• One Minnesota Writer

The Writing Life: When Your Home Office Closes in on You

Our basement office.

This week, I traded desks with my partner Mick. At the beginning of the pandemic, we set up an office for him downstairs. Right now, that office consists of an old oak dining table, which is great as a very large drawer-less desk, placed in front of a window that looks out on our backyard. It is next to the door to the outside. Since there is a storm door, we can open the inner door and the storm door window and get fresh air. The view includes the old white pines that border our backyard. The sounds include the dozens of birds that flit around out there all day long. As I type this, afternoon sun angles through the open door and lights up the edge of the old table, warming up the wood that Mick stained and finished over 30 years ago.

I love that we’ve repurposed this table in this way. For a while, the table lived at our daughter’s place. When she and her husband moved into their first house earlier this year, they had no room for this table in their tiny, cozy space. Back to our house it came. The computer table that had been Mick’s office work surface here was tiny, so we swapped it for the old table and it’s perfect.

Mick occasionally gets tired of being downstairs. That’s when he meanders upstairs and camps, laptop on his actual lap, in the blue chair in front of the living room window. The windows upstairs are bigger, the light is brighter. I have an office upstairs - the smallest room in the house, but with a nice window. If I’m alone in the house, our mini-dachshund hates it when I stay in my office; she paces back and forth and waits for me to notice her. If I don’t, there’ll be a puddle to clean up. I’ve been working in there less than ever lately.

So, this change of space is nice. It makes me notice different things, pay attention to my surroundings a little more. Working at home can become too comfortable, too routine, less inspiring over time. This little shift in where I’m writing today also reminds me that it took me a long time to get a dedicated space for my work. In our first house, which had less than 1,000 square feet, I had a tiny corner of a tiny dining room. There was no door to shut; I was at the edge of the path to the kitchen. Then we got this house, which felt enormous with over 2,000 square feet. I understand now that our house is really not all that huge. But we had room for everything we needed. Claiming a room for my writing still took me a few years. I had to stand firm that my office was not going to double as a guest room, it was not there for others to hang out in, and a closed door meant no interruptions. We had kids living at home then, as well as frequent houseguests. I’m glad I was very clear that this all mattered. It helped others take me seriously.

Now there are no kids living in our house. We haven’t had any houseguests stay over since before the pandemic and probably won’t have any for quite a while longer. A door to close is not as important as it once was. A door or window open to the outside has become much more necessary for my own mental health. A space that’s flexible, where I can look up and see something other than the neighbor’s rooftop, might be a better fit.

Maybe my office can go back to being a tiny bedroom. It’s time for me to take my laptop to wherever it feels right, like this old table with its memories of our first dinners together as a family, past parties where there were so many dishes brought by friends we ran out of room, our kids doing homework, carving Halloween pumpkins, and so much more. It’s ripe with stories.

The dog approves of my change of venue. She actually approves of this whole pandemic thing since her humans are almost always home. That’s not a bad situation for a very old dog.

How has your writing space changed during the pandemic? What have you given up and what have you embraced? And has your dog, if you have one, offered an opinion?

Happy Wednesday, everyone.

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