November 11, 2011 – Sarah Returns and a Nook“You’ve got to get out of that place,” Sarah tells me. “You should move to Cuzco!” She’s warned me that she’s going to keep up with the Cuzco theme at least eight more times over the course of the night. She’s just come from a month long stay alternating between doing volunteer work and hiking various trails including the Incan trail to Machu Picchu and a four day long Salkantay trek.
She also knows that I feel more myself in the mountains than in the city. That the high altitude, intensely blue sky, ever-present sun, star speckled cool nights and the dry air make me rejoice. My heart, apparently, stayed behind in Colorado. I might actually have sold it at the flea market during the 2011 Relentless Purging of Things and it’s now decorating the mantle of some ski town chalet and pining for the rest of me. That’d at least make for an interesting short story à la Edgar Allan Poe. The Tale of the Tall-Tale Heart.
But I have been struggling with Lima. I’ve been wrestling with my idiosyncrasies. I’ve felt out of place, unproductive, homesick.
When I’d gone to Cuzco in July it had felt to me like coming home. Sarah and I had talked about that when she and I met in September and I’d told her--this New York City gal--that she’d love Cuzco. That the place was magical and utterly amazing. She took a while to warm up to it. But in the end, she found it hard to leave. As I had.
She’s in town for less than twenty-four hours and I get a vast majority of that time with her. So we’re catching up. I’ve given her the recap of my past couple months and voiced my current frustrations.
“You’ve got to get out of that place,” she says, meaning out of my apartment, out of this place I can’t quite connect to, away from the noise and distractions.But I want to give the city a shot. I don’t want to run away each time I feel locked in, closed up. If I can’t find my own niche here then the problem is most likely inside me and not about where I am.
When my brother lived with me I’d felt similarly displaced. Before he arrived, I’d sit for endless hours on my living room couch staring out the window at the tall trees or at my computer screen. Occasionally I’d actually type a sentence or two. When he moved in, he sat on the couch to watch movies and play video games and I no longer had a study. I’d climb up and down the stairs mournfully quoting, “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” It seemed apt at the time. Telling myself to quit being so melodramatic I decided on a new course of action. I created a nook. I bought a chair from the thrift store and set it in my room so I could see out the window and have an (mostly) undistracted environment in which to work.I finished the fourth draft of one book and the first draft of another from that chair.
I know I need my own nook here. A sacred spot where I can go to make stuff up. “I’ve just got to create a space there in the apartment for me,” I say.
“Why not find a coffee shop? Or go to the library?” Sarah suggests.These are great ideas. There are a couple coffee shops within walking distance of my apartment and I love libraries, but actually have no idea if Peru even has any. And then there’s my paranoia, brought on by having heard horror stories of many thefts, which has made me reluctant to venture out with my computer. Truthfully, in the end, I like to work from home. I like the privacy of near absolute solitude. There’s a comforting nourishment from being only a room or two away from the kitchen. In public, people tend to talk to me, especially if I’m a regular and they’re a regular. I need a No Talking Zone. I need to be able to make funny faces without having to explain myself and to act out dialogue without having to say, “Oh sorry, I was just having a conversation with myself to see what I’d say in this particular situation, I wasn’t calling you a worthless bum.” Most of all, I need the reclusivity to stare out at the world undisturbedly seeing and unseeing with only my thoughts running rampant around.
I need a work space. A haven. A place to call my own. A quiet spot where I can go, as my sister-in-law once said, “to be a hermit, lock [my]self in [my] house and get to know the people in [my] head.”I’ve fought the idea of making my bedroom into my work area because being in there behind that closed white door feels too much like punishment. “Go to your room, young lady, and don’t come out until you’ve changed your attitude.” A couple times when the house was overrun, I’ve gone to sit on my bed and tried to hash out words. But I couldn’t sit there in a way to see outside. The walls closed in too quickly and I gasped because my soul can’t bear to be caged.
“We have a third unfurnished room,” I tell Sarah. “I’ve been using it for my workouts and I’m trying to figure out how I can make a desk in there.” I’m resourceful. After all, I did fix a toilet plunger thing with floss once. My engineer Dad (and MacGyver) have proven to me over and over again that all the tools you really need to create anything in life are; duct tape, coat hangers, chewing gum and a Swiss Army Knife. I fully believe this. So in an effort to spark creativity I occasionally walk through the house looking at things and wondering how I can transform them to serve me. My inventory list so far is: some empty boxes, a couple mismatched suitcases, an ironing board, some plastic coat hangers and one unfurnished room. It doesn’t seem like much to work with. I should have brought duct tape with me.“Just buy a desk,” Sarah says. “It’d be worth the expense. I know from having lived in New York that getting furniture to an apartment can be tricky, but just pay someone, I’m sure they’d deliver and then you’d be set.”
I’m not against buying things, but I like to use what I have if I can. Also I’m a little limited on funds. Yet, talking with Sarah has reinforced my belief that I need a nook pronto. As G.I. Joe said, “And knowing is half the battle.” Taking action is the other half.“I think I might. I’m going to do something,” I tell her. I promise myself. “I have to. I can’t bear to waste my time here. I wouldn’t want to look back on this part of my life--with me having the time to write, like I’ve always dreamed of--and know I hadn’t taken full advantage of the opportunity. I need a schedule. I need to feel like I’m working. I have the time, now I just need to create some consistency, the best environment.”
“You should move to Cuzco,” Sarah says, getting close to her quota.I smile. But I’m not sure I see myself there. I don’t. Sometimes I don’t see myself here either. But it’s hard to argue with my actual presence.
We wine and eat the night away. We laugh and talk. We meet up with some of her friends and eat some more. Eventually we shuffle up to the apartment, whisper our way inside, try to keep from waking Katrina, and enjoy each other’s company for a bit longer before heading off to sleep and snatched at dreams.The morning comes too quickly. Sarah has a nine o’clock flight and a taxi is coming for her at six. It arrives five minutes early. I’m impressed. We take the elevator down and I stand in the drizzle until she’s inside the cab. I wave after the retreating taxi and then go back upstairs to catch a quick hour and a half of sleep more. When I’m up and trying to decide if I can actually be productive I go stand in the third room. I know the key to my puzzle is in the smart use of the ironing board. I’d checked it over the other day to see if it could be lowered. The answer was a no go. I want at least a somewhat ergonomically correct arrangement. Today I put my hand to my chin and gaze. Maybe I can balance boxes or suitcases and stick the folded board atop. Drawn, once again, to the ironing board, I lean over and look at its undersides. I obviously hadn’t checked it very well, because now I see that it does adjust levels. I’m ecstatic in a self-contained way. Oh Jubilation.
When she’s back from her morning class, I double check with Katrina that she won’t mind me commandeering the room. I try to hint that I need that space to be my own, selfishly my own. Unshared. Mine.
I steal one of the chairs from the living room and lower the ironing board. I gather my dictionary and journals and my computer and set up shop. I bless Sarah for helping stir me to action even as I wish her safe flight and good adventures. I close the door behind me. It’s with a mind-filling relief that I don’t find myself imprisoned in this room.
So I sit here in my nook. Alternatively typing and staring out the window at the side of the building and a small slice of road, grass, tree and sky. I can work here. I can write here. I can live here. For now.