Day Six – My Space to Write
In general, I prefer to write in the seclusion of my office at home with three of my best friends at hand. These include a dictionary, thesaurus and Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style,” often referred to as “The Little Book” amongst writers and journalist. While there is some clutter on my desk there is still plenty of room for my keyboard, monitor and a large cup of coffee (or wine depending on the time of day).
For me, four things are critical to creating an environment conducive to my writing experience, my library wall, a special photograph, music and a unique piece of art.
Looking over the top of my monitor I can see the upper half of my library wall bulging with various books on engineering, statistics, bibles and biblical reference materials. A favorite section is populated with my culinary text books, cookbooks and a couple books on smoking/BBQ. I’ve acquired my books over the last three decades or so and they’ve become familiar friends. Sitting atop the book shelves is a large photograph of my beautiful wife and I on our wedding day. It serves as a reminder of how very blessed I am and how much G_d loves me to gift me with such a wonderful person. Thoughts of her can transform my mood in moments.
Music also plays an important role in establishing a creative environment. I prefer music from the impressionist period such as that of Claude Debussy. It quiets my mind and soul, erasing trivial distractions inhibiting clarity of thought, thereby blocking out the noise of life that can give birth to “writer’s block.” Listening to familiar pieces can bring me back to a place where the creative process thrives.
My wife and I are art collectors. As you walk into my office, hanging on the wall is a glass-framed page from a medieval prayer book call the Book of Hours (circa 1450) typically written in latin. One of the earliest forms of art, before canvas or paper, are the illuminations (or graphics) in the pages in the Book of Hours. These books were hand scribed as the Gutenberg press had not yet been invented. Each page was manually produced by calligraphers on fine (animal skin) velum and richly illuminated with 24 carat gold leaf, flowers, and biblical characters by the best artists of the day.
In medieval times bibles were extremely scarce and “owned” by the church and secured behind bars in the sanctuaries, as commoners were not “worthy” to look upon its pages. The public was never allowed access to the bible in those days, enter The Book of Hours. The Book of Hours were largely owned by kings and queens, princes and princesses, knights and other offices of royalty. Wealthy women often received illuminated Books of Hours as dowry presents as they were quite valuable in that day. A complete Books of Hours well preserved and highly illuminated in today’s market can easily sell for over $250,000, which explains why I have only one page framed.
The contents of the book included a calendar of Christian holidays, lessons from the four gospels, Hours of the Virgin, Hours of the Cross, some penitential psalms and more. It was sort of the “poor man’s” bible of the day for those outside of clergy. The Book of Hours provided direct, democratic and potentially uninterrupted access to G_d, the Virgin Mary and the saints.
So why I wax on about this and why is this important to my writing environment?
This single page on the wall serves as a reminder of how precious and intentional writing once was, and the extreme amount of labor and care required to produce just one book (which was likely years). While the tools we have available today allow us to crank out lots of text in a short time, I need a reminder that my writing should demonstrate a thoughtful investment of time, self-discipline, respect for the reader, and reverence for the craft. This wall-hanging is material evidence of a deep abiding respect for what went on the page. That process of yesteryear goes far beyond mere writing or typing on a page, but demanded whole-hearted respect for the creative process and more importantly the final recipient of what is written. As creative writers we should exhibit that same respect.