A (Tiny) Room of One’s Own: Bruna Dantas Lobato on the Intricate Joy of Miniatures
Introducing When I’m Not Writing, a Series About Writers and Their Hobbies
Welcome to When I’m Not Writing, a new series in which we invite writers to tell us about the things they do when they’re not, you know, writing. Writers are not, as idyllically pictured, always tucked away in their garret, typing. They are out in the world, skinning their knees and putting their hands in the soil. And don’t you want to know about it? From lifelong passions to newfound pandemic hobbies to creative productive procrastination methods, the obsessions gathered here run the gamut, but they all pull back the curtain a bit and let us be a fly on the wall of extraordinary daily living.
There was a time in my life when I couldn’t go a single weekend without working. I was translating three novels and writing a draft of one. I was also in the process of applying for a notoriously difficult work visa for Individuals with Extraordinary Ability in the Arts in the US, which required me to prove my excellence and worth as an artist, and my ability to continue to practice my art for years to come. The more book contracts, published pieces, speaking engagements, fellowships, and awards I secured, the higher my chances of staying in my home in St. Louis, with my partner and my pet rabbit and my books.
So I worked, wrote and translated like my life depended on it, because sometimes it felt like it did. I didn’t have any hobbies. Every moment spent not working, watching a movie, talking to a friend, in the bath, or out on a walk, was laden with guilt. By the time my visa got approved and I received the precious piece of paper in the mail, my body had forgotten how to relax. Writing was adrenaline-fueled, full of fear, no longer fun. After more than two years of nothing but work, I had to relearn how to play.
I found some relief one day as I procrastinated and decluttered my junk drawer. I came across a piece of pretty floral ribbon I’d picked up at an antique store years ago and thought it would look lovely on the cover of a notebook. I pushed away my computer with my many book projects and cut up strips of paper, then made a cover with pieces of the ribbon and cardstock. Soon I had a whole stack of clothbound books the size of my thumb, and I loved flipping through their tiny blank pages, how neat and real they looked in one to twelve scale.
I made a set of tiny pencils with toothpicks and some yellow paint to go with them, then a jumbo popsicle stick bookcase to house them. In my junk drawer, I’d collected pencils from my bank, a broken necklace, paper scraps. A bottlecap and some polymer clay became an apple pie in a dish with fluted edges. A pencil ferrule became a soup can. Origami paper and jewelry findings became a lampshade and lamp base. Every random object I saw reminded me of something else, like a visual pun, a playful game of metaphors.
Whenever I got anxious and craved safety, I went to my desk and made a new object for the sake of it, until I had a full writing studio, complete with a mini armchair by a stained glass window. Dreaming up spaces like this, taking my time breathing life into them, felt very much like writing fiction on a good day, where I get to inhabit a space of my own making and give it an effect. I shaped the mood of the room. I played with color and texture. I added details for verisimilitude, like a touch of rust on the mini tin that held my writing utensils. I stumbled upon ideas I couldn’t have had without going through the process. And I had fun coming up with different ways of looking at everyday objects, working with my hands, and playing with my new toys. I was patient, detail-oriented, immersed, which I hadn’t been in a long time.
In that room, I was no longer an immigrant but an artist, a person, alive, seeking pleasure. I went back to my writing and translating hoping I was able to bring with me into these other rooms of fiction a renewed sense of discovery. And I was. I sat in front of my book projects and wrote away, curious to see what I would make.