Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Room of One's Own

Whenever my mom leads writing workshops, she often has the participants do an exercise called A Room of One's Own.  (The title is from Virginia Woolf, though she has no other influence on the exercise as far as I know.)  The guidelines are simple; describe a room that would be yours alone, and perfectly suited to whatever need you wanted addressed.  If you're lucky enough to already have this room, describe it.  If not, describe the ideal in as much detail as you want.  Then to finish up, tell who would be the first person you invited in to the room.  (I don't know if Mom created this, or borrowed it from someone else, but I'm sure she gives credit where credit is due.)  Thinking about this question has actually been helping me clarify some other, deeper issues, funnily enough.  So, here is my thoughts on the subject as they stand today.  

My room is a free-standing structure actually, possibly a renovated barn or boat-house, and lies a short yet beautiful walk away from the cozy cottage I share with my hypothetical partner, family, dog, cat, and possibly horse.  Maybe also chickens.  But we're not talking about that, we're talking my room. One fantasy at a time, 'kay?  This is my work room, which is to say it's where I go to play, but I mean play in a very serious, artistic, concentrated way, plumbing emotional depths...oh, screw that.  I have a whole different room for "but this is TOO work" which doubles as my "you're wasting your life" room, so I don't need to do that here.  This is my play room.  

The mental preparation starts with the walk that takes me through a forest, alongside a small
creek,  noticing whatever has changed since the day before, because something always has. I enter through the door in the northwest corner. The single room is large, with very high ceilings (in case I want to hang a trapeze) and a nicely sprung floor made from some renewable source, like bamboo wood. Stored against the north wall are several matts for tumbling and more acrobatic work, but most of the time the floor is left free for dance.  There is a CD player, with small storage for music.  I can't tell you yet what the building is made of, though chances are it's also wood.  I like wood.  I also loved the cottages in the west of Ireland, which are usually cement block covered in stucco,  and they're quite cozy, so that would be all right, as long as the floor is nice to move on.

Close to the door, on the east wall, is a window that looks out onto the forest.  Next to it is a
full length mirror for mask-work, but when it's not in use, it's covered by a cloth.  I get distracted if there's somebody else is constantly moving out of the corner of my eye.  The south wall is all glass sliding doors, with a bank of windows above, tilted back at a slight angle.  The doors open out to a grassy open glen that in May is carpeted with violets.  Some deciduous trees stand close enough to the building to shade it in the summer, but when their leaves are gone, the light pours into the space.  Leafless, they also reveal the lake and the mountains on the other side.  There are a scattering of houses along the opposite shore, but no one's presence intrudes here.  

Three quarters of the room is left empty to allow for movement, but the final quarter, along the west wall there is a work table and chair for making masks, a built-in bookcase for supplies, and two comfy easy chairs on a soft rug, one chair for when I am writing or reading, the other for guests.  There is also a small sink, and a counter with the supplies to make tea or coffee. The window in this wall has a deep window seat,  and it shows the forest, a glimpse of the lake and mountains, and a small chuckling brook whose sound fills the space whenever it's not frozen.  In the winter, I see amazing sunsets through this window as well, and that's how I know it's time to go home for dinner.   The east window probably gets great sunrises too, but I'm rarely there to see it, since I'm enjoying it in the bedroom with the hypothetical boyfriend, or as we sit in our breakfast nook in the kitchen, drinking our coffee.

Right, other fantasy.  

I can't decide what color the walls are.  At first I thought they were just a warmish cream, to keep the space neutral, airy, and unimposing.  I've been living for nine years in a apartment with all white walls, however (quite common in NYC, for light issues), and I think I'd like some color in this room.  So the walls are possibly washed with a warm Tuscan yellow, or perhaps a shade of  amber or apricot.  With all the serenity and quiet beauty I have surrounding the space, I probably could handle a little bit of energy inside.  I think one of those colors would energize me.  

Describing this room shows me some things of interest.  First, it's obviously in a rural setting of great beauty, possibly Maine, the Pacific Northwest, Ireland, Scotland, or Cape Breton.  I would love to live in the country.  News Flash.  But there are other things to notice.  I seem to want to keep my options open for the kinds of work, which isn't always a virtue, I think.  Sometimes I wonder if my interests are too scattered, rather than varied.  I also note there are no books, or computer in the room.  I have trouble picturing a room without books, so that might change, but I would keep the computer elsewhere.  It's a necessity for the business side of the job more and more, and is obviously a great research tool, but those things require a different energy from me, so I'd like the computer to be in a different space.  One energy is not better or more creative than the other, they just have different vibrations.  Even after more than seven years of fairly regular keyboard use, I still find that when I write, I have to do it longhand in a notebook if I need to go deep or move quickly.  I've gotten slightly better at composing on the keyboard, but still not as well as when  I write by hand.  Editing and re-writing I can do on a keyboard, but that is also a different energy.  So, no computer in this room.  

The biggest thing I notice from this exercise is, I've created a room for generating my own work. Sure an actor would enjoy this space, and be able to use it well, but the focus really is on creating new work, especially physical theatre, mask pieces, and other non-naturalistic performances.  That is what I've done for the last fifteen years or so.  Recently though, I've wanted to shift my focus back to more mainstream forms; plays that are time-tested or at least promising, film and TV projects with decent budgets behind them, that sort of thing.  I had a whole host of reasons for making that decision, and I think it's still the direction I'm heading for now.  I'd like not to be the main or only force behind a project for a while, and I'd like to make more money, pure and simple.  But I've also realized something else with all this.  Somewhere along the line I equated self-generated work with solo work.  

There are understandable reasons for this.  I started doing it as a way to give myself work when nothing else was happening, and to have more autonomy and control over my career.  It also made it easy to rehearse ('hey, I've got a free hour'), change things, or even improvise in performance if necessary.  I'd been doing lots of experimental dance/circus/theatre shows created by someone else, and way too often I found myself working for months with assholes or flakes, for little or no money, and the work ended up being crap.  Or it turned out well, but everyone was so bitter and angry it didn't matter.  Or it turned out well and no one came to see it.  So having a little more say in my work was nice, and even if the work turned out badly, at least I'd spent the time working on something I cared about.

I've been missing the joy of working with ensembles though.  That is one of the main reason I became an actor, and I haven't done it since 2005, really.  It's simply easier to work with others if someone else, preferably a well-established arts organization, is producing and supporting you. One drawback to solo work is -stick with me here- you're by yourself a lot.  You're the one pushing to make it happen, you're the only one at rehearsal (unless you've talked a willing friend into directing you, or at least watching it once), you're the one seeking out venues, you're the only one who notices or cares if nothing happens.  It can be lonely, and New York is lonely enough as it is.  (There's also that sneaky little voice that says "you're working on your own to side-step the fact that no one wants to work with you because you SUCK."  I keep that voice locked in the "You're Wasting Your Life" room most of the time.)  

So, I'm mulling this over.  These aren't really new thoughts, most of them, but they've fallen
into a new pattern, and that's useful.  I keep reminding myself too that since this is a fantasy, I don't have to justify my using it.  Funny how my inner Puritan starts running the show any chance he gets.  

Oh, who would be the first person I invited into the space? Barring the hypothetical boyfriend, I guess I'd show it to my sister first.  She and I are psychic twins.  She would only be the first in a long line of friends and loved ones who would appreciate this space though, and some of them might end up collaborating with me on a something.  I'd resist the temptation to use this as a social or party space, but that would be easy with the cozy cottage up the road.  That is such a good space for a party, and the boyfriend puts on a mean spread.    

One fantasy at time, Patrick.   

So, I'm not turning this into a meme or an obligation, but if anyone is inspired by this exercise to describe his or her own room, I'd love to read it.  Will over at Designer Blog is way ahead of the game due to the fact that he designed an entire house which is nearing completion.  If you don't have a blog of your own, we can figure out a way to have you guest blog here, if you want.  I'd love to see what people come up with, I bet I'd learn a lot about you.  Annie laMott does a variation on this exercise, where instead of a room, you have an acre of land.  It's yours, you can do whatever you want with it.  If that is more inspiring, then do that one.  


Cooper said...

You've inspired me, Patrick. What a wonderful idea! I am hugging the thought of writing this in a smile which makes my whole heart wiggle.

I love your fantasy room. Parts of it exist in my own secret creation, too. This is an exercise I have already thought about in detail, although I have never written it out. One huge window of my room also looks out on the forest ... and what more could any soul want than a carpet of violets?

Thanks for this today.

somewhere joe said...

Yep. This one gets front loaded into the pipeline. Enchanting.

My best friends in Michigan had a studio in their barn that was our main hangout. It' where I made this minotaur mask that my boyfriend tried on. This slide has been sitting by itself on a shelf in the closet for as long as I can remember.

I love the idea of having a big creative space, a laboratory for experimenting and play, a multi-function studio. Mine will have an annex, a treehouse accessible by an inner staircase, where I can go to dream and plan, and invite a friend or two...

Patrick said...

Cooper, I can't wait to see what your room looks like. Yes, violets are one of my greatest loves, have been for as long as I can remember. You and Joe will have to visit in May, and I'll take you to the places in Central Park that keep me sane in the Spring with their violets (that's a weird season for me to be in a city).

Joe, I've always loved old barns, and along with my studio fantasy there is another one of turning a barn into a theatre. Mom, the Iowa farm girl, loves them too.

The synchronicity just keeps on coming... that play I mentioned in an earlier essay? It's called Ariadne's Thread. I made two minotaur masks for it, and one ceremonial bull mask King Minos wears. If I can figure out how to post them here, I'll do so, otherwise I'll send you a photo. I think I have some. I love the comic grotesquery of yours. And that's your boyfriend in it? Nice. Did you make your wolf-man mask from your Halloween entry?

I want a treehouse too! Adding it as an annex for dreaming/meditation and connecting with friends: brilliant. That's getting added to my design. I'll be sure to credit you.

Christopher said...

I've worked on a design for a house twice now. I hated it, but it was always in collaboration with others and this is a good idea I think. I'm beginning to embrace it and think I'll give it a spin later in the afternoon.


Patrick said...

Christopher: yes, designing with others must be a very different experience. One of the things I like about this exercise is it's all by you, for you. When I did it, the tricky thing was not worrying about practical concerns too much.

I look forward to reading what you come up with.