Tuesday, January 19, 2010

During the Reign of the Oak King

During the Reign of the Oak King

March 1997 – Fall in love with the mother of all destroyed late-Victorian houses. Buy house. Re-construct house. Think graduate school would be a good accompaniment to soak up the spare time.
August 1997 – Rent out previous house to save money. Camp in Victorian house while re-constructing and managing graduate course work. Get fired from horrible teaching job = rejoice/panic.
September 1997 – Get hired to teach college English courses. Produce one poem per week for graduate school. Decide adding a baby would be fun.
1998 – Baby+Victorian House+Graduate School = Not Quite Enough. Sign on to be editor-in-chief of literary magazine. Type twenty page papers with baby on lap while shouting instructions to carpenters.
2000 – Graduate coursework done, time to sit for MFA Comprehensive Exams. Carpenter and painter make great nannies. Think to self – I could pass my exams and write my thesis if I had an office away from baby+carpenter+painter+MADNESS. Ask universe for magic.
March 2000 – Disturbing dream about the Space Shuttle landing in back yard.
April 2000 - Clear day. No wind. Carpenter and crew working. Sudden crack and hair standing up. Giant oak tree splits at the union and comes down – taking out an outbuilding and narrowly missing carpenter. Carpenter stands up, dusts off, grabs chain saw.
June 2000 – Outbuilding now studio courtesy of the Oak King (and State Farm Insurance, but really my carpenter).

And that is how I came to have a studio and office in an outbuilding. The space used to be a one car garage so it’s long and narrow. In my space I have all of my sewing equipment, my desk, plenty of cupboards, and my favorite books. I burn incense and play my music (which ranges from Loreena McKennit to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs depending on the day). I know my good fortune is courtesy of the universe and that my “room of one’s own” where I can do all manner of creative endeavors is rare and precious. My kids are not allowed in there except by invitation. Sometimes they stand on the outside of the doors and look in longingly as I shoo them out to play. Over the course of years I’ve decoupaged the walls with images and pictures - mostly gardens and topiary. I like color so I surround myself with it. I would never use such strong and feminine colors in a family space, but in my own space I can.

On one side there’s the remaining garage and on the other is an apartment where random relatives sometimes live. Glass doors open out into the garden and are framed by roses on one side and a rosemary bush on the other – the inside of my door is painted the exact shade of the roses courtesy of the Home Depot color-match system. My desk is made up of old doors I’ve decoupaged and painted then covered with glass – the legs are wrought iron window guards formed together with tubes in-between to hold rolls of paper. Everything in the studio is re-claimed from somewhere else – my desk was built in trade with my carpenter – he got my old wrecked Mercedes and I got this amazing work space. Because of the work I do I have a super-huge monitor and all kinds of office equipment hidden all over. I didn’t just clean my desk for the picture – I actually usually keep it like that as I get disturbed when things aren’t tidy and neatly organized. I love my space. It’s where my heart beats truest.


Debbie Kaufman said...

Wow, Michelle. What a Godly intervention to give you an office of your own. Hysterical, really!

Anna Steffl said...

Just finished a novel called "The Housewrights." It was full of carpenters and strange dreams. Alas, no space shuttles because it was 100 years ago.

Your name isn't at the top of this, but I knew the writer immediately. You have voice, gal. Beautiful voice.

Sally Kilpatrick said...

Love it, Michelle. I'll concur with Anna about immediately knowing who was writing. You're so good I think you could write a novel in the shorthand you use at the beginning.

I'm glad you didn't include a picture because I loved using my imagination to envision your unique workspace. Oh, and I resemble your remarks about not having enough on one's plate. I just started teaching Sunday School to 8th graders. And quickly learned that it's not wise to leave hubby alone in our Sunday School Room. *sigh*

Anyway, you keep plugging away. I'm going to stay on your case because you have a sophisticated chick lit voice that someone is eventually going to wake up and discover. The voice that should be the voice of chick lit because we're not all twenty-somethings who are obsessed with boys and shoes. (Okay, so we are, but we use language with a flair to describe our obsessions)

Marilyn Baron said...

Neat and organized? Wow! I'd like to know your secret. And I would like to see a picture of your space sometime.


Michelle said...

Ya'll are making me blush. Thank you very much for the nice words about my voice. And yes, Debbie, I do believe it was a Godly intervention - how else does such a sequence of events occur? The dream was crazy and in it my MIL had come to visit and was standing next to me. When she made a surprise visit a few weeks later I knew something was at work. I actually watched it happen from a window since I was looking at the fence being built and it was an amazing act of nature to witness.
Sally - just say no. :)

Tami Brothers said...

Hey Michelle! I can totally "see" your space. You really draw your reader in and make us a part of your scene, even when just describing your work space. You always have a unique flair to add to your posts. Thank you for sharing this! I'm jealous about the space and I didn't even know I wanted an office in an outbuilding!!!!


Maxine Davis said...


A studio of your own? How wonderful! Would love to have my sewing machine where it is easier to use - not that I would.

Everything about your place sounds great. It would make me want to stay in there all the time.

Sally Kilpatrick said...

Okay, Michelle. I see how it is. NOW you tell me to say no. I will keep repeating to myself that no experience is wasted if you learn something from it.

Michelle said...

Maxine - I actually get a ton of sewing done when business slows down. Having a dedicated cutting table and a table where all three of my machines are always set up makes it realy workable. You can get a lot of sewing done in 15 minute increments if you don't have to drag everything out! I find sewing is a good counterpoint to writing. It's nice to deal with creative endeavors in 3 dimensions.

Dianna Love said...

What an amazing journey of working on your home, but you've clearly bonded with your house and living space, which I think makes a big difference.

Your home and working space sounds wonderful. I'm looking forward to the story about the space shuttle landing in your back yard. :)

Darcy Crowder said...

Michelle. I LOVE your post. Anna's right, you have a very distinctive voice.

And how wonderful to have a full studio!

Ana Aragón said...


I saw who posted this (Darcy) and I said, "Man, she sounds just like Michelle."

Would love to have a full studio. I have an industrial Singer that's about 90 years old. Really. I had a drapery business when Mark was little and used to sew my fingers down to the bone. Needless to say, I don't have one drape, and haven't had one, in the last 13 years of houses. It's amazing how burned out you can get. Sometimes I wish I had the time to do some 3-D creating, though!

I really do want to see a picture of your "studio"!


Michelle said...

Hey everyone! I uploaded pictures of my studio to my blog. If you'd like to see what it looks like you can go to www.michellenewcome.blogspot.com

Ana - I would never be able to sew for anyone else. I would hate them and hate the project. Although, I have done all my own drapes!