Lidia Yuknavitch Describes Her Four Perfect Writing Spaces
“It would not be an exaggeration to say I have spent my life swimming in the art of others.”
MY WRITING SPACE IS WATER
The sea is the only place on the planet where I feel seen. I barely know what I mean by that sentence, and yet the sentence feels so true it makes my bones ring. When I stand at the lip of the ocean with my feet in the water staring at the horizon where the planet meets its own atmosphere, I feel present inside the motion of all things. I have lived next to the ocean before, but not as vitally. I am near enough to the ocean now that I can hear the waves pounding out their lullaby every night.
Strange cadence for slumber. Back to some breathable blue. Like a calling, or a siren song, or just my body bleating out home home home. I have written about water my entire adult life, the waters within, the waters without, metaphoric and figurative waters, symbolic waters, my life as a swimmer, tears, sweat, cum, rain, rivers, even the primal calm of baths and showers for me—how they calm my anxieties and douse my doubts. Still. I was born next to the Pacific Ocean. My daughter’s ashes have mixed by now with other ocean matter enough to make rocks, sand, sea stuff, star stuff. My son was born next to the Pacific Ocean. When I open the window in my writing room, I can smell and taste salt.
MY WRITING SPACE IS TREES
This house is nestled within a forest of Sitka spruce and miles of Alders. Elk, eagles, osprey, deer, hummingbirds, sparrows, bats and prehistoric-looking insects flourish. Yes there are black bears and cougars but I only encounter their scat, for the most part. But I remain hopeful. The forest floor is soft and wet and smells like life and death are not opposites, but woven into each other like lovers. If you let your imagination travel from dirt to sky, you will realize there are several different eco systems in a kind of ladder upward—whole worlds that carry on without you, mercifully.
Sometimes the Sitkas seem like sentries to me. Up until now, I have written from a place of introversion steeped in trauma and old fears and depressions spiked with anxiety. The fight for life has driven me. The ache to never surrender, in spite of my personal afflictions. For the first time in my life I am learning to write with less weight from the old pressures of the world pressing in, pressing down, the weight of too much too much too much somehow lifted or dissipated skyward back into the cosmos, keeping company with clouds, electricity, weather. I don’t know what mysticism is inside Sitkas and Alders, but I trust them with my life. The Alders have a reach to sky and a flurry of bloom that feels kindred. In the forest, the distance between tree and human is less important. I can stand silently with trees in a way I cannot with people. The trees breathing. Me breathing in out in out for the time being. Of course, the world calls me back in with frenzied frequency, but the trees remind me the gap between being and being.
MY WRITING SPACE ROCKS, SHELLS, THINGS ARE LIVING AND DEAD
The rocks are overtaking the desk. I used to write on a blood red desk, one I had for years. Five books came out of me at that blood desk. The desk is beloved to me, and yet, in this new part of my life, the part where I am aging toward sixty years, I have chosen to write on a black wooden desk. A big one. The desk is six feet long.
Originally, I thought all that writing space would feel expansive, perhaps my stories would transform, mature, become eloquent and wise. I put a small, elegant white plate with rocks and formerly alive creatures—a bumble bee, a crab, a dragonfly, clams, sea snails, pieces of wood—but the rocks have taken up peculiar residence, pouring over their containers, delighting in the pleasure of the new space around them. Look at this new desk! I understand how weird this will sound before I say it—I feel held. Rocks at my back. Rocks on either side of me. Rocks made from everything and everywhere in the world. I wonder if the room will fill with rocks at some point, overtaking the furniture, curling around my animal body until I become like them, nudging me now and then, reminding me that we are all always under adaptation, revision, transformation every moment of our lives, together, like things happen in fairytales, like how stories are born.
WHERE I WRITE I AM SURROUNDED BY ART
It would not be an exaggeration to say that I have spent my life swimming in the art of others. I would not be alive if not for the art of others. By keeping art always near me when I am writing, I can feel what it means to be a part of something larger than the hubris of a self. So many people who came before me made art. Paintings. Music. Dance. Theater. Writing. Film. Sculpture. Photography. Weaving. Beading. The impossible pulse of the desire to create.
Legions will create art after I am dead. That beautiful, chaotic, nutter, phenomenal ache to make art will go on, surging up through the oppressions and repressions and brutalities humans heap upon each other, carrying us when all seems lost, threading through grief and loss with breathtaking beauty, or bringing a laugh up your throat or a smile and comfort to you when you least expected it. For this I am profoundly grateful. That you all exist. I surround myself with the art of others as I add my small scrawl to the sea of us. Writ in water.
Thrust by Lidia Yuknavitch is available from Riverhead