Hearts beat. Lungs breathe. Blood flows. Minds think.
The bodily functions comfort me when I list them as jobs. I don't need to know what the spleen does, as long as it does it well. Every year I visit a doctor who pokes, prods, weighs, measures, flattens, listens, tightens, draws, extends, asks a question or two, defends her authority as a medical practitioner with degrees above a desk that I've never seen, and types her findings into a computer for reference next time. I don't need to know the reason behind every test, as long as she knows what she's looking for, and as long as I have reason to believe she will alert me in the event of something gone wrong. I am a writer. She is a doctor. Hearts beat. Lungs breathe. Blood flows. Minds think.
Without any forethought, I recently found myself out in the backyard, gardening gloves on, a small saw and clippers in hand. We have a space behind our garage where someone once thought to build a raised bed for a garden. Half the joy of a garden is in the gazing at it, and this spot is supremely hidden. I imagine only lettuces and herbs might grow in its narrow shade of the garage and backyard fences that keep our neighbors strangers. I don't want to tend lettuces and herbs in this forgotten corner of the backyard. I've ignored it for years and would not think of the spot at all but for a charming white picket fence that surrounds it. Whoever built the bed all those years ago must have had a dog, for why else fence in a small shady section behind a garage in an otherwise entirely enclosed yard?
Blood flows. Minds think. Weeds grow. On Saturday, I pulled up the roots of thorny weeds, scooped dead branches into our yard refuse bin, bundled tubes from the defunct irrigation system, raked tidy lines in the dirt around and inside the bed, and wondered about what this out-of-the-way spot might be used for. Blood flows. Minds think. Egos lie.
I don't know what the spleen does, but the ego is a different story. After so many years of keeping journals and meditating, I know when my ego lifts like a porcupine's needles or a skunk's tail, instinctively guarding me, protecting me when the hard shell of protective armor rises and exposes an inch of my own soft belly of truth. I know when my ego chooses words like wonder, feigning innocence, as if I'd never considered it before. As if the truth is not what led me to the shears. I am lying to you: I did not wonder what this out-of-the-way spot might be used for. It is the reason I wandered to the backyard and spent hours clearing the brush.
The space is nine feet wide, another two or three if I measure beyond the fence to the concrete wall at the back of our property. Lengthwise, the space is probably twenty feet. Some people, like Darby, can visualize beyond over-grown orange trees, piles of mulch, debris from when the trimmers cut back the mulberry at the start of the fire season. At least a year ago, he suggested that the spot might be good for a writing studio. He has his own studio in the house, and for years I've worked from the dining table. A "she shed," he called it. A room of my own, I thought.
Why lie about that? What stake does the ego have in a little she shed, a little clean up of the backyard? A big one, apparently. As I raked the clutter away, pushing crisp leaves into the green bin in order to stuff in more twigs, the nine (or twelve) by twenty of the space became clear. The area could accommodate a cabin larger than one I once lived in, Thoreau-style, not far from Walden Pond. I could imagine a desk, perhaps a daybed, a music stand. The walls, painted with white-board paint or simply white or unpainted, could be covered with maps outlining the book I've been writing. I could unselfconsciously try out new song ideas, practice clarinet, talk to myself (as I tend to do when I'm writing), or sit in the quiet -- because as I pulled up a vine, I realized how well the garage and fences muffled street noise -- and drink tea.
And the heart beats, and the blood flows, and the mind, the mind, the mind thinks.
My mind turned to how much I don't know about building a little cabin. Because of everything I don't know how to do, I couldn't do it myself. Foundations. Studs. Electricity. Roofs. Supports. Windows. Doors. I can't even really correctly measure. I would have to hire an expert. Services and materials. My needle-y ego raised its fear-mongering head:
What if whatever I create inside that cabin never earns back what it cost to build the space?
I found myself pacing in the dirt, watching the noon sunlight lift higher on the garage wall. What if after all the effort and money, I never make anything worthwhile? What if whatever I write in there never earns back a penny?
I found myself reasoning: I should make due with what I already have, not waste the money on a room of my own. I am not worth it. The dining table has worked well enough, hasn't it? And when the girls are watching a movie in the living room, and Darby is in his recording studio, I can retreat, as I always have, with my laptop to our bedroom. But you never practice your clarinet when they're all around, the non-fear-mongering voice said. And you need quiet space to write, to think.
The next morning, before anyone in the house had woken, I poured my mug of coffee and stood in my socks in the raked dirt. An hour later, Darby was up, and I brought him back there to see my progress from the day before. This would be a good spot for your she shed, he said again, eyeing the dimensions, going back to the house for measuring tape, and, soon after, pulling up websites for tiny cabin building companies. What if I never make back that money, I worried.
And yet: An artist studio of my own.
The heart beats. The mind thinks. It runs over ideas, looking for ones that I might find interesting. Will the fear-mongering intrigue me more? You can live safe and small. Or will the curiosity to see what I might make in a quiet room just for myself win out? The mind thinks, the mind thinks. Next weekend I will fill up the green bin with the last of the leaves and begin dismantling the raised bed. I'm not yet ready to make a decision, but like Anne Lamott's advice - don't worry over the vast sky, just take it "bird by bird," one twig at a time I will make some space.