Is it better to work in a small space that is shared with others or to work alone in a room of one’s own? It’s a question I ask myself often.
Sometimes, I just can’t get to listing books because projects like this one are spread out all over my “office” [read: dining room table]:
Like all fourth graders in the state of California, Tom has had to work on his “Mission Project” these past few weeks. The Mission Project is a unit of study on the California Missions and their role, for better and for worse, in shaping the state of California. Each student writes a report (three pages) using research culled from library books on one of the many Missions in California. Tom’s report even has to have a bibliography — his first encounter with documenting the sources of his research. After the report is written, the student makes a model replica of his chosen Mission. Tom chose Mission Santa Clara de Asis because Thoughtful Husband and I were married in this church aeons ago, and we both attended college at Santa Clara University, on whose campus the current Mission sits.
The styrofoam Mission kit, paint, roof tiles, and fake bushes have been filling up the half of the dining room table (which I use for book work)for days now. I am happy to report that the project, due tomorrow, is finally finished. Tom feels a great sense of relief at finishing it and a little sense of pride for learning how to wield a hot glue gun. Bookish mom that I am, I feel a little sense of pride that he wrote a three-item bibliography. Watch out Gary Kurutz! I’ve never really liked art projects as learning tools (because mine were always awful when I was a kid), but since this one also involved a written component, let’s hope Tom retains a bit of California history while we’re at it.
My workspace is tiny, a three foot long desk tucked into a corner next to one end of the dining room table. I often use the table to spread out the books I am cataloguing and the reference books I’m using, and then clean it all up before the kids get home from school. I’ve used the china hutch next to the table, too, to stack books. I frequently wish I had a bigger space, like an entire room or an office or an open shop, to do my work. Look at this spread below and you’ll see what I mean:
When I work here, I frequently get up to cook, to throw in a load of wash, or to stoke the fire. Often, children — my own plus the triplet neighbors — run around and hide underneath the table while I am trying to work. It is not always conducive to the calm and quiet atmosphere that say, a room of my own, filled with floor-to-ceiling bookcases and soft lighting would create.
Reading two of the many books my family gave me for Christmas made me feel a whole lot better about my tiny and very domestic workspace. Two of my favorite successful women also used very small areas in their homes to achieve much greater works than what I aspire to do here. Renowned illustrator Tasha Tudor paints at her kitchen table, and did so even when her four children were very young. The table was sometimes cleared off for other things, like baking:
Later, she’d clean up and out would come the art supplies! Look at the photo below. The curtains and window are the same as in the illustration above:
From The Art of Tasha Tudor, by Harry Davis
(Aside: I would have scanned these instead of just photographing them, but with the Mission Santa Clara sitting on my table, I’ve no room to set up the scanner today!)
And, Laura Ingalls Wilder composed all eight of her wonderful Little House books at a small desk in a tiny sitting room that was part of her bedroom. In Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Biography, William Anderson describes how, even after achieving great fame for her stories of pioneer life, “Laura still wrote in pencil, on lined school tablets that she bought at the grocery store for a nickel apiece. She wrote when she could, between fixing meals and washing dishes and other housework.” (Oh, does that remind me of myself — except for the fame part!)
As a result of learning about Tasha Tudor’s and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s work from the heart of their homes, I’m rethinking my attitude towards my workspace today, and I’m full of gratitude. It’s raining and windy today, and I didn’t have to leave my house. In fact, there is a fire burning in the fireplace across the room that puts out the most lovely warmth and light. How many offices have that? Sure, I’ve got to clean it all up each and every day so Tom and Huck can do homework and we can all sit and eat dinner, but it’s nice to be able to do all of these things I love in the same place. If I ever do get an office someday, this table, whose sentimental value is dear, is going to be my desk!
See you in the stacks!