After a week of sanding and refinishing we are left with gorgeous floors and pervasive dust. Think Pompeii without the tragedy. It’s everywhere. Every crevice, surface and mullion bar. When I finally tackled my office I started dusting off the books. It wasn’t long before I was dusting off memories, too.
I open Habibi and Yow and I’m four once again. My sisters hadn’t been born yet and there was all the time in the world for my mother to read me stories about Habibi and his mischievous dog Yow as they celebrated Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, built a sukkah and hunted for the afikomen at Passover. The ingenious Animal Lore and Disorder is from a decidedly simpler time. Its split pages kept me busy for weeks on end creating all sorts of fantastical creatures like the Ligaroo or the Dotah. The paperback poetry book my grandfather gave me lost its back cover long ago. But the poems have preserved his voice, deep and rich, tinged with the South and love for me as he read over and over the poem about the little boy with the hole in his “pottet.”
There are books from the days of reading to Elliot and Emma: The Tub People and The Ox Cart Man, Caps for Sale and Joyful Noise — a wonderful book of poems for two voices by Paul Fleischman. “We don’t live in meadows…cricket, cricket…or in groves….” takes me back to the nights of feet pajamas and bath-damp hair. The nights of one more story and one more kiss.
There are the shelves of writing books and Jewish books, favorite novels and biographies, a collection of quote books and James Lipton’s An Exaltation of Larks without which I would have never known that a group of auction bidders was called a nod and gathering of cubists was called a block. On the trunk are the alphabet books I began collecting a few years ago with the hopes of sharing them with grandchildren one day.
There are the tchotchkes and gifts, too: a clock my son made for me in metalsmithing, my daughter’s woodcut from her printmaking class. There’s the ivory samurai that sat on my grandmother’s dresser and the little buddha dish into which I’ve placed two stems of dates from Israel. The seashell shaped like an ear is from a writing workshop led by a wonderful teacher. Where the tiny pink rubber pig came from I have no idea but I’ve saved it as I have my bronzed baby shoe that now holds my paper clips.
What writer doesn’t have her toys, the sensory distractors that delight during those doldrums when words disappear? What did I want for my 40th birthday my sisters asked. A kaledescope I told them and they found me a beauty. Its incised brass tube is cool in my hand; the double disks of glass bits and threads create endless patterns of visual swoon. Deep down I’m still the kid who sat for hours with a book that let me create a dachstoise and a rhinomel.
I bought the glass pomegranate for its contradiction. It could be a paperweight but it’s actually a rattle. For adults. A little bead or stone inside the pomegranate bounces off its glass walls when I shake it. I love the defiance of it. How can the stone not break the glass? But it doesn’t. And so I shake away.
To my right, beside my file folders is a painting of a woman in shadow. Did the artist tire of the image, thus leaving the nude unfinished? Or is the painting finished as is, the woman emerging from the shadows of the artist’s brushes? She reminds me that we are all works in progress. Beyond her are photos of my family past and present.
A room of one’s own is so many things — sanctuary, work space, validation. It is a place to dream, to struggle, to create. It is the place where the selves of who we were and who we are hover all around us, holding hands.