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Since Lighthouse moved into the 7,000 square foot house at 1515 Race, many of us have had the pleasure of working beneath the creativity tank that occupies the desks in the attic (also known as the ballroom, the library, the writery, the writerspace). Rudy Melena, one of the occupants, offered up his thoughts on a first season spent upstairs. Thanks, Rudy!
In the Attic, by Rudy Melena
I’ve secured a desk for three months on the third floor of the Milheim Mansion, the new Lighthouse. I’ve completed six weeks in the attic, as I like to call it (It’s actually a beautiful ballroom space). This is what I’ve learned about myself as a writer and about the process of growing into a space.
In the beginning, as I sat at the desk, I was very much aware of my surroundings. From the south window, the Colfax side, I saw customers entering Pete’s Kitchen with its white, slant-roofed addition, the foot traffic along Race Street (the woman pushing a baby carriage in pink hot pants past Mama’s Cafe), and the patrons, in various degrees of sobriety, leaning against the wall of the Satire Lounge, but I digress.
If you sit in the chair long enough, the light in the room changes as weather and time course past the house. As the fall season pulls the sun further south, I turn on more lights in the late afternoon.
Periodically, I tiptoe around the room, exploring and observing, the three-foot-high attic doors with the signs WEAK FLOOR DO NOT OPEN (will the weight of the opened doors collapse the floor or will it give way if I enter?), the bathroom with white, paneled walls, the shelves of books categorized into poetry, fiction, self-help, and literary journals, and the shape of the room with the slope of the roof influencing the cast of the walls.
I explore the kitchen area with sink, mini-frig, and microwave. Upturned coffee cups, belonging to writers I never see, fill the dish-tray. A bottle of Cupcake shiraz stands one third full on the counter (Notice I didn’t say empty).
Initially, I’m nervous about the amount of writing time this contract would open for me. No distractions like mowing the lawn back at home or putzing in the garden, no meals to plan and cook, no guitar to practice, and no fixer-upper projects. I still haven’t fixed that leaky faucet nor washed the car nor painted the eaves, but again, I digress.
I stall and distract myself by preparing a cup of tea, adjusting the thermostat, sending a text to my wife, erasing email from my phone, etc. etc. Ah-hum.
While reading pages (another veiled stalling tactic) from Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell, I come across the line: Fiction is the record of how a character faces a threat or challenge and… a spark catches, connecting that dictum to some aspect of my story.
Pulling out my journal, I read the previous day’s offering (actually, an activity further down the scale of stall-linquency). A new idea percolates, a solution to an awkward situation my protagonist is mired in becomes clear, new scenes, new characters, or feasible denouement materialize, and … I’m WRITING.
I’ve discovered the sharpness of my writing increases exponentially with my time in the chair. My longest session was the full five hours, and it was easily my most productive. The longer I sit, the easier it becomes to tune-out the self-critic. The act of writing becomes less mechanical and the words flow as I’m immersed in a scene and feel the desires of the characters.
My dad told a story about the time he went to the movies as a kid. On the big screen, with deadly intent, a villain snuck up on a cowboy hero. My father felt the action so deeply, identified with the main character so intensely, he shouted, “LOOK OUT,” in the crowded theatre.
That’s kind of what intense writing feels like to me, a hypnotic state I’ve experienced a handful of times in my writing life.
All in all, I’m sure I will continue my time in the chair at Lighthouse through the winter and hope for that altered state of consciousness.
Has the composition of this essay distracted me from my main work? You betcha, but I have hours ahead of me, so no worries.