The Place Where I Write: Kathleen Flenniken

I’ve pushed some papers aside to write this.

I well understand the romantic appeal of the writer’s space. For the first ten years of my writing life I had the computer, the counter by the stove, the dining table—which served, but were public spaces I shared with my family and the activities of our household. In 2005 I set aside funds from an NEA fellowship to claim the main-floor office in our house in residential Seattle—for myself. I announced it publicly. And though my husband snuck back into the office for a couple of years, I finally insisted, as I have with few matters in our family life, on keeping this room for my own.

It’s a long narrow office on the north end of the house, formerly a kitchen. A Formica counter wraps along two walls and creates two work bays (which made it harder to justify claiming it all). The rest is bookshelves, filing cabinets, cupboards. My desktop computer, with an extra-large screen, takes up one corner, and double-hung windows light either side. The north window faces our neighbors—our friends—and I sometimes watch them leading their lives, sometimes watch my daughter through my window and theirs as she negotiates her place in their family. The east window looks through mahonia (where hummingbirds linger year round) and a Japanese maple. I watched robins build a nest in the maple one summer and raise their four young. I watched crows pick off every one.

At first glance, you might think I don’t value my office. There are papers in piles and frank disorder, stacks of books on the counter and floor, bookshelves crammed two deep. The recycle box is overflowing. Every horizontal surface is covered. There are probably three dozen pens lost amidst the papers. Photos and posters, bulletin boards—all chock full. A cluttered desk signals my cluttered mind, yes. But it’s nobody’s nuisance but my own. The best feature of my office is the door—not to shut myself in—I rarely do—but to shut the door to visitors. I don’t have to disturb my mess, my mind, my work-in-progress. I don’t need to apologize or feel guilty.

And there’s no space to lay out the bills, write checks, organize coupons, cut out valentines. This room is for writing (and my great distraction, e-mail) only. I mark my territory. My thoughts. Mine. I can come back to them tomorrow and they will be here, as untidy as anything worth exploring.

Kathleen Flenniken’s new collection of poems, Plume, was reviewed in the November/December 2012 issue of Orion. Her first collection, Famous, won the 2005 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry. She lives in Seattle with her husband and three children. Image by Rosanne Olson.