A few weeks ago, Writer’s Digest put out an intriguing invitation to readers: Submit a photo (or two, or three) of your workspace, along with comments on how you use it, why it’s set up the way it is, or anything else you'd like to say about it. The editors will pick a few to publish in the magazine.
I had every intention of submitting mine, but before I managed to assemble the pictures and send off the entry, the deadline had passed. Still, the challenge got me thinking about my own work space, not only how I use it, but also what I call it.
When I worked from home for my regular job or on freelance assignments, I called my workspace—in our previous home as well as our current one—my “office.” But something about that term grates on me now. It conjures images of deadlines, dingy cubicles, and that sense of being chained to a desk, unable to escape and have fun.
Nowadays, although I still spend a lot of time in the room where my desk resides, I’m not always working in the strict sense of the word. Sometimes I’m practicing yoga. Sometimes I’m brainstorming ideas for writing projects, or organizing and editing photos, or sorting and cutting out pieces for collages, or creating music playlists, or communicating with friends, or yes, writing. It’s as much a playroom as a workspace.
So what to call it?
“Workshop” sounds crafty—a good place to build things. But still a little “worky.”
“Study” is what spaces like mine used to be called before the home-office kick. Filled with books, as my room is, studies were places for contemplation and rumination. I certainly do contemplate and ruminate. Yet “study” sounds so studious. Not playful.
I’m partial to “studio.” With its artsy connotations, it leaves open possibilities for all sorts of creative activities. Why, I could even dance in a studio (and sometimes I do!). So for now I’m sticking with studio. And just for fun, I’ll take you on a tour.
Then, I invite you to send me photos of your own creative space and tell me what you call it and how you use it.
Where will your workspace--or playspace--take you?
Happy New Year!
Is today just like any other day for you, or do you see the beginning of a new year as a time to reflect and set intentions?
As I wrote here a year ago, I no longer make formal resolutions or long lists of goals and aspirations for the coming year. Still, the idea of a fresh start is so appealing I can't resist trying to do a few things differently.
Or maybe just one thing. This time last year, I vowed to break the habit of starting my day by checking my inbox and scanning headlines. Too often, that practice left me agitated and unfocused--exactly not the way I want to be when I sit down to write or tackle other tasks that require concentration.
It was a worthy goal, one I tried all year to accomplish. But the busy-ness of book publishing and promotion and the enticement of never-a-dull-moment national news was too seductive. I just couldn't keep myself from going online before breakfast.
Until a few weeks ago, when I finally found the mettle to break the habit. What flipped the switch for me was a piece by Colleen Story on her Writing and Wellness website that caught my attention with the subhead, "Why Writers Should Avoid the Internet First Thing in the Morning."
In the article, Colleen cites research suggesting that hopping around on the internet interferes with the ability to focus even after getting offline. She goes on to list five first-thing-in-the-morning activities that are more conducive to all-day productivity. I won't repeat the list here--you can read the full article for that.
But I will tell you about the change I've made. For the past three weeks this has been my morning routine: yoga, reading poetry, writing down dreams or other thoughts (but not to-do lists), then working on my novel-in-progress. Email and other online business come only after all of that.
I was astonished at how quickly changing that one habit made a difference in my mindset. As I wrote in my journal after just a few mornings of the new routine, "Ideas flow, I feel calmer, less focused on my to-do list; I think instead about what I'm reading and writing. This is good."
In short, simply by changing one habit I feel recharged and ready to put my creativity to work in whole new ways in a whole new year.
Do you have a habit you'd like to change? Need a little help making it happen?
Here are some suggestions I've gleaned over the years:
May 2020 be a year of creativity, connection, and contentment for us all!
Santa came to our house early this year. Though he arrived in an SUV, not a sleigh, and he wasn’t “dressed all in fur from his head to his foot,” his long beard and the twinkle in his eye gave him away.
Truth be told, a visit from this Santa was high on my Christmas wish list. I’d often seen him around town and wanted to know how he ended up in Newaygo instead of at the North Pole. Turns out he grew up right here in Newaygo County and after a couple of decades away, returned to make this his home.
While he admits to owning a few red suits, and he’s been seen in the company of reindeer, this Santa, who calls himself “Charlie Johnson,” doesn’t claim to be the real Santa. Then again, he doesn’t claim not to be. He told me the same thing he tells children who press him on the question.
“Santa can’t see billions of kids all at once, at every mall, so he has helpers that help him out. It’s up to you to decide which one is the real one.”
There are so many of these surrogate Santas, in fact, they’ve formed a brotherhood, mingling (and jingling, no doubt) with one another at Santa schools and Santa conventions. Every October, Santa Charlie heads to the Charles W. Howard Santa School in Midland. There, some 300 Santas, Mrs. Clauses, and elves brush up on everything from the history of Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus to proper dress, reindeer habits, radio and television interview tips, and other useful tidbits. Most of all, “it’s about the spirit of being a Santa,” says Charlie.
Of course, cookies are served, along with pointers on the do’s and don’ts of Santa-ing.
The number one no-no: don’t promise to grant a wish or bring a particular gift.
Santa Charlie has a few of his own rules of thumb, as well. “I’m more of a low-key Santa,” he says. “I think the kids respond to that better, especially the littlest ones. I won’t force them to sit on my lap. If the parents try and put them onto my lap, I’ll say, ‘No, hold them, or see if they’ll stand beside me.’”
In a venue where Santa can move around a bit—on the Santa Train that runs between Coopersville and Marne, for instance—Charlie resorts to stealth.
“I’ll sneak up behind them while their parents are holding them and do a photo bomb so the parents can get their picture of the kid with Santa.”
He laughs—more of a chuckle than a ho-ho-ho—and another voice pipes up from the corner: “Santa is the most-photographed icon in the world.” That’s Mrs. Claus, AKA Carol Nickles, who came along with Santa Charlie on his visit to our house. The couple met at Santa school three years ago and became an item about a year later. Now they’re “having a blast” making the Santa scene together, says Carol.
At a recent Santa convention they performed in the talent show, harmonizing on a swing tune called “Holiday Romance” while accompanied by a Mrs. Claus from West Virginia. Carol, a seamstress, wore a glitzy red ball gown she’d created, and Charlie was gussied up, too.
“So fun, so fun,” Carol recalls.
Also fun: Appearances at the Rooftop Landing Reindeer Farm in Clare and field trips with busloads of other Santas and Mrs. Clauses from the Midland Santa school to the steam train in Owosso and Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth.
“Can you imagine these big coach buses pulling up to Bronner’s and all of us getting out?” says Carol. “Now, we’re not dressed in Santa garb, but there are all the beards, and we’re wearing red and green.”
Santa-ing isn’t confined to the Christmas season anymore. “Christmas in July is starting to be thing,” says Carol. She and Charlie were invited to add their festive flair to the Star 105.7 radio booth at one such event. Charlie agreed on the condition that he wouldn’t have to wear his full Santa suit in 85-degree weather. Instead, he came up with a “Santa casual” ensemble of red shorts, a Santa-print Hawaiian shirt, and a straw hat, and Carol lightened up her Mrs. Claus-wear accordingly.
“Most people would say being a Santa is a calling,” says Carol. Charlie agrees, though Santa-ing doesn’t consume his whole life. He’s plenty busy with a variety of other activities, even after his recent retirement from TrueNorth, where he ran the LifeLink program and coordinated the Newaygo County Senior and Caregiver Expo. He’s often seen playing harmonica at River Stop Café’s open mic nights and running the sound board for Lion Heart Community Theater productions and concerts at Dogwood Center for the Performing Arts. This time of year, you’ll also find him caroling with the men’s chorus that strolls through Newaygo during the yearly Christmas Walk.
Alas, our house has no chimney, so I couldn’t put Santa Charlie to the test of exiting the traditional way. He just walked out the front door like anyone else. But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight . . . Oh, who am I kidding? His windows were rolled up; I didn’t hear anything. I’m pretty sure, though, that as he drove away, he wished us “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”
What are your favorite Santa memories?
In keeping with my December tradition, I've compiled a year-end list of memorable books I've read over the past twelve months. I don't rank my selections, concurring on that point with author Neil Gaiman, who believes picking five favorite books is like "picking the five body parts you'd most like not to lose."
Instead, I list books I've found memorable for any of a number of reasons: the writing is exceptional, the story is engrossing, the tale is told in an unusual way, or the book just stayed with me for reasons I can't explain. The books that make the list aren't the only good books I've read over the course of the year; several others always stand out in memory. My decision of which to include here is arbitrary, but I try to pick ones I think HeartWood readers may also enjoy.
The books listed here weren't all published in the past year. One has a publication date of 2009; the others were all published in the past six years.
I never set out to read books that conform to particular themes, but when I look back at what I've read, I do notice common threads. A number of these books are testaments to perseverance and the ability to overcome adversity, from physical injury to neglect to dysfunction and abuse. Sounds like heavy stuff, I know, but I found all of these books inspiring in one way or another.
Just as I wrote this time last year and the year before, I'm not really sure what to call this list. My Most Want-to-Tell-You-About-Them Books of 2019? Or simply A Bunch of Books I Read This Year and Actually Remember Something About?
Whatever you want to call it, here it is:
Ten Something-or-Other Books I Read in 2019
Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.