Gift: A writer’s space

Gift: A writer’s space

Heather Tucker

In my family, gifts, for all occasions, were organized by Mom. But once, only once that I can remember, my father gave me a gift. Just from him to me. A desk. A writer’s desk. I loved it. I cherished it. I lost it.

 

Twelve years ago, when I started writing my husband gave me his office, a little 8X10 ft space that inspires and focuses me.
When I started writing 12 years ago, my husband gave me his office, an 8X10 ft space that inspires and focuses me.

First, let me tell you about the desk. “One of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century” (a biographer’s words, not mine) owned this desk. It was given to my dad because he was one of the most helpful people of the 20th century (my words).

Cubbyholes, secret compartments and the marvelous contents of its drawers—skeleton keys, strange coins, mysterious photographs, war ribbons and the clincher, a silk robe, sheer as a summer scarf—had me convinced the desk’s previous owner was Nancy Drew.

Heather at five
Heather at five

Growing up, we (the desk and I) spent a lot of time together in the attic. A blissful escape from the bickering chaos downstairs. Beneath that desk, I was an explorer, an archaeologist, a Jewish girl… Sitting at it, I was a teacher, a president, an inventor…

Colour and whimsy are like espresso for this writer. Does anyone know the best way to hang pictures on the ceiling?
Colour and whimsy are like espresso for this writer. Anyone know the best way to hang pictures on the ceiling?

 

May 1979, my dad backed his truck into my driveway. Under a stained tarp was the desk. Piece by piece, he brought it in, reassembling it in my tiny house. The surfaces were newly sanded. Once sticky drawers opened with ease. The roll-top slid in its track (something it hadn’t done since a certain Sea Hunt misadventure.)

My dad said, “Um… a wedding present.” The desk said, All those years when you felt invisible, he saw you and he thinks you’re special.

Two years later, a chair, a single boot and dust occupied the space where the desk had been. So, you wonder, how does one lose such a precious thing? Fire? Flood? A muscled thief? Nope. A toxic tangle of family dynamics, as layered and complex as a soap opera. Details of The Mysterious Case of the Missing Desk, I will leave to your imagination.

~ Oh, the things I've picked from imaginary pockets!
~ Oh, the things I’ve picked from imaginary pockets!

The subjective experience, I’ve left with a few therapists. But, I have to admit, the storyteller in me delights in the whole shimmery shitty thing. Why? Because the bitter-sweetness of it seasons my writing. For the writer, every experience, the divine and hellish, horrors and hallelujahs are a gift.

A few years back, I was introduced at a conference as an expert in grief and loss. I know, right? Kind of a crappy field to be deemed an expert.

At that time in my life I was transitioning from nursing to writing, seeing life less through the clinician’s lens and more through a writer’s eye. My presentation was on resilience and I began by saying that, happily, I saw myself as more of an expert on redeeming grief and loss. That’s what a writer can do, isn’t it? Detangle and reweave hopeless messes into hero tales.

bdt_2016-12-06-16-43-07_0091-on1-2-2-resizedSomeone I loved once gave me

a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand

that this, too, was a gift. 

(The Uses of Sorrow, Thirst by Mary Oliver.)

I love Mary Oliver’s poetry. Admittedly, a box full of ‘dark chocolates’ would be nicer, but it just doesn’t have quite the delicious possibilities for the writer as a box…of darkness.

I face this wall when I work on my laptop. It both delights and organizes me.
I face this wall when I work on my laptop. It both delights and organizes me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of receiving big boxes of poop, but I do see the fertilizer in it. If I open it up and use it, I might grow an idea, or a story or something as big as hope. I’ve never met a loss that didn’t have a treasure inside for a writer.

I walk. Preferably in the woods or by water. For me it’s more effective than Prozac or alcohol. And I’m a collector of feathers and stones, shells and sticks… I fill my pockets, bring them home and add them to the shelves in my office.

Some remind me of a loss, others, a gratitude. Most do both, like a broken shell showing its pearly centre or a fractured rock revealing amethyst inside. I painted my shelves and wall black because it makes my treasures sparkle. Much like how a writer uses dark threads to startle the reader with light.

I’ve always been a storyteller. It’s how I made sense of internal and external chaos. More importantly, it was how I found my way through loss, to joy and laughter, creativity and playfulness, gratitude and hope…  But a writer? Even in the attic, sitting at that wonderful desk, I never dreamed I could be that.

May 2016, my desk came back to me. I sensed my dad saying, "Um... a writing present. You know, I did always think you were special."
May 2016, my desk came back to me. I sensed my dad saying, “Um… a writing present. You know, I did always think you were special.”

Well, you just never know what is waiting on the other side of a box of darkness. Be brave and open it up. It could be a truck backing into your drive. A bittersweet conspiracy of tragedy and serendipity bringing you a gift.

Did you know:

Heather Tucker‘s first novel The Clay Girl was launched by ECW Press to critical acclaim in October 2016. It’s on the verge of a third printing and is available in bookstores in Canada and the U.S. Heather and her imaginary friends can be found in Ajax and north Kawarthas.

Win a signed copy of The Clay Girl! Tell us about a gift you received that made a difference in your creative life. Maybe it was a journal. Maybe it was an honest critique. Maybe it was some quality you inherited or learned from a mentor. Our lives are full of gifts. Tell us about yours in the comment section. Writescape will randomly select by draw from all comments received up to and including December 23.

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31 thoughts on “Gift: A writer’s space

  1. When I was in grade school my mother mentioned a history assignment I’d done to her writer friend. As part of our study on the War of 1812 I’d prepared a series of journal entries from the perspective of a young domestic servant in Sir General Issac Brock’s staff. Intrigued, Rabindranath Maharaj asked me to bring it when attending his upcoming book reading. He not only took the time to read it but actually invited me onstage to read some of the entries during the event. What an incredibly generous gift to my creative self-esteem.

    1. Thanks Bronwyn for that reminder of a wonderful event. Rabindranath Maharaj is a great Canadian writer and his quiet encouragement of you was (and remains) remarkable: sharing his stage and limelight with a young adolescent – amazing. Of course, I can attest to the truth of this event as I happened to be the mother who was so proud of her daughter’s story. I’m glad his generosity has stayed with you. Nonetheless, for obvious reasons, I can’t enter your name in the draw for a signed copy of Heather’s unforgettable book, “The Clay Girl.”

  2. I must admit, I’m deeply curious about the desk now. Who actually owned it before you? How did you lose it and why did it eventually return? Of course, I’ve always loved a good mystery! As for me, one of the gifts I have received in my creative life came in grade one when I won a writing contest. Robert McConnell, the author of the wonderful book “Norbert Nipkin,” presented me with a signed copy of his book and a small Norbert figurine as my prize. The true value of the gift didn’t hit me until several years ago, when I began my adult adventures in creative writing. Whenever I would enter a writing contest or submit something to an editor, my confidence was bolstered by knowing I had won a writing contest before. It may seem silly because it had happened when I was just a child, but it was enough to help me take a chance and press “Send.”

    1. We were curious, too, Stephanie. But we also like the mystery of not knowing — like you, we love a good mystery. It’s no mystery that Robert McConnell gave you a precious gift. Other writers who are encouraged at a young age speak of being given a lasting present. As you say, for you it was “confidence” because somebody believed in you. Keep pressing SEND. As Dorothea Helms, a.k.a. The Writing Fairy likes to say: if you don’t enter, you’ll be certain of not winning. And it’s all contest. Speaking of contests, your name is now in for the draw for one of two signed copies of Heather’s lovely debut novel, “The Clay Girl.” Thanks for pressing SEND.

    2. A little hint: a Canadian musician. One day I will tell the whole truth:) I love lifting up my skirts and writing some creative non-fiction. And if I’d won that wonderful prize, Stephanie, it would be on my CV.

  3. A wonderful piece.. thank you for sharing! I have always believed passionately that everything happens for a reason. Surrounding yourself with the memories locked in your treasures is a brilliant way to embrace your identity and inspire growth and creativity from your experiences. Passion surrounds you and flows through your words. You have given yourself a gift by embracing all that makes you who you are. You have given the world a gift by sharing who you have become. Congratulations and thank you.

    1. Thanks for this, Kim. It sounds like you found a gift in this post. Like you, we at Writescape were moved and inspired by Heather’s words. We are all creative beings if we let it happen but there is something special about Heather’s open and frank sharing of her creative heart. Your name has been entered in the draw, so hopefully, you’ll win a copy of her book to read more of her words in “The Clay Girl.” If you don’t win, we can heartily recommend her book to add your book shelf.

  4. I guess like you, my creative writing started at a wooden desk too. I began to daydream about stories as I sat in my two-room school in a rural village. I loved the smell of the school in September as we trooped through the doors, as the months rolled on reading took me away. The winter months of cloak closets that oozed cold air after recess from woolen coats, snow pants hats mitts and wet galoshes. Huddled in circles we read, and as I looked out the window over the course of the school year, I started to write about what I saw. My first one was a simple story about a farmer working in his field. I recall it was a supply teacher that encouraged me to go on and keep writing. Which I did and still do. Thank you SS#18 for starting me on my writing path. 🙂

    1. Thanks Anne for reminding me of cloak rooms and the smell of wet wool after a winter recess. That’s amazing that you can recall your first story and, a true writer even then, you understood the importance of noticing. Gwynn wrote a lovely piece on the Art of Noticing a couple of weeks ago. How great that a teacher encouraged you and even better, that you held on to that encouragement, recognizing its importance. Thanks for sharing and of course, your name is now in the draw for one of two signed copies of Heather’s beautiful novel, “The Clay Girl.”

  5. The greatest gifts I’ve ever received can be found in the words of every encouraging teacher I’ve had the luck to encounter through life. When I was in grade seven, Mr. Hines submitted my children’s story for publication in the local paper. In high school, Mr. Wagman was the first grown up to ever tell me that I was A Writer. In my thirties, Isobel Warren pushed me back toward the page, gently but with some insistence. There have been others, too (*cough*RUTH*cough*). I’m very lucky to have met so many encouraging souls through my life. 🙂

    1. Thanks for sharing, Corrie. What gems Mr. Hines and Mr. Wagman were in your life. And of course, the gentle and wise Isobel Warren is a wonderful writing coach. I, like many other writers, can point to those who offered me the best encouragement at just the right time. Artists of all kinds are unsure — are we doing the best we can? Have we made a mistake and should be accountants or air traffic controllers instead? Will anybody even like what we’ve created? That insecurity gets a firm kick in the pants when someone takes the time to validate what we are doing. So very glad to have been one of your “kickers.” Your name has been entered in the draw for Heather’s haunting book, “The Clay Girl.”

  6. Heather, your blog was very interesting and I really enjoyed reading it. Thank you for sharing! I believe I was gifted with wanting to “entertain” people. As a child I did it by dressing up, performing little skits and pretending to be other people. I enjoyed this part of my creative side (amateur acting and singing) all through school and into my adult life. However, in high school I found writing. I loved English class where periodically we were allowed to create original short stories. I found my imagination blossoming and growing over the years. I also have very vivid dreams and I remember a lot of them. This has lead me to some wonderful wee stories and new ideas. I continue to write today and get a huge thrill out of it.

    1. Thanks Susan for sharing that. It is interesting how we, as children, permit ourselves to express freely from our imaginations. Gwynn and I like to encourage that sense of play in our workshops because it helps recapture that abandon we all start out with. And hooray for English teachers who encourage students to create stories. Here’s to dreams that nudge our creative selves and may it all lead you to an endless journey of words. You have been entered in the draw for one of two copies of Heather’s fabulous book, “The Clay Girl.”

    2. Oh, Susan, how I admired the brave ones that put themselves on stage. I was always painting the scenes (or hiding under the desk). A writer’s willingness to turn inside-out for the world to see is indeed a gift for the reader.

  7. I have always ‘seen’ things differently but didn’t always understand that the way I saw things was different.
    Creatively, there is always the hope that someone else will appreciate what you are doing. I remember scrap booking one time at a ‘crop’ and a woman coming over to me. She said, “what made you think to do this application?” I didn’t know how to answer her. I just did!
    I completed a quilt in a class and was inspired to paint some of the squares with fabric paint. As I was doing it, a woman came over to me and watched. She said, “What if you mess up with the paint? It will be ruined!” It never occurred to me that I would ‘mess up”.
    With every creative project, there is risk. I always believed there was also reward.

    1. Absolutely, Jenn. There are no mistakes that result in ruin in creativity because it is a journey. No great book has ever arrived on the page without a single edit. All art is a craft and it arrives from the imagination and freedom of the artist. The woman who feared for you “ruining” the quilt still has that to learn. You have the gift of play and apply that to your art. Thanks so much for sharing and your name is now entered into the draw for a copy of Heather Tucker’s wonderful novel, “The Clay Girl.”

  8. The gift I want to tell you about, that sparks my creativity is something very simple but very elusive in our every day lives. The gift I mean is ‘time’.
    For me, I’ve always been a writer. I have always had ideas and characters in my mind and some never did make it onto paper. There is always ‘something else’ to do or that needs to be done, especially with a family with 3 young kids. Writing could be done later, it could wait. Of course, I probably lost some great characters and forgot some intriguing storylines as a result, but there are some that survived.
    I have been given the gift of time twice now. For the last two years I have been able to participate in the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a 72 hour journey to write a manuscript. My husband and three kids have survived without me (lol) and big dinners and clean laundry for two of these events now, and hopefully more in the future, so that I could pursue something I have had a passion for my entire life. After a few years of putting everyone else first I truly appreciate those 72 hours where I am allowed to put everything else on a shelf and dive head first into a story and develop characters and events without having to take a break – except maybe to pee once in a while!
    For me, there hasn’t been a greater gift and as a result I’ve gained incredible confidence in my abilities, have met some incredible and like-minded people and got past my fear of sharing my work. I couldn’t begin to sum up what it is worth too me. Cheers, xo.

    1. The combination of dedicated and specific time for writing, with and among like-minded people, is truly a gift worth receiving and giving. It isn’t always easy to give yourself this gift but it’s a true treasure, Jennifer. The support of your family for the Muskoka Novel Marathon (fabulous event!) is icing on the cake of creativity. Thanks so much for sharing. Make sure you continue to find ways to use the gift of time more often and, of course, your name has been added to the draw for a copy of Heather Tucker’s beautiful novel, “The Clay Girl.”

    2. Time for a writer, I think, is a riddle. The time we spend with family, on adventures, at jobs, meeting life demands… is where we gather our stories. The more we connect and listen, the deeper the well of stories but that means fewer hours to write. Four AM seemed to be the magic hour for me and my imaginary friends to spend quality time.

      Cheers to a partner who gave you, Jennifer, the gift of time.

  9. What a fascinating journey your stories take Heather. You’ve found so many wonderful little gifts to spark your imagination. I loved reading your blog.

    As to “…a gift you received that made a difference in your creative life.”, I would have to say I was born with the gift of seeing the world a little differently than most people and that gift continues to spark my creativity.

    1. The world is always more interesting when we see it “a little differently.” It is a rare gift that you’ve been given, Louise, and as you note, it is a gift for a lifetime of creativity. Thank you for taking the time to comment on Heather’s post. I’m sure she will be happy to know you enjoyed her words. And, of course, your name is now in on the draw for a signed copy of “The Clay Girl.” The draw will be held on Dec 23.

    2. Thanks, Louise. You’ve identified the real gift in this story, perspective. A little shift in how we look at things and a whole new universe can open up. Cheers to seeing things a ‘little differently’.

  10. First, this piece was a delight and a catalyst. Heather Tucker’s mind and ripple and rhythm of her words conjure a peacefulness, a playfulness, and a stop-and-ponder in me.
    My creative gift?
    Some years ago I took a sabbatical from teaching high school English. I taught Writers Craft for years and coaxed seniors to, then, put pen to paper. I thought it time I tried writing myself and.
    , although I’d like to say I clicked out three short stories in tickets-boo time, it took me the better part of the semester. And it was hard work! It was a full time, stare at the computer, deep concentration, waiting for my characters to let me know them, experience.
    I finished them, then re-re-refinished them. I gave them to a tiny audience to read. And Oh! Did I get advice. Some helpful, some just nice because I was a relation, one that said, “Whatever that was, it isn’t my kind of thing. I like Westerns and police novels.” But one friend said one of the stories revealed my fear of writing. He said it was a good read, but begged so many questions about the people in the story. He said, if I was up to it, I needed to write the other chapters, and not hide behind this one as a complete story. “Do they still exist in you”, he asked? Do you really think this glimpse is a story, or is it more, and you are afraid to keep going?
    He was right.
    And Ms. Tucker’s piece made me go open the drawer and take it out of the envelope where it has been incubating.
    Thank you, Heather Tucker, for a piece of writing with just the right amount of dark and light to ignite me.

    1. Hi Julie — what a remarkable story to share with us. We are thrilled to read that Heather’s words lit your creative energy and brought you back to your writing. You have a good friend with good advice. Many writers just need a nudge or two at a crucial point to find the path back to the page. Any time you feel the need to be nudged, just send us an email at info@writescape.ca and we’ll be happy to listen and offer support. And thanks for taking the time to comment. Your name is in for the draw on December 23 for a signed copy of Heather’s remarkable book, “The Clay Girl.” Best wishes for all your creative endeavours.

    2. It’s an interesting parallel, Julie that The Clay Girl also started as a short story and I was encouraged (gently pushed) not to be afraid to follow Hariet Appleton and honestly reveal her journey.

      It’s also serendipitous that you talk about fear and that Ruth invites you to enter the community of Writescape. Ruth was the first person I revealed my terror about showing my writing to anyone, just over a decade ago. I still remember her exact words to me, “Get naked, girl, jump, and let the epiphanies fall where they may!”

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