When I close my eyes, I daydream about the house I grew up in, which sits at the top of a hill and looks out on the mountains of Virginia—Mount Rogers, the highest peak in the state, on the horizon. I can’t wait to go skiing in Colorado and stare out at the Rockies, overwhelmed and freed by that great expanse of sky. As I walk around DC, I find myself always looking up, through tree branches, searching for blue. The ocean holds a similar fascination when I’m in Florida, particularly the horizon, a line constantly being redrawn by water and sunlight. It’s not a coincidence that I live in a house with tall ceilings or on a wide street lined with trees.
I crave space because I feel something divine in it—or perhaps it just allows something spiritual to open in me. I don’t know which, and I don’t think I’m suppose to know. (In my opinion, that’s the folly of man, always trying to put God in a box.) But this mysterious something—whether propelled toward us by an outside force or emitted from us—is the seed of creativity, and it needs space to hook its roots and grow.
This space can be both literal and figurative. For instance, over the past few years, I’ve been writing at the kitchen table. I have an office, but it’s cramped and full of furniture and tucked away at the top of the stairs. I came to the kitchen, because I yearned for more space. Recently, though, I realized that writing in the busiest room in the house may not be the best idea, so I’ve decided to buy new furniture, clean out my files, and redo the office. You may say, “That’s so superficial, John. Aren’t writers suppose to be, like, deep and not care about where they write?” (Cue image of a young man in fingerless gloves shivering over a typewriter.) Let’s face it, at least in part, it’s an excuse to go shopping—and I like shopping. I like the way the sales associate at Crate and Barrel, with gentle intonations, names each of the pieces of furniture if she were calling them into being: The Hendrix desk. The Paloma Sideboard. The Pullman Chair, in Chocolate or Ebony. But it’s not just about shopping; redoing my office is also an attempt to create a space that resonates with my creativity.
Of course, there are figurative ways of recreating space, too. Music is one of those. The other day, when I was commuting in a rainstorm at 7:00 AM, I was listening to “I’m on Fire” by Stateless and the bleary headlights in front of me became dashes of wild red paint—the mundane became the beautiful. As I’m writing now, I’m listening to “Riverside” by Agnes Obel, and the kitchen has been broken and expanded to include more of the world. I’m aware of the spidery tree limbs outside the window and then the evergreen tree that stood across the yard in my childhood home, a tree snapped in two by ice last year. Music can transform a space and transport us to a different space altogether—and that’s very powerful, especially for a writer.
I crave the literal space of the solid world—whether it is a mountain peak or the Hendrix desk—and the figurative space of music, because they allow my mind to break free. Without them, I would feel lost and unable to imagine any spaces of my own. The worst of my days are when I don’t get enough of either.