A Sanctuary for Writing: Where we write

2020 was a Horror story in its own right. The year was a mixture of speculative fiction, a blend of Horror and Science Fiction that rivaled even the works of the great H.P. Lovecraft. Who would have ever imagined the kind of world we came to intimately experience in 2020? I am sure at some point each of us has asked ourselves: Is this really happening? When is this nightmare going to end? So many lives have been sacrificed. So many special moments have been lost.

Millions of people who once commuted to a place of employment now work from home. I myself used to engage an hour of my day executing the daily commuting ritual. I am a Spanish teacher and a Creative Writing Teacher. My BC (Before COVID) classroom was vibrantly decorated and had lots of windows. My “classroom” now is my basement. Before, my workday routine began at 6am. Now it begins at 7:45 as I grab coffee from the kitchen and say “goodbye” to my lovely wife. I start my commute to my classroom, but not before I say a quick hello and goodbye to my precious daughter as she heads off to school (our living room). My total commute time: 5 minutes.

Hemil, you say, look at your commute! Isn’t it awesome? Yes, in some ways working from home has its advantages. Imagine, however, the motivation needed to work in a cold basement ten to twelve hours a day. In my basement classroom, I teach from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm. Sure, I have breaks between periods as well as a planning block, but going upstairs for lunch or a snack is at times a challenge as my daughter’s and my school schedules do not match. As I mentioned earlier, as I am teaching in the basement, my daughter is in class on the first floor. I sometimes hear her doing PE in

the living room or saying German phrases aloud: Guten Tag, Tschüss, Auf wiedersehen (That is all I understand). I do not want to interrupt her class time, and our lunch times minimally overlap, so we barely are able to eat lunch together. Additionally, when my daughter is taking an exam on the first floor, I do not want to disturb her concentration, so I do not even venture into the kitchen for a snack (Now that really is a Horror Story!).

I love teaching, but doing it on online is hard. I miss teaching at school. I have yet to meet my new students in person. I want to believe I am a fun and engaging teacher, but there are times I feel I am talking to only myself. I feel like a Medium: Juan, are you there? Megan, can you hear me? Virginia, if you are there, please give me a sign…

Teaching is a passion, but I also love to write. Before COVID, after the end of the school day and a commute home, I would head to my basement office and spend hours dedicated to writing. But when lockdown began, at 4 o’clock, when the writer in me was expected to come alive, he wasn’t waking up. Plain and simple, I didn’t want to.

The answer was clear as to what was contributing to my writer’s block, although it took me 6 months to figure it out. My basement was a boring place to write. The coldness of the basement drained my imagination and if I didn’t do something about it, I would soon be the next Jack Torrance – trapped in my “hotel” and consumed by non-creativity. It was time to change the boring teacher’s desk into a cool writing cave!

But why had my workspace not been an issue before? Very simple. Before, I was only spending three hours a day writing in it. The books, notes, planning sheets, etc. didn’t bother me then. But now, I was spending ten to twelve hours a day sitting in the same place and staring at the same four walls.

So, in September I began the three-month process of transforming my basement into a place I could define and love as not only my work office, but also as my Writing Sanctuary. Below is a summary of observations and the steps I took to improve them.

·      My chair was the same age as “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner”. Well, maybe not EXACTLY the same age, but it looked like it and felt like it. Its cushion once plump and supportive was now non-existent, and my butt and back were suffering as a result. No wonder I felt tired after sitting numerous hours a day on it! My back (and my butt) deserved better. I replaced it with a new, comfortable, affordable one.

·      My basement walls were naked. How very boring and unimaginative it was to look at every day! It was time to spice them up and create a Horror Library. I used my home printer to create colored copies of the covers of two of my recently published anthologies, Project Usher and Project Cthulhu, as well as a few other classic Horror book covers or movie posters: Dracula, Frankenstein, Nosferatu, etc. I dug out picture frames purchased from a dollar store that had been sitting in a box for over a year, placed the prints inside, and hung them on the wall. My anthology book covers bearing the eerie faces of Poe and Lovecraft created an especially spooky atmosphere!

·      As an avid reader, I have many books, but they were stacked everywhere. I organized all my Horror Books on a shelf above my laptop and created labeled sections within it: King, Poe, Lovecraft, Creative Writing, anthologies and other authors.

·      I needed to resurrect my pre-writing ritual. Before writing, sometimes I grab a book and look at the front cover. At times I read a favorite passage from “The Cask of Amontillado”: “The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge” or from “Dagon”: “I am writing this under an appreciable mental strain, since by tonight I shall be no more. Penniless, and at the end of my supply of the drug which alone makes life endurable, I can bear the torture no longer”. Then, I begin to write.

·      Music promotes creativity. I brought my turntable and one of my Alexas to the basement to be able to listen (depending on my mood) to Carmina Burana, classical music or even Tom Petty as I write.

·      I needed to define a transition switch to move from teacher to writer. Now at the end of the school day, I carefully place my schoolwork and planning agenda in one of my desk drawers not only to clear space for writing, but to curtail the urge to grade “just one more paper”.

·      What gives you inspiration? Last Christmas, I asked for Hot Wheels Cars – not just any cars, but muscle cars. I never had Scale Cars when I was a kid. Scale Muscle cars makes me happy. Man, I love their sleek and flashy designs and the raw power they contain. I would love to own one. However, I have a daughter who will be going to college soon (unless she decides to travel the world and write a book), so owning a real a muscle car will have to wait for now. Maybe next life J

Voila! With an almost zero monetary investment and a large splash of creativity, I was able to transform my boring workspace into a new Writing Sanctuary. Now I sit “next” to my favorite authors and heroes and I don’t feel like Torrance writing the same work on the same typewriter anymore. At last, I am looking forward to writing a good short story and who knows, maybe a novella. After all Poe, Lovecraft, and Shelley are watching my back. What can possibly go wrong?

Happy Writing and good luck creating your Writing Sanctuary!







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