Saturday, May 14, 2011

Winged Mermaids at the Writing Desk

Writers and hot drinks: it's a magical union.  Not 'Harry Potter' magical.  More like a shamanic magical.

In the mornings, I try to get an hour or two at the cafe.  I have my tools with me: pen & notebook, or laptop.  And an espresso, with one sugar.

This is not about caffeine.  It's the ritual of sipping and scratching and scribbling - the combination of tactile stimulation and familiar gesture, which reminds me that I'm writing.  As historian and author Maria Tumarkin put it, "I bring take-away coffee to my room with the grey fence or some other room and then I sip and write. The best day ever is when I can get into one line-one sip rhythm. Even if it is for half an hour."

Author and editor Jeff Sparrow has a similar experience.  Once he needed the drug to get his heart pumping.  Now it's an aid to consciousness, "a psychological crutch," as he put it. "The routine of making a pot helps, I think."

When working at home, the cup makes a difference too.  Novelist Susan Johnson has a bespoke teacup that accompanies her fiction.  She writes:
I know it is not really the pen or the cup or the desk that allows one to write, of course. But every writer makes his or her preparations to calm the mind, to gather oneself up as it were, so that the confluence of thought and emotion and grace comes about. It is not only the reader who has to suspend his or her disbelief: the writer must suspend her disbelief long enough to be able to believe she can create a world as convincing as the one she sees before her.
Again, this is ritualistic: certain gestures and incantations that guide mood.  And the tools matter: we take their specific qualities and form specific associations.  For example, Susan's plums and vines on hand-painted china.  The designs suggest fertility, abundance.  The light ceramic has a certain graceful ease to it. The whole work evokes Kari Tveite's patience and dexterity.  It's a primer in the craftsman's state-of-mind.

Which is why I'm chuffed about my new bespoke cup, by ceramicist Shannon Garson.  It's one of her recent 'beasties' series, and it's a beautiful thing: light, hand-fitting, gently tactile.  The decorations are evocative.  Wandering light green seaweed, rhythms of dots, lumps and dashes.  And in the middle, a winged mermaid playing a horn.  It's like drinking from an old medieval map.

Some writing requires a utilitarian white espresso cup: strong, simple, clean.  Editing and rewriting, in particular - just as they ask for cutting precision in a pen.  But for those rare moments of reverie and mystery, I've my mermaid.



Gondal-girl said...

sip slurp, I want your cup. do you eek out your one espresso over a few hours or do you tank up?

Damon Young said...

I slowly sip the espresso. Sometimes I go a long black, but I prefer the tartness of the short black.

(When I brew coffee at home I take longer serves, as it's weaker.)

Emma Kirsopp said...

I am in love with that cup. I'm pretty sure I would sit and stare at that cup and get very little writing done.

Also love the ritual of taking coffee or tea as I work. There is something very reassuring, almost stabilising, in the actions of sipping/writing.

Damon Young said...

No Pillow Book ink drinking!

Kevin said...

I used to smoke like a freight train when writing. Then I quit smoking. It was hard to sit down to write and not smoke.

I never smoked in the house, so I'd take my pen and pad outside in nature and smoke away my brain cells while writing.

Now, I write in the house surrounded by toddlers running around screaming. Anymore, I don't know how to write without the distractions that are my kids.

Funny how life is.