Armchair Series – Writers

It’s a relief to wander the Internet in search of armchairs instead of news. An article  about Hillary Mantel’s writing room (with armchair pictured) appeared in The Guardian back in 2007, when she was “building her new novel about Thomas Cromwell.” Mantel says she writes “…in the main room of our flat, at the top of a former Victorian asylum in Surrey.” “If I feel travel would broaden the mind I take my laptop up a spiral staircase to a little room under the asylum clock.”

And the Wordsmith pointed out this recent interview with Penelope Lively who has a new book, “The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories.” She has an interesting thing to say about birthdays as we age. I love her novels and her memoir, “Dancing Fish and Ammonites,” which she described as a “view from old age.” She’s just finished a non-fiction book about gardening (I’m eager for that) – and she thinks about a new novel. “A writer writes,” Lively says – lucky for us.

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Armchair Series – Indigo-Blue

These armchairs live in the sitting room of a 17th Century Northumberland farmhouse full of “characterful vintage,” but I discovered them in the pages of a British edition of “Country Living” magazine. The owner of the house calls a sofa and the armchairs, “indigo-blue rescues.” Together with a red Turkish carpet, low table with tea things and books, and fireplace, they soften the stone walls and wooden beams of an old building.

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Armchair Series – Warmth

In addition to providing escape from the continual debilitating, depressing, mean-spirited news pouring out of the other Washington, the armchair project distracts from the iffy spring weather. Sunshine, we long for reliable sunshine! A yellow brocade armchair from a photo in “In An Irish House” provides it. My favorite part of the rattan armchair from Kauai is the little needlepoint cushion picturing flower-trimmed flip-flops.

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Armchair – Playroom

In April Alaska a certain color palette dominates the landscape – leafless tree branches, dust, and leftover snow tend brown and gray – but a clear blue sky, mountains still white, and sunshine brightened my recent week at Downtown Abbey.

Baby Brother, eight months old, is now such a presence, full of life and love. He’s struggling bravely through teething, and his frequent grin revealed two teeth on bottom and one and a half on top – the last one emerging overnight (from a gum swollen for weeks).

He laughs readily – just waving a diaper over his bare belly brings a string of chuckles! And lying on his back, he smiles broadly and pulses his body up from shoulders to heels in response to a friendly face – Lady Baby calls it his “seal hop.”

He flings his arms wide and shudders at exciting things – food coming or a new large cube full of colorful, movable parts to manipulate. He looks intensely at a resident cat or dog passing by, and grabs a handful of fur when he can. He leaps high and long in his hanging jumper.

Using a “food feeder” to feed himself, he holds a lollipop-like handle and squishes avocado or banana or sweet potato through a cluster of tiny holes in the soft silicone top. He hums with enthusiasm when he eats (like his sister did, and his dad long ago.)

It’s easy to see how the differences between first and second born develop. Lady Baby is loving and helpful and the source of inventive fun for her brother. Baby Brother considers before reacting, waiting just a bit, observing. The benefits of surveying the situation might outweigh being in front.

The Tooth Fairy has twice visited Lady Baby – new bottom teeth! Her clothing style these days eschews girly and dictates sporty outfits, soccer shorts or sweat pants, a ball cap with sunflap (not worn at meals), or most favorite – a thin Ninja hoodie revealing just her lovely eyes.

Mrs. Hughes and I tackled some projects, and I’d like to say we cleared the slow drain in the bathroom sink. But, after figuring out how to undo the sink stopper and the P-trap, and detonating three baking soda and vinegar bombs, we called the plumber. A little more successfully, by working “around the edges” as Maggie O’Farrell says, we sewed hot weather clothes from gauzy muslin for Baby Brother. With Lady Baby’s help, Baby Brother watching from a nearby seat, we began to print the little pilgrim from the Via Francigena on T-shirts for an upcoming family adventure.

The Downtown Abbey playroom now doubles as guestroom – with space for sleeping, playing adventure guys, and, with a wooden rocking horse for footstool and tiny chair to hold a teacup, enjoying a favorite old leather armchair.

 

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Chairs With Arms

After drawing Virginia Woolf’s reading chair, I began noticing armchairs and asking myself why they appeal. Partly it’s location, wanting to sit and have tea with a friend – our two armchairs classically pulled up by a warm fire. Or it’s longing – to be curled in a commodious armchair lost in a book, friendly feline apurr. Armchairs in bedrooms imply a generous room and a place to retreat. I know a double armchair in a bedroom – holds baby, mom, and older sibling – and it rocks!

The anthropomorphic character of armchairs, their limbs and heft embrace us. Accompanying adjectives reveal personality: overstuffed, shredded, or worn, floral, velvet, or leather. The few armchairs in those modern houses in the enjoyable TV series, “Big Little Lies,” appropriately look firm and toned.

Armchairs most often include pillows for color and comfort, or to beef up a saggy anatomy. They hang out with footstools, ottomans – some place for feet – whether of matching fabric or something repurposed, a trunk, a pouf. Armchairs need a lamp and a table right within reach, landing spot for teacup or beer and chips.

My parents had a voluminous armchair with sturdy square arms, slipcovered in an awful faux-tweedy fabric – I loved it. The arms held coffee cup and books, and I could hole up there for hours. With an old cabin, we inherited wooden-armed chairs with uncomfortable cushions, but so useful the flat surface of those broad arms.

My clever friend gave me a wicker armchair. It sits near my workroom with a little footstool and a great view. But, filled now with three old wool sweaters, fur-lined and curled into a nest, and occupied most days, all day, by Frances, it’s lost to me for afternoon tea.

You can probably sense a series coming – armchair pictures and paragraphs on “Her spirits rose…!”

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Maggie O’Farrell – Book Riches

Sometimes social media delivers a wondrous gift. A while ago Priya Parmer, who wrote “Vanessa And Her Sister” (the novel about Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf), posted on Instagram a photo of a small stack of books. I could make out one title and author, “This Must Be the Place” by Maggie O’Farrell.

Born in Northern Ireland and living in Edinburgh, O’Farrell has published seven novels set mostly in the U.K. Her characters – sufferer of eczema, journalist, linguist, reclusive movie star who disappears at the height of her career – are siblings, children, parents. Amongst themselves they grapple with secrets, loss, love, and tragedy. In “The Hand That First Held Mine,” O’Farrell guides parallel stories, separated in time, until they intersect.

Such a fine storyteller, she writes the kind of language I read for. Describing a café gone quiet: “A sack of coffee beans slumps, exhausted, against the counter. A bicycle skims past the window, the beam of its light veering over the dark street. The sky outside is mineshaft black, washed with orange. As if sensing the nighttime calm, the refrigerator obligingly shudders into silence.”

Later the sky goes from “mineshaft black” to “five-fathom blue,” and then “drains slowly into a milky gray.” I love how her observations, often piled up in lists, set scenes and capture the layers of grief or joy.

Describing a new mother after the baby feeds and falls asleep: “She looks about her, in the manner of a traveler who hasn’t seen their home for a long time. She is light-headed with the possibilities open to her. She could read a book, phone a friend, send an email, write a letter, do a sketch, make some soup, sort out her clothes, wash her hair, go for that walk, turn on the television, check her diary, mop the floor, clean the windows, fiddle about on the Internet. She could do anything.

But should she risk moving him?”

Houses – in the best books there are always houses (ones where the kitchen might hold a “kitchen dresser”). “She peeled up the rotten carpets and old, damp lino, scrubbed the boards and varnished them. She whitewashed the back of the house. She rubbed the windows with newspaper and vinegar until sunshine glowed through…. It seemed astonishing to her to own a patch of land, an arrangement of bricks, mortar and glass. It seemed an impossible swap: some money for a life like this.”

Given how often and well O’Farrell writes about children and parents, I enjoyed finding this piece about her “typical” writing day. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/dec/17/my-writing-day-maggie-o-farrell

I’ve read just two of her books so far, beginning with her most recent, so I’ve missed years of anticipating a new book – but now have treasures in reserve!

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Small, Simple Things

I regret my news consumption these days – responding to alerts on my phone with curiosity, dread, and some wild hope that things will change – a frustrating activity. What if I captured those moments?

Carl Richards, in a recent New York Times article, suggests how to “turn wishes into reality” instead of regrets. This sentence stuck out: “Small, simple things done consistently over a long time produce meaningful results.”

It seems to hold so much hope and possibility. A concept good for practical things – saving money, exercise, pulling popweed in the garden, and truly magic for creative work – the 15-minute freewrite, a drawing a day, a few rows knitted!

Having a self-assignment helps – an ongoing series like drawing teacups, flowers, house moments – assuring a place to start and asserting good pressure once begun. Lately I’ve realized that even the rabbit hole of Internet research on a personal project has far more benefit than incessant news viewing. (But still I struggle to resist.)

So I am writing this as a reminder, an encouragement – and to chastise myself. A short time consistently carved from the day might increase skill and will fill a drawer, a sketchbook, or a computer file. Whether those endeavors result in “meaningful results” or not, at least they don’t exacerbate anxiety – and do offer moments of absorption. Some of the best moments life offers.

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