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Weekly Wrap: My Space, Your Space

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Okay, let’s get right to it: I love Joey Porter. Steelers: 1 and 0.


Isn’t the whole Kesey family wonderful? They’ve been very good to our family and we still owe them a favor for letting us crash at their place in Beijing for 2 weeks.

(Kesey, Green-Hand, Bach-Boy, me)

Let me just plug his book one more time: NOTHING IN THE WORLD. It’s an eight-dollar paperback, so it costs less than, say, a chocolate éclair binge. But with Kesey’s book, you’ll feel more satisfied in the morning.


I want to thank all of you who have been reading and responding to my blog. If you’ve wanted to post a comment but felt too shy, just give it a try. I like to know who’s here, and I’ll always respond.

It was great to hear about where you write and how loud or quiet you like your space. Remember Greg talking about all the posters near his computer?

(Greg’s space)

I have so much admiration and curiosity about you organized-types with your color-coded notebooks. Wouldn’t life be nice if I were like that, too? Alas, I am not an organized soul.

What does my space look like?

My “office” is at one end of the kitchen. I face a window that looks out to the one and only thing I am anal about ”“ my wisteria tunnel. Two years ago, I found a ratty piece wisteria with rusted metal grown into the bark. I decided to mess with it.

I trim or tuck a branch until it grows in the shape I want. All day, birds and squirrels sit on it, and ants chew at the new leaves.

(wisteria tunnel but it’s too late in the season for any flowers)

But back to my “office.”

My space is disastrous, including the floor around it. As I write, I ball up pieces of paper and drop them on the floor. If I’m on a real writing binge, I’ll be ankle-deep in papers. The desk is littered with small torn off pieces of notebook paper, receipts and envelopes ”“ each with 3 or 4 very important words on them.

What else is on my desk? Let me dig around and see: Sunglasses, bright pink felt-tip pens, a post card from Pasha, another from my friend Stephanie (an oceanographer and physicist ”“ we’ve been friends since first grade), a cell phone no one has the number to, two cups of cold coffee, a Glade plug-in that’s not plugged in, and a packet from the Board of Elections (because I’m the Democratic Chairperson for the Primary in my district next Tuesday).

(don’t forget, all my American friends who are not felons–Tuesday = Primary)

(Regular readers know I fired someone’s ass from my team last year. As Chairperson, you can do that. And you should when the people there to help voters shout out racial and homophobic slurs like they’ve got Tourette’s.)

Oh, right, back to my “office.”

I sit here at my desk a lot but I don’t get much done because I’m very distractible. I like to poke around on the internet and read my mail and download music. I’m playing music right now, but we’ll talk about music on another day. That’s a promise.

I work in spurts. I start an interview, I start a book review, I have an idea for a new story, I have a finished story to hand Brad Listi but no photos to go with it, I have a list of photos I want to take. All of these things are written on the various torn pieces of paper, and sometimes the papers disappear under my computer.

I get most of my ideas in the car, and I often write while I drive ”“ again, on whatever slip of paper I can find, and I use the steering wheel so the pen won’t rip the paper. It’s funny, later, when you look at the words and half-sentences you’re willing to crash the car in order to capture: tattooed artificial leg. she should only shoplift beauty products. eats frozen guacamole with her hair barrette. what shampoo does Neil Gaiman use ”“ should ask him.

(Neil Gaiman–thanks for the photo, Robin)

Here’s what I like about reading your answers: I can picture you all a little more clearly. And when I read your stories and books, I’ll see something of the writer behind the scenes: Greg under the concert posters, Lance in his lair with Reese’s peanut butter cups, Frank typing away until some Balkan history comes along and distracts him, Aurelio in the guest house during the morning shift, Norman with a clipboard and a pencil, Stephanie taking a break with a good book, Joe trying to write anywhere at all ”“ and fast ”“ because someone’s on her way and knows how to get his attention, Robin surrounded by a hundred guitars, Gail in a quiet room with a giant dog, Maria at MacDowell and missing her heated floors and cherry blossom pink walls, Terry noticing absolutely everything around him that others might overlook, Patry filled with music and ideas, Peter surrounded by English gardens, and Noria in a room of oversaturated colors and Barnum’s odd ones.

For those of you who like to picture where people are when they’re not with you ”“ every Friday night, the Hendersons are at Chinese school. Some nights I do hall duty and tell kids, “Boo yow pow” if they’re running. (Not much I can do about all those kids skating on their heelies. I don’t know enough Chinese to say, “Knock it off.”)

Please tune in tomorrow for the debut of Frank Daniels’ Lit Riot. I invited Frank to stop by once a month because his bold, unfiltered style gives me goosebumps. Saturday, he promises to deliver a blistering diatribe about the publishing industry. What do I say about that? Bless him.

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  • Lance Reynald
    September 8, 2006

    you have no idea how hard it is to write without enough Reese’s.

  • PD Smith
    September 8, 2006

    Wisteria is one of my favourite plants. There’s a house near us that is completely draped with it.

    Are you learning Chinese? I’ve tried to learn more than once but found it too much of a challenge… Maybe I’ll try again one day. It’s such a fascinating country / culture…

  • Robin Slick
    September 8, 2006

    I always knew my fabulous collection of Neil Gaiman photos would come in handy one of these days. And I’m giggling over your thoughts on the subject — I must admit the very same one has crossed my mind as well.

    Not that I’m obsessed or anything (I’m really not, it’s all in good fun), but if you read his blog, he’s looking for dry shampoos and toiletries in one handy container you can mix with liquids, Susan…makes traveling on planes much easier. Though even I “blinked” when I read that he had to google what personal lubricants are.

    I mean, really, Neil.

    And yeah, I am surrounded by 100 guitars and two drum sets and oh my god, as of last night, a Hammond organ.

    Oh well. I never have to vacuum in here again. There isn’t any carpet showing….just a two inch walkway between instruments/computer.

  • Mary Akers
    September 8, 2006

    My writing space is too embarrassing to describe. But I will say one word: piles. Lots and lots of piles. They start out as neat little stacks of related items but when I turn off the light at night they grow and morph and turn into towering, shifting, unrecognizable things.

    If a desk reflects a mind, as they say, then mine is really cluttered. But then we knew that…

  • Frank Daniels
    September 8, 2006

    Wow. I never really noticed how beautiful a head of hair Neil Gaiman has. Stunning. And hilarious that you were thinking about his hair as you were driving, wondering if you should ask him what he uses to maintain such a lush mane. I rhymed! I’m a poet and didn’t know it!!

    Anyway, you’re description of your work area sounds exactly like mine, and since I didn’t really address the question on Monday(?), I’ll just fill in the blanks some…My desk is a $50 wal-mart thing that my late grandfather bought me right before I moved off to college 8 years ago. It has sharp edges and is really kind of uncomfortable in many ways but the sentimentality factor keeps it around, plus it serves its workmanlike purpose and that’s all I can ask of a desk, that’s all a desk should be, I’ve decided. On the desk sits a p.o.s. $5 lamp. It’s more of a lamp you’d find in a crappy dorm room lounge, but it does a great job of casting light, so it stays. Since my writing room is ia tiny space off the back of my garage, I justify smoking back here, as it won’t ever toxify my kids’ lungs. So I have a dirty ashtray on one corner with a pile of strike-anywhere wooden matches piled up around it. Then, the following: a pad of sticky notes, for writing down insane ideas and mailing addresses when I have to visit the post office, a pile of seven or eight CDs, a bag of pistachios (my favorite nut for snacking) and a cottage cheese container used for catching flying pistacio shells, a small spanish-english dictionary, a shitty HP digital camera, a pile of papers that I use for editing drafts of what I type–usually the only time I actually hand-write anything of any substance anymore, another stack of burned CDs (I’m starving and an artist–we must cut corners)a hardcover edition of Thomas Reed Whissen’s Classic Cult Fiction, a book that was like The Bible to me when I was between 18 and 27. And dental floss. I’m sick obsessed with flossing. On the walls around the room I have:
    -a radiohead poster (OK Computer)
    -a Nirvana poster (FOXES edition)
    -a Pavement poster (Crooked Rain)
    -a Van Gogh print of a field in late Spring ( a season I have aplied to it, though am not sure when it actually was intended to be–I know nothing of Dutch seasonal workings)
    -a framed Dali print of a “crucified” Jesus in some kind of 3D layout
    -a framed poster of a man smoking a cigarette wearing a plaid sport coat and tie–and his head is made of smoke. A girl gave me this poster 15 years ago and its been fucked up 50 dofferent ways (there is no longer glass in the frame, and the print itself has been torn right across the middle), but something about is just awesome
    -some original Steve Keene art
    -an antique mirror my mother gave me on a shelf that also holds various books and nicknacks, writing utensils
    -this really kind of bizarre mirror-esque framed light up pic of an NYC scene with the Brooklyn Bridge. You can turn a switch and the whole thing lights up. Wierder still, it has a volume control that you can adjust that simulates the sound of water in a totally unconvincing (and ultimately annoying after about 5 minutes) way. It’s a gift from my brother, and is the first time he ever really showed interest in my being a writer. So I keep it back here and marvel at its proximity to an Velvet Elvis.
    -a framed pic of my friend Deena’s husband (a Marine) rocket testing thier new attack helicopter, the AH-1Z Cobra (I only know what it is because it says which chopper it is under the pic)
    -a calendar with a bunch of different painted pin-up girls from the 40s and 50s in different poses.
    -a copy of Pablo Neruda’s “Poverty”, surrounded by pics of my wife and kids.

    There’s also a futon which I have in here supposedly for when I must take a break and lie in repose for a while as I let my thoughts refresh, but I always have it covered in books, papers and other such ephemera, so it never serves its stated purpose. Though one day I wear I’m going to clean it off completely and lie on it just to say I did.

    So there you have it. That was nice. A great way to get the writing juices flowing. Thanks for the opportunity and the forum, Susan.

  • Susan Henderson
    September 8, 2006

    Lance – I think I do know how hard it is. Do I dare admit the food I’m addicted to when I’m writing? Broccoli slaw (yes, there is such a thing) with cranberries, almonds and garlic dressing.

    Peter – Mr. Henderson speaks Mandarin – he had to learn in when he was in Taiwan, costuming operas. He says it’s the easiest language he’s ever tried to learn – no conjugating, no his and her objects, and the characters all make sense when you break them down. My kids are starting their 3rd year of Chinese, and in theory, I am, too. But honestly, I think I’m hopeless at it. I do speak sign language okay.

    Robin – Who says it’s obsessive for one to think about Neil Gaiman shampooing his hair while she’s driving?

    Mary – We should start one of those writers’ bands, called The Cluttered Minds. I’ll play tambourine.

    Frank – Isn’t it, though? I can’t even tell you how excited I am about your column tomorrow. It’s literary smackdown! I’m incredibly impressed that you have volume control on your light-up Brooklyn Bridge. I hope you’ll send me a photo of it.

  • Gail Siegel
    September 8, 2006

    I want to hear more about the tattoo on the artificial leg!

  • Greg
    September 8, 2006

    I can’t believe the Batch-led Steelers pulled it off last night. I’m a life-long Browns fan… grew up in NE Ohio and lived in Cleveland for a bit.

    Thanks fer posting that there picture of mine. My workspace looked like that for two years, and now that I’m in Chicago I’m flanked by overflowing bookshelves and sitting at a much smaller desk. Now I’m eye level with the butt-end of a box of envelopes. Let the inspiration begin!

    I don’t know this Neil Gaiman, but he sure looks dreamy…. Or to be dreaming of sunglasses in that picture. That would complete the leather jacket outfit.

  • Aurelio
    September 8, 2006

    I had to learn all the colors in Chinese when I worked on an animated film project over in Taiwan so I could direct the background painters – it was pretty fun and I have fond memories of my time there. And now I can say without hesitation, “Yes, I could eat Chinese food every day and never grow tired of it.”

    Your comment about “heelies” made me remember this pair of old metal skates I saw at a swap meet the other day. You know, the kind that used to clip loosely onto your shoes (and sometimes fly off at inopportune times). That’s what I had as a kid. Wow – they made a horrible metal-on-metal crapey sound when you skated that I’m actually nostalgic for. They also didn’t work very well, even on hills.

    I’ll have to get me some heelies.

  • Susan Henderson
    September 8, 2006

    Gail – Don’t you think, if you had an artificial leg, you might want to get it tatooed? My idea stopped there. Maybe you can run with it.

    Greg – I was definitely enjoying the fourth quarter better than the others. I have this bad habit of making Michael Jackson-like he-he-hee’s when we sack a QB.

    That dreamy Neil Gaiman also happens to be one hell of a writer. Next time you’re between books, I’ll give you a recommendation.

    Aurelio – Can you tell me the colors in pin yin?

    I’ve accumulated some not terribly useful things to say: Her name is Little Cloud. You like, no you like stacking dolls?

    When you get your heelies, I’d like to see the photo. Especially of the first day, trying to get used to them.

  • fringes
    September 10, 2006

    Glad to find another writer/blogger giving shouts to her favorite NFL team. But the Steelers? Argh.

    I was happy for Charlie Batch, and Joey Porter is the man, but, for the record, my son’s peewee team is also 1-0 against the Dolphins. Heh.

    Great blog you have here. Back to lurking…

  • wench
    September 11, 2006

    Chinese food. Neil. Two scrumptious things… I’m deeply jealous, as one of my goals in life is to get to visit China. Are they like Russia was towards Americans during the cold war? Do you get followed everywhere you go? I always fuigured Russia would have been the safest place to travel during the cold war… you’d have your own personal police escort everywhere, no-one would ever dare mug you… (Now who protects you from them becomes the question).

    Tattooed artifical leg, definitely worth crashing a car over. Was there a tattoo on the real leg the artificial one replaced? What’s it of? Where on the leg? Why, why, why?

  • Susan Henderson
    September 11, 2006

    Wench – China was amazing and crowded and polluted and people followed us to touch my boys’ hair and some people followed us to try to sell us t-shirts and postcards. On the part of the Great Wall where that picture was shot, a woman followed us for two hours to try and sell us something. We finally promised we’d buy something from her if she’d leave us alone until we got back down to the bottom.

    Those are great questions about the tattooed leg. It sounds as if it might be your story to write. I’ve used all the other ideas I listed, but that one never generated anything for me. I’m happy to give it to you.

  • Billy .
    June 6, 2007

    Hi there
    Glad to find another writer/blogger giving shouts to her favorite NFL team.

  • Susan Henderson
    June 7, 2007

    Hi Billy,

    I have yet to meet another person who loves football more than me. If I could be born again, I’d be a defensive coordinator.

  • […] Summer Vacation ’07 * Close Calls * Where We Live * Mistakes that Changed Us * Community * Hopeful * Taking Our Next Steps * Independent Streaks * The Tysha Effect * Joy and Pain * Our Signs * We Got Style * We Want a Turn * How We Make Use of Conferences * Our Controversies * Authors and their Hair * Our Lives in the 80s * Just Our Luck * Group Effort * Our 2 Sentences * How We Balance Our Time * Our Favorite Spec Fiction * Introverts at the Microphone * Our Unfinished Brilliance * Our Mothers * Places that Capture Us * Our High School Days * Our Hidden Selves * We Don’t Like Boxes * Our Disguises * Our Obsessions * Pummeling Ourselves * Who Owns Our Truths? * Our Shared Trauma * My Space, Your Space […]

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