The Writing Desk

Watercolors, paintbrushes, easels, canvas, and oils—a desk was not necessary. That’s all I needed from grade school into my late twenties. In the early 80s, as I applied to elementary schools for employment, I went late at night to my husbands’ office to practice on a typewriter, then eventually bought my electric one. Thank goodness it had a backspace that auto-deleted. This Marmaduke sat wherever I could find a spot.

Later on, during a short break between jobs, I decided to take two-semester classes, Writing 101 and Beginning French, and a six-week non-credit course in Creative Writing. I used the bar area in our kitchen, perched on a tall stool to do homework and write while my son was at school, and my husband was at work. By the late 1990s, I had acquired a simple smaller used office desk, with two drawers on each side that my husband and I shared. I began to write and paint less.

When I got a ‘room of my own’ as Virginia Wolf cried out that every writer should have,  I wanted my desk with privacy. Shortly after my husband and I drove back to Illinois to visit family. While there, I found this little treasure in the cellar of my grandparents’ farmhouse. It wasn’t exactly a writing desk, but it had history, a story. I toted the desk with four water-soaked legs up the stairs to a local wood restorer. I planned to pick it up on a future trip back to Illinois from Tucson. This piece was probably a hall table or a small kitchen side table. The restorer did wonders in reviving its pale wood to a walnut luster and its surface smooth as a worn stone. I used an old table chair (found in a barn) and this became my writing space. The desk was just long enough to house my small laptop, a notebook, pens, disks, and one cat, which much of the time sat on my notebooks. We both wrote happily in my studio with no phones, no TV, and no visitors unless invited.

In time, a piece of property became available two houses down the street from where we currently lived. We bought, remodeled, and added a studio off the master bedroom as before, but a bit larger. I seriously wanted to replicate my ‘room of my own’ and I now wanted a true writing desk. The little farm table could fit in the entryway. I shopped in person locally and in other states as I traveled. Online, mail order catalogs until one day, two years later, I found it from a pop-up advertisement on my computer. The depth of the desk was narrow which I liked. Everything looked as if it could be within arm’s reach with space in between. It had three file drawers, two smaller ones, and a long middle drawer with built-in wood dividers. I called Pottery Barn and indeed they had a floor model. I threw on my shoes and went to see. I chose the white wood and the desk was delivered within two weeks. I lingered in glorious hours and days arranging files of to-be-written novels, blank and filled notebooks, cards, pens, sticky notes, an antique magnifying glass, submissions accepted and rejected, past and present short-shorts, scribbles, notes and our writers group history and so much more. One of my favorites about the ‘look’ of this desk is three of the six drawers are louvered which match the master bath and closet doors. Such perfect planning, or a happy accident?

The second feature was the extra length of this desk. At first, I hesitated because this was uncommon for an office or writing desk. It turned out to be ideal because it lent itself to my new paper cutter, a few reference books, more cups full of colored pens and pencils, and most importantly, company at each end to muse and amuse as I write. 

Tucked In

I came across the paragraph below in an article from a year ago. I saved it because, at this time of year, I feel exactly like any of my friends above. It reads:

The winter solstice time is no longer celebrated as it once was, with the understanding that this is a period of descent and rest, of going within our homes, within ourselves, and taking in all that we have been through, all that has passed in this full year which is coming to a close… like nature and the animal kingdom around us, this time of hibernation is so necessary for our tired limbs, our burdened minds. 

Once again, the tail end of December is here, and it reminds me of a blog I posted a year ago on my personal website. I would like to repost with a bit of revision.

December achingly and brightly slides away, I nest into my usual non-quintessential self, retreat and withdraw inside my home, my studio, my sunlight, and my soul. Up until last December, I worked at the University of Arizona for thirty-three years and each year the ‘U of A’ closes its doors before Christmas and reopens after the new year.

During those early winter breaks, I found myself diving into projects such as closet cleaning, drawer rearranging, trying new recipes and revisiting old family holiday favorites, pushing or pulling big items of furniture to clean under and behind, organizing garage shelves, catching photo albums and scrapbooks up to date. In the last several years I began to notice a shift, the need to retreat for reflection and respite. Over time, my secular job allowed me to work fewer hours during the week leaving me much more time at home, and with Covid, more days than not. Then and since retirement a year ago, the above-mentioned tasks are done before the winter solstice is upon me. I find ways to sleep in, roll under the covers, and wait for the sun to spread across the room and onto the walls, waving a warm welcome not expecting me to reply in the least. During this year my husband and I began to stay up late, watching British shows, and favorite movies, a cat purring beside me in front of a warm fireplace. No reason, no thought, no malfunction, it’s just that I can.

I continue to keep the expected daily duties in check and spend more time outside with my two cats as we walk together and pace through the gardens and around the yard. Inside, floors are clean, pillows fluffed, fuzzy little lap throws refolded, and an extra cup of coffee in the carafe. No hurry. I imagine the bears and foxes snug in their dens, tails or paws curled and wrapped up to their noses. I stretch, do up a few dishes, enter my sunny studio and my eyes filter over the small table of alcohol inks, watercolors, paintbrushes, a writing journal, or a stack of books, and decide which to do first.

Monday, my husband turned another year older as I did earlier this month. This year truly brought changes for both of us due to the aging process and existing health issues that keep clawing away at our daily life. Now we are kept more on our toes and my sunny plans as mentioned sometimes have to wait a bit longer. As each new year is ready to begin, I am still ready to begin with the new month of January no matter what state I may find myself in. I am determined to be more in control of a schedule to help stay borderline and now focus on shorter distances rather than longer ones.

Like the earth and its companions, I take time to go inwards, to reset my clock, to revamp my spiritual self. Patrice Vecchione in her book Step In To Nature states “Time alone is the best way for imagination’s generative knowledge to become securely imprinted in the very sinew of self.” For me, I acknowledge a fresh year will arrive and am prepared to greet it like a new seed pushing through the soil, ready to climb and give back in whatever fashion I am capable of. Earth’s cycle I can count on for my renewal of self, find relief from burdens, and reach out for the gifts and promises to come.

Lost and Found

I would like to continue with ‘who am I/where I am from’ and tie it to the history of people with generations of storytelling and when those people are gone, perhaps you received something that belonged to them as to where they were from and something they loved. One of my passions is the restoration of pieces that did belong to my family or a ‘find’ belonging to someone I have never met. Even if not known to me, in their lifetime they had likes and dislikes, a style, a desire. Sometimes their story simply lies in a piece of furniture, lamp, or carved pretty box without a word.

Many of the pieces in my home have stories, those untold and those I have attached to them. ‘Where I am from and who am I’ can be seen in many of these scattered about in particular spots throughout. The story I’ve chosen to share is about this delightful chair I stumbled across in the mid 1990s.        

            Inside the threshold of my front door in Tucson sits an antique wicker rocker. Its body is solid as a stout farm woman—boxy bottom, firm legs, back slightly curved for a hug, (please, no one take offense, I am trying to use a metaphor here). I found this gem in Illinois at the annual Prairieland Steam Show held in a community of Jacksonville. This annual event draws crowds from counties all over the state. It takes months of planning and spreads across several acres of neatly mown grass. A partial acre is left untouched for one of the local farmers to showcase his Clydesdale and/or Belgian horses hooked up to harnesses to plow the field for planting as in the days before tractors. A shady corner is set aside for all sorts of miniature steam engines that tweet and puff and larger ones are on display in one of the side buildings. A huge barn sits center where the quilters are set up in former horse stalls along with other wares and homemade goods of jellies, canned vegetables, handmade rag rugs, carved toys, and much more from the local craft people. A nearby kitchen serves fresh ham and beans, cornbread, and a choice of apple, peach or cherry pies at noon. 

On that visit in September, my parents, son, husband, brother, and his family traipse by table after table and small vendor tents of every new and old item to be found within 1,000 miles and 150 years. The weather that year was perfect, no rain, no mud, and the sun broke through the autumn sky like a Rockwell painting.    

We entered the Steam Show through the threshing building where sorghum cane was being boiled and pressed to syrup and out unto the grounds when I spotted a flatbed wagon with ‘stuff’.  Big ‘stuff’. As in, trunks, furniture pieces, cellar ‘finds’ or barn ‘finds’. I noted a worn-out black wicker rocker and took a closer look. The fabric was rain stained, thin, worn threadbare, but the piece itself was in perfect condition. No cracks, no breaks, and the tightly threaded wicker ropes were intact. I walked on through the waves and willows of tables, and my mind kept drifting back to the wagon with that wicker rocker. By the time we had walked miles in a circle, bought sorghum, eaten ham and beans, and stuffed a bag of warm kettle corn in my bag, I was ready to go back to that wagon to buy myself a chair. My mind was made up.

A small travel trailer sat parked alongside the flatbed, a wicky–up tied to it for shade, and many more boxes and crates scattered around with ‘stuff’ on and in all of them. I stood at the wicker rocker and found a tag with faded ink that read $75. Giving it another look over, I then ask the first person I saw if this was his ‘stuff’. 

            “Naw, it’s his.” The man pointed to the little travel trailer and a tall lean man stepped out wearing a beard, straw hat, and bib overalls with no shirt underneath. I walked over to him and said, “Is that your stuff?” and pointed to the flatbed wagon.


            “Is that your rocker?”


            I fingered the $50 dollar bill in my jean pocket and looked him in the eye.

            “You take a $50 dollar bill for that rocker?” And held the bill in front of him.

            “Uh-uh. Today is a good sale on that chair.” I handed him the fifty and motioned to my husband to help me get the chair off the wagon. He rolled his eyes up until they disappeared in his hairline and came over to help.

            “How are we going to get this back home?”

            “In our truck of course. Why do you think we come back to Illinois in a truck?”

            Now it was my turn to roll my eyes upward.  Sheesh.

That long ago day, the old lonesome rocker waved me down as I went by, knowing it would have a new home and gladly welcome anyone to sit and tell me where they are from.

Who Am I?

I just recently subscribed to What drew me to the first post I read yesterday gave strict attention to writing a bio when submitting your work. How does one encapsulate oneself in a few words she asks? I have struggled with this for years, how to ‘nail’ myself down in a few words, a few sentences and how to do that? Reading dozens of other bios (and I still do), I worry wart over content, depth, possible arrogance, lack of an MFA, teaching in a creative writing department (once being a Phys Ed assistant, I will assume doesn’t count), and so on. How do I pose myself properly, interestingly enough, and professionally, as a knowing writer? There are many short versions on my computer. Many…yawn. Yet, I have tagged a required bio along with pieces I have submitted and yes, accepted and published.

The blog begins: Who are you? This writer mentions how we shift and change and we do throughout our life. I agree because our styles and choices mulch over time and are altered by unforeseen events, shaping us differently whether physically or emotionally. And if a writer, or an artist of any type, ever-changing events does have solid merit upon who you/me are at that moment and how these shifts can variate when expressing ourselves in our craft.

As I thumbed backward once again in one of my writing group notebooks, I knew I wrote a piece similar to answer this question who are you? I found it in May of 2013. The delight and acknowledgment are parcels of myself that will always stay with me.  

How exactly to take from this piece and write myself into a bio, well, a tiny flash of a writing challenge lay ahead if I so desire.

I am curves that shape the Mississippi alongside tall grass and tilted porches, and belong in Grandma’s apron of flour from freshly baked bread and blackberry stains.

I am a humid black night full of daydreams that change me deeper to me and hide from teachers that scowled and made me cry.

I am a small spring of fresh water chasing frogs through fields encompassed of endless horizons. I am a home somewhere over my shoulder.

I am silence and loudness chasing me in my room. I am words and watercolor that no one can take.

Sweet are the uses of adversity. – William Shakespeare

Embrece December

Everyone surely has played this game…take letters from a chosen word and see how many other words you can derive from it. December for instance—beer, crème, deer, red, and so on. True, embrace is not spelled with an ‘e’, but to make my point, embrece December. This month patiently waits on eleven others to begin its display of snowy, bristled, glittery, at times costly, sleds, skates, hot cocoa, icy roads, snowplows, and aromas that fill an entire house. One can do much with December.

For me and many in my family, it also ages us. We have several December birthdays. By now, that is the one thing of this eight-letter month I have come to despise. But as a kid, it held all the wonders I could shake in a snow globe. Holiday vacation from school was the first and foremost. I guess that is where my list-making began. I used my tablet from school and filled pages with things to do; an uncle who tied sleds behind his small tractor and pulled us over the icy country roads, skating on one of their ponds, digging tunnels through huge snowdrifts with cousins, following deer tracks across fields and over fences, spotting and counting bright red cardinals, glorious snowball fights, being fussed over in fear of catching cold, hot cocoa, warm fires in stoves, popcorn balls, chocolate fudge and peanut brittle, and more pages to be filled!   

Once again I look through treasures that have been passed on to me from the writing world of relatives. One of my paternal great-grandmothers began a diary which is entitled, Diary of Lois Orr, January 20, 1897. Here are a few passages from her December of that first year.

Dec 4- Froze up last night and the ground and trees are covered with ice. The men can’t hardly stand up.

Dec 8 – Perry took the carriage down to get it mended up a little. I made the boys some candy. I have got a white heliotrope in bloom.  

Dec 14 – Went to town. Roads bad and getting worse.

Dec 22 – Me and Perry went to town in the sled.

Dec 31 – gone.

Lois’s last entry was on March 14, 1936. She became ill and passed away eight days later on March 21 of what was thought to be scarlet fever. Her recordings reflect hardship, love, humor, slim times, craftiness, generosity, and much more.

My mother as she read through this diary took lines from the recorded 866 pages and wrote a very long poem to capture many of these moments.

Here is a passage to share December…

Temperature down

without fail, the wind will blow

a perfect gale.

My how it blew

this perfect hurricane

and right behind

snow, sleet, and rain.

Oh what chunks of gloom

The sky is sad, people sick

And the roads are bad.

Gather the eggs, the chickens fed

sat by the fire

a good book read.

The children are coming

husbands and wives

the kiddies and goodies

and forks and knives.

My what a blessing

we’ve had year to year

giving thanks

for just being here.

September – November

Today is the last day of November, representing for me the last day of autumn from three glorious months. Another farewell to fall. Although a few leaves are still rustling themselves from my one tree, the neighbor behind has two oversize Mulberry trees that are just turning. Fortunately for me, the wind usually blows them right into my raked yard. Does that count for extending my autumn?

Recently I pulled several photo albums off the shelf that was my mother’s. She had dozens of shoeboxes full of photos that had not found a home in her albums. I made that an early task after I brought them all to Arizona, to fill those empty pages. In thinking of fall, my grandmother had large oak trees on two sides of her property. In these pictures are many snapshots over the years of those trees. One is of my dad in his Navy uniform on an early chilly winter day, another of my son at four, raking and burning leaves with great grandma and step grandpa.

Another of my uncle in an army uniform holding a transistor radio. He was Grandma’s youngest and only boy. Of course, she spoiled him. But my point is never can I travel back in time without Grandma’s home, her gardens, her large yard, her daffodils, and her playing the piano or reading, to which these memories dominate my seasons.

The shoeboxes of photos were a treasure to draw from when in the workshop where I first met my soon-to-be, lifelong writers group to date. Until this class ‘writing from photos’, I had no idea what lay hidden. As I say goodbye to autumn, here is one of those poems.  

Autumn 1962

Under a broken sidewalk,

    roots of aged maple and oak trees

    crawl. Evening red, summer gold

    and slumber brown leaves smolder,

    raked into a pile.

Overhead, the winter sky approaches,

  the last of the leaves have vanished,

  their ashes rise sooty, sugary

  and damp.

Grandma grips the rake,

  fire glows in her eyes and

  under the leaves, embers

  burn her skin and presses

  against her stockings.

A photo is snug in her apron pocket,

   her only son, barely a young man,    

   stands below this tree’s molten red leaves

   like lava, waiting to say goodbye.

   His shoulders newly wide enough

   to carry the weight of his Army uniform.

Years ahead, she watches from the door,

  lends a hand and leans the rake against the

cold bark.

   Her black glove dangles with a hole in

   the right thumb, the last of the leaves,

   the last of her autumn held tight within

  her sigh.

Reflections of Change

Autumn has been kind and gentle to us here in Tucson this season. The nights have not dropped below 38 degrees, the days remain between the ’60s to mid-’70s. Evenings quiet with a slight chill to invite a log lite in the fireplace. During the day, I slide open a door and window to allow the warmth of fall to slip into the house.

As I read through others’ blog posts, and read emails from friends or family, those close to my heart or those of new acquaintance, worries wedge in of health, aging, close calls, and uncertainty. I realize at this age in my life, and looking back, my growth has been like a small tree starting its place in the soil. Each year as I have grown, I grew and gained more limbs and vibrant leaves. Each leaf represents those I have gone to school with, worked alongside in various jobs over many years, relatives I have known since birth and now long gone, introductions to strangers that became a delightful newfound friendship, children, nieces and nephews, and anyone else that drifted onto my path. These leaves became thicker and denser with time, but at a certain point in a year, a certain point in life, they drop and flutter to the ground one by one.

Last Friday Jackie speaks of relationship love, child love, animal love, and sister love; all of which are bundles of leaves clinging to a branch, giving us beauty in small doses when we look closely.

On Monday, Diana speaks of gratitude in nature. She reaches toward our natural beauty as a solid substance, knowing nature withstands what we as humans cannot at the times we are weakened by uncertainties that spring up.

I speak of today, the moments that melt into the sound from our very close friend painting my husbands’ car shop, doing repairs in the house and around, tasks that my husband cannot do right now. A friend who didn’t drive down the road or across town to our home, but drove the long distance from Missouri to assist. The motion of self-sacrifice is one of the biggest gifts to give and receive. Like part of a tree, leaves filter through the seasons, and we season with the stream of life.

Take a moment to peer closer at one of your reflections, write a gift you can give to someone, write the gifts others have given you with their time and gather the leaves that rustle with you on your path.  

Hair Block

When I first took writing more seriously, I soon became familiar with the term ‘writer’s block’. I felt instantly intimidated by these these two words. And all the years after, and today, there it is, ‘writer’s block’. Many professional writers we read take a stab at describing their experiences with this neat little term. I felt I was subtly convinced I had a serious problem. In the past, if I sat down to write and didn’t come up with anything, I assumed it was because I just didn’t want to.   

Here is a description from the internet: Writer’s block—wanting to write and not writing—is a persistent problem that every writer (yes, every writer, even Stephen King) deals with. At its simplest, it manifests itself as a lack of ideas. What do I write about? At its most pernicious, writer’s block can convince you that you lack what it takes to be a writer. We’re here to tell you: that’s simply not true.

See here, there is a cure!

I must tie this into a more serious, actual, problem for me right now. I call it ‘hair block’. I have not been to my hairstylist for over three months. I think this issue began during the onset of Covid in 2020. Life shut down and stayed home. This was a set-up for things to come, to realize certain things were not just as bubbly important any longer. Laugh if you will, but I have a small photo album of all the hairstyles, colors, blonde streaks pulled through those head squishing rubber caps, foil wraps, flips, shags, perms, and so forth BECAUSE my hair was very important…it had to make a statement.

Currently, bobby pins are my coolest companions. Like sitting down to write, I stare in the mirror several times a day and go blank. Do I worry? Nah, just as in writer’s block, there is a cure, but my hair story is sure as heck dull. I know the novelist of ideas will come to me as to how I want my next haircut to represent me and I will step with glee with another short story of hair flair.

Nature in Flight

I very recently returned to taking daily walks again, and shame on me once more, for dropping it over a year ago! On my walk yesterday morning I noticed a large dark chocolate color hawk sitting on someone’s backyard chain link fence. He was a beauty. He had a bit of a lighter brown spread across his thick chest. I was afraid if I took my phone out to take a picture, this hawk might think I was pointing with something else and I did not want to interrupt his morning coffee break or my chance of pleasure. Once I got home I looked through the web for hawks in southeastern Arizona and did not find one exactly like this fellow. A Harris hawk came the closest, but still not the same markings.

Neighborhood hawks have been common for years in our area, swooping in to wait and watch for one of the hundreds of Mourning or White-winged dove. These predators are either a Sharp-skinned hawk or Cooper’s hawk or perhaps both, their identity very similar.  At times one will park on the side of my birdbath, take his dip, then fly back to a branch to wait. Such stern patience.

When my cats were smaller, I felt one of these hawks could easily carry my little friend off, and if I spotted a landing, rushed to the kitty to bring it inside, pointing and repeating “bad bird!” My cats have always been indoors, but I  allow them out only when I am with them and then tote under each arm to bring back inside against their exploratory wishes.  

The years we boated on Apache Lake, Red Tail hawks flew over the water like a glimmering thread, pulling their wings into the side and then out, coasting for miles. While we anchored and soaked in the sun or cast a line, their flight path were like spools unwinding, over and over, circles drifting wider and broader. Always as our eyes floated with their pattern, their soaring would take us by a nest of a Bald Eagle high up on a rocky cliff. We let the Red Tail depart, our eyes fixed on the nest with our binoculars.

I am not a professional bird watcher by any means, but like a living being, each has their personality and their reasons by design in doing things their way. Whether I walk our local River Path where coyotes, rattlesnakes, javelina, and various hawks roam, or through my backyard, both are notably full of nature. And when I walk with my cats, we can be surprised at different times of the day by what may be visiting.  

Over the River and Through the Woods

My girl cousins and I would sing this song on our way to Grandma’s house where she lived in the summers into early fall with her second husband. Four of us bounced abroad in the back seat of either my mom’s large and long Oldsmobile or my aunt’s blunderbuss of an Old’s. We changed the words to the song depending on what we saw out the window; Black Eyed Susans, swaying Golden Rod, last of the season’s butterflies, deer coats molting from their summer red to brown, easily blending into the surrounding woods as camouflage and colder weather protection.  

You no doubt picture four little girls, but by then, we were in or out of high school. Something about riding crammed in a wide back seat with moms or aunts behind the wheel brought childhood behavior and moods back. Both of our moms were lead foot drivers and the autumn leaves would spit out from behind the rear tires and swirl into little cyclones before settling back into the three-track dusty road, or on the many little one lane bridges that crossed several creeks. We sang our song of expectation.

This past Monday was a perfectly planned autumn drive. My husband and I and two dear friends packed our lunches, plus deviled eggs, a thermos of coffee, and freshly baked Iced Apple Cider cookies. We headed southeast towards Parker Canyon Lake. The lake is a reservoir formed by a dam in Parker Canyon at the south end of the Canelo Hills in southwestern Cochise County. Parker Canyon is a tributary to the Santa Cruz River in the San Rafael Valley. Natural springs crisscross the road, Collins Spring being one of the longest where tall Cottonwoods line up in their newly dressed autumn gold.

Our trek took us over a portion of the Santa Rita mountains with old mines, high flatlands of working ranches with cattle and horses in Sonoita, and vineyards through Elgin toward the backside of Ft. Huachuca in the Coronado National Forest in Cochise County. A two-lane paved road led us through these fabulous valleys and grasslands, horses grazing to either side, cattle laying amid the tall grasses, their front legs tucked under. Wild turkeys roamed in the fields around them, heedless of their differences in size. Goats, llamas, and chickens shared small pastures, a donkey hanging his head over the fence to chat. Gray squirrels skittered up pinon trees and scrub oak showing their deep gold and red leaves. Ducks and osprey skittered across the lake, ruffling up the water while two separate fishermen, one in a bass boat and the other with his feet propped up on the rail of the dock with his fishing line glistening in the blue soft lap of the lake.  

It was a day of no rush or worries. Foods taste fresher and crisper outdoors, the air is pure and the sun hugs our shoulders. We eventually packed up our lunch goods and headed back toward Tucson. No hurry. These types of drives are easy on the eyes, they relax the constant motion and notions that flog us when at home, work, or doing whatever our daily needs are. We can sit at ease, hum a tune, and enjoy ourselves over a river and through a wood.