am cooped up indoors beside it on a dark winter’s day in Detroit with no place to go, nothing to do, nothing to read, nobody and nothing to play with, no thoughts to call my own.
Jon and I have tried putting the desk in different rooms around our house here in California. It looked very pretty in our living room – in its rightful place at the front window. But its petite lines were overwhelmed by the other furniture in the room, namely the heavy Victorian tables from Jon’s side of the family. Ultimately, we moved the desk into the den, where it’s now tucked away – wasted really – in a dark corner, anachronized by our big screen TV, the fax machine, and our sprawling black leather recliners.
Some might say that the logical place for this lovely example of prewar workmanship is a corner of my writing room. There’s plenty of space down here. The colors and the proportions of the desk are right. And a writing desk for a writer’s room – what could be more fitting?
But those would be people who don’t understand a writer’s work and how much it has in common with sex. Which is – you can’t do it with your mother in the room.
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Read more about mothers and writing at “Why I Can’t Write About My Mother.”