The couch and ottoman in my writing studio are the burnt apricot color of Berthellina ilisima, one of my favorite species of sea slug to find while tide pooling in the Sea of Cortez. The couch—a gift from dear friends—is embellished with bright curls of embroidery not unlike the frond-like gills that these sea slugs use to siphon oxygen from seawater. It’s my island in this small space. The water surrounding it: stacks and stacks of books.
My current project draws eclectic inspiration—from Japanese beetle hunting to ecological restoration, twentieth-century French poetry to bio-inspired robotics. I like to think that the general disarray is a purposeful metaphor: for me, one of the richest territories for exploration is that of synthesis, discovering and reimagining the connections between seemingly unrelated subjects.
From the time that I was a child, I’ve never felt more myself than when outside in the physical elements. Windswept. Sunburned. But while I’m writing I find that, like the sea slug, I’m a surprisingly delicate creature. My body needs to be comfortable, loose. Writing a first draft while lounging allows me to attempt to engage in the kind of reverie Bachelard speaks of when he writes, “We shall see that certain poetic reveries are hypothetical lives which enlarge our lives.” Which is a reminder to me that the act of writing is never separated from my life. Instead, it’s an intrinsic part of the begetting, curating, and refining of a rich interior life—intellectual, creative, expansive—that sometimes results in words being placed on paper in a way that resonates, sometimes not.
This probably makes writing sound like some sort of dreamy head trip. It isn’t. Trying to relax my body is the antidote to a kind of searing intensity that sometimes makes me feel like my brain is actively short-circuiting behind my eyes. To assist with this delicate balancing act, certain talismans have their place in this space: a series of hand-cast erythrocytes, trilobite fossils, an oil painting of a spot-fin porcupinefish, a wind-up chameleon, photos of my husband and daughter, a picture of my family at the summit of Mt. Chirripó. All gifts from, or reminders of, people with whom I have tremendous personal connection. Their very presence in this space engenders intimacy. And they are a very visible reminder that what I most aim for in a writing life is the chance to connect, to communicate.
This writing space is temporary. The bright fuchsia bougainvillea outside the window has been shorn. And soon I will be leaving, taking the books, talismans, and sea-slug couch with me. At some point it will find a more permanent reef. Until then I wake up early, put my feet up, and get to work.
Katherine Larson is the author of Radial Symmetry, winner of the Yale Younger Poets Prize and the Levis Reading Prize. She lives in Tucson, Arizona. Her poem “Coriolis” appeared in the January/February 2013 issue of Orion.
Enjoyed all the biological references in this piece, Katherine. Sea slugs are such a wonderful and underrated denizen of prose.
I also like synthesis – it is one of the greatest methods of communication -“Intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in your mind at the same time and still function.” (F. Scott Fitzgerald). Synthesis lifts this concept higher.
A delightful and inspiring image of the act and of writing and it’s enduring lure. Thank you, author and commenters alike.