Just for writers,  Poetry,  Writing advice

Working from home

“Let her have a chair, her shadeless lamp, the table.” — Jane Hirshfield, “The Poet”

The pandemic has changed the way most of us work. Today, “working from home” is no longer just a temporary option for parents of young kids. More than ever, we all need a safe workspace where we can be productive and creative — whether it’s the kitchen table, a home office in the guest room, or a studio in the basement.

The following poem is another favorite of mine, reminding me of my early years of motherhood and the challenges of starting a writing career at home. (I scheduled my deadlines around nap time or school drop-offs.)  Here, poet Jane Hirshfield shares her personal yet universal vision of “a room of one’s own.” –– CL

The Poet
By Jane Hirshfield

She is working now, in a room
not unlike this one,
the one where I write, or you read.
Her table is covered with paper.
The light of the lamp would be
tempered by a shade, where the bulb’s
single harshness might dissolve,
but it is not, she has taken it off.
Her poems? I will never know them,
though they are the ones I most need.
Even the alphabet she writes in
I cannot decipher. Her chair —
Let us imagine whether it is leather
or canvas, vinyl or wicker. Let her
have a chair, her shadeless lamp,
the table. Let one or two she loves
be in the next room. Let the door
be closed, the sleeping ones healthy.
Let her have time, and silence,
enough paper to make mistakes and go on.

—Reprinted from The Lives of the Heart, by Jane Hirshfield; HarperPerennial; 1997

Photo by Cindy La Ferle

Throughout my career, I've worked as a book production editor, travel magazine editor, features writer, and weekly newspaper columnist. My award-winning lifestyles features and essays have appeared in many national magazines and anthologies, including Newsweek, Reader's Digest, The Christian Science Monitor, Writer's Digest, Victoria, Better Homes & Gardens, Bella Grace, and more. My weekly Sunday "Life Lines" column ran for 14 years in The Daily Tribune (Royal Oak, MI) and won a First Place (Local Columns) award from the Michigan Press Association. My essay collection, Writing Home, includes 93 previously published columns and essays focusing on parenthood and family life.

13 Comments

  • patty

    lovely.
    can’t help but be reminded of a time when my husband was in bosnia, my babies were >1 to 4 years old, asleep, and i stayed up all night-several nights- on a pop-up office table in the middle of my living room, making a scrapbook for him for xmas. it was the only time i could work! thanks for the memory. ps: he loved the scrapbook, a reminder that he was loved during a difficult time for him!

  • Joanne

    “If we really want to create, we’ll find a way to make a space for it.” So true, the muse always finds a way to the page. Lately I’ve been having a little cabin fever, so since my daughter commutes to college, today I went in with her and am working from campus for a change of scenery. Where I go, I write!

  • Cindy La Ferle

    Great idea, Joanne! When my son was in grade school, sometimes I’d work on assignments at the local diner, just to get out of the house. (I’d get distracted at home, and would do laundry when I should have been meeting deadlines.) I loved the diner — I made friends with the owner and staff, and had a favorite booth. Very cozy. I’d always order breakfast or lunch and a pot of tea, working alone for a couple hours.

  • deb

    I can sew or do busy work where and whenever.
    But I can’t seem to read or write when distracted by kids or tv etc. I am making a point to leave and find a space instead of getting frustrated. I always think just around the corner will be a stretch of quiet but it never seems to happen. Life happens, and we have to live it. I often think of artists who were reclusive or completely unable to function in their families or communities and while I joke that I’d love to give this a try… of course I won’t .

  • Cindy La Ferle

    Deb, I hear you. If you have a retreat center nearby, you might ask your husband or a family friend if they would fill in for you for a day or two while you slip away for a writing/spiritual retreat. We have a Jesuit center nearby, and I often used it for that purpose when my son was small. Really helped. I know you have a MUCH bigger family, and that does make it harder for now. Still, your beautiful blog shows me that you do find time for your creative work — kudos for that!

  • Joanna Jenkins

    This made me smile Cindy. I have a beautiful office– that I almost NEVER work in. So I agree with you, finding the space that works for you if you really want to work is what it’s about.

    Hope your week is going good.
    xo

  • Kathleen Scott

    This post brought tears to my eyes, I don’t know why. But I love the depth of feeling and the certainty of creation. Appreciated your lead-in, particularly the sentence about your friend with the sewing machine. It’s true that homes are for living, not show.

    I love my office, a smallish bedroom with a convertible sofa for overflow guests. The window looks out across our front yard so I can see the weather and hummingbirds and the (blankety-blank) deer when I look away from my screen. I feel peaceful here, which frees my mind.

    Lovely post, thanks.

  • Kathleen Scott

    Hi Cindy, I tried to send this via your ‘contact’ page but the e-mail wouldn’t send (gremlins?) so I’m adding it as a comment here.

    One of the best things about blogging is making new friends. I’ve enjoyed your posts so much, and the interchange between us.

    I was tickled to see in your comment on my Driftwood winery post that you’ll be coming to Texas sometime. Hope you can spend some time in the Hill Country. If you can, stop a couple of days with us and I’ll show you some of our area. I don’t know your timing but this spring-to-early summer will be magnificent with wildflowers because of the wonderful rains this fall/winter.

    Cheers,
    Kathleen

  • beth

    what a great poem….and yes, I have my space to create…thank god…. and would surely shrink up and blow away by a small gust of wind, if I didn’t.

    so you’re in royal oak ? we used to live in sterling heights and bought our first house in pleasant ridge back in 1985….oh the memories…..and wow, I love that area !!!

  • Mary Ellen

    Thank you Cindy for encouraging all of us to read poetry. I picked up two Mary Oliver collections today at the library. Our cold Michigan weather is a perfect time to enjoy a new author, with a kitty (or two or three) on the sofa, along with a cup of hot tea!Life is good!

  • Sharon

    This is a lovely gem of a poem, Cindy. When I first returned to school I had three young children at home. I worked at the kitchen table, in the TV room, or in the middle of the house on the living room couch. I did some of the best work I’ve ever done in a small house full of people. I will say that I most like to work near a window. I crave natural light. I now have the luxury of space, and I still gravitate to the room with the best natural light.

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