Northwest from my Chair: On Mindfulness and Place


June 14, 2015 by Paula Reed Nancarrow

Yes, people, I’ve enrolled in another online writing workshop.

Evan Jenkins and David Jones, two folk poets from Ffair Rhos, discussing their poems in a cobbler's workshop, Courtesy National Library of Wales, via Flickr Commons

Evan Jenkins and David Jones, two folk poets from Ffair Rhos, discussing their poems in a cobbler’s workshop, The cobbler is relieved I am doing my workshop online. Courtesy National Library of Wales, via Flickr Commons

This time it is not a Loft course, but an offering from tweetspeak poetry. I saw the class in a friend’s Twitter stream (thank you @VickiAddesso) and signed up for it on a whim. I first learned of tweetspeak, founded by L. L. Barkat, when I read her very intelligent, if controversial, guest post on Jane Friedman’s blog suggesting some writers should stop blogging, a post I referenced here.

This course is about creativity and mindfulness, specifically as it relates to a sense of place, and is taught by Chris Yokel. I’m enrolled in the 8 week version of the class. There’s a 4 week extension for those who are trying to plan and execute a publishable work, which I’m not trying to do. I do expect, however, to get a few blog posts out of it.

One of the reasons I am particularly interested in a course on Mindfulness and Place at this time is because I am getting ready to move.

As some of you know, I lost my home to foreclosure in 2012. It was the first and only home I ever owned by myself – as if we ever really own anything. I’ve written of the experience here and here. For the last three years I have been living with a friend, paying her rent, and building my savings and my credit score back up. This is the summer I promised myself a place of my own again, and I have been exploring what that may and may not mean.

The first week of class we were asked to choose a focus. Mine is going to be threefold, I suppose: looking back, looking forward, and being here. I guess I have the indecisive panoramic focus.

This week’s assignment was to free- write for 45 minutes or so about the place we chose to focus on.

In that amount of time, however, I barely touched the northwest corner of my room. So I guess I will not want for material. Keeping in mind that this is not a finished piece, I’d appreciate any feedback on what images stuck with you, what you liked, where you needed more detail, and what potential themes emerged.

Northwest from My Chair


The corner bookshelf, a Target imitation of IKEA, is not mine.

Mine is in storage. Over the bookshelf are my kids’ high school graduation pictures and a sketch of my son done by one of his friends. The girl had talent; I wonder where she is.

On top of the bookshelf, an unopened jar of Simply Jif and my bottle of Glenmorangie Highland Single Malt Scotch, currently at 25%. I have to remember to take the Jif in to work; it is desk provender. My end of the day scotch is generally drunk here, in the reading chair I am currently sitting in, or in bed reading, or with the lights out, holding the warmth of the scotch on the roof of my mouth, then feeling the taste going down.

Behind the scotch, a pottery jar given me as a gift by one of the parishes Paul served in, now full of loose change.

Behind that, more pictures of the kids growing up, held in a curved Lucite frame from my sister-in-law. After a divorce, do in-laws become outlaws? I do not know. It is still a lovely frame. Ginny has good taste.

Above the door, a rack of hooks that may come in handy later. Right now this just holds two hats. One is a pink baseball cap my friend Loren was cajoled by a street vendor in New Orleansinto buying me at a Producers and Organizers Retreat. It is covered in buttons from the Minnesota Fringe Festival, Tellabration!, StoryFest. The other is a tapestry hat I bought at the last Renaissance Festival that Paul and the kids and I attended as a family. I only know why I am keeping one of these.

wpid-img_20150614_171706111.jpgBeneath this, on a hook on the door, is my ratty black terry cloth bathrobe.

It always seems to get toothpaste on the sleeves. Black is not a safe color for bathrobes. Behind that, a Willie Nelson seed art fan from the Lillian Colton’s Crop Art Series for the Minnesota State Fair and a silkscreened poster I bought years ago when my friend Nancy introduced me to Steve Poltz and his band. I liked the graphic design. Black is a nice color for silkscreen, for white script and a white hamster on a yellow wheel. The writing is both script and thread, loosely wound around the hamster wheel like a spool, because this, after all, is the “traveling and unraveling tour.”

I have to take my ratty bathrobe down to observe this in detail, and when I do I pay attention, I notice the black plastic hanger that is laying across Willy Nelson’s eyes like he has been blindfolded for a firing squad. Willie Nelson should be able to see everything in my room. I pardon him, and hope he’ll pardon me.

This is just my fan. The real Willie Nelson is made of timothy, canola, alsike, bromegrass, birdsfoot trefoil, and salsify seeds. You can read more here.

This is just my fan. The real Willie Nelson is made of timothy, canola, alsike, bromegrass, birdsfoot trefoil, and salsify seeds. You can read more here.

I put my bathrobe on the black hanger so it can go in the closet.

Why did I not realize before that it is part of my spiritual and creative discipline, and integral to my work-life balance, to drink my morning coffee within view of a hamster wheel and Willie Nelson seed art?

Still, I doubt my bathrobe will stay there. See, I have to slide the reading chair into the space between the bed and the wall to even get to my closet. The back of a bedroom door is a smart place to put a bathrobe; icons should probably go elsewhere. But that’s where I found room.

My room is like one of those plastic puzzles you’d buy at Woolworth’s in the sixties for 49 cents to put into birthday party bags. You know, the ones where you had to rearrange squares of numbers to form a sequence, and there’s just one square missing that allows you to move them around? What are these called? What kind of a puzzle am I living in now?

I type “puzzle with into my Ouija search window – for that is what Google has become – and the spirits finish my phrase – “one piece missing.”

It is called a gem puzzle or a mystic puzzle, or sometimes (as bellow) a boss puzzle. Sometimes it goes by the numbers. Then it is an 8 puzzle or a 15 puzzle, depending on whether you are working with 9 squares (including one blank) or 16. This is what we had before Sudoku. And this is what the private living space I have created for myself within Katherine’s condo is like.

Sequencing the pieces, however, is not the point. The point is to figure out, in such a small space – or for that matter, in any space -how not to bury yourself in your own shit.

That strikes me as a puzzle worth solving.

By Mayer, Merkel, & Ottmann: lithographersJames Albert Wales: artist (Library of Congress[1]) [Public domain],

15 Puzzles Were the Rubick’s Cubes of the 1880’s. Here they demonstrate a perennial problem of the Republican Party. (This has nothing to do with my room but it is too wonderful an illustration to ignore.) The illustration shows Senator Roscoe Conkling, header of the Stalwarts group of the Republican Party, trying to move his “right” candidate into the appropriate square. By Mayer, Merkel, & Ottmann: lithographers James Albert Wales: artist (Library of Congress [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

24 thoughts on “Northwest from my Chair: On Mindfulness and Place

  1. Diana says:

    You have a writing style that could drive me crazy and want to put the book down. But it doesn’t. It’s quirky, personal, and I to want read more about the room and the things you have collected. And why. I also like the fact you are taking an online writing course. May you enjoy the process!
    I, on the other hand, have just taken an in-class proofreading course. And although I didn’t read this with editor’s eyes, I did notice a couple of things that could be corrected or clarified. The first is a misplaced modifier in the sentence about the pink baseball cap.
    As well, “Beneath the door on a hook…” ?? Is the door on a hook? Isn’t a floor beneath the door?
    I enjoyed the “I only know why I am keeping one of these” – once can guess, and possibly accurately, but there is no certainty in the guess. .
    I hate those slidey puzzles! Hate them! Probably because I was never good at them. Can’t visualize steps in advance too well, apparently. Other puzzles – of assorted kinds – I love.
    I look forward to reading more.


    • Diana says:

      and a p.s. Out-laws in my family (my term for them) is for partners of family members who are not actually married, but as good as.


    • You are quite right, Diane! I made some edits. Thanks for sticking with me.


      • Diana says:

        And thank you for not pointing out my typos. I left several behind, inadvertently.
        At the risk of becoming a nuisance, I’d like to suggest another tweek to the pink baseball cap sentence. My suggestion, which you can ignore completely if you want to, is this:
        “One is a pink baseball cap my friend Loren was cajoled into buying me by a street vendor in New Orleans at a Producers and Organizers Retreat.” ( I just moved “into buying me” a bit further along.)
        Did you say you were going to be sharing more? I can hope.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Judith Post says:

    I write genre fiction, which is mostly about advancing a story and developing characters, so I really enjoy your style of writing that’s so personal with such a unique voice. It was fun “seeing” your room with you, especially when each item revealed a part of you. The mystic puzzle analogy worked for me, but–for me–you explained about the 9-piece and 16-piece enough to change the flow and feel of your voice before returning to the point that your room was like a puzzle. But that’s a nitpicky point, and I enjoyed this a lot. Great visualizations. Since you asked what especially stood out for me, it was your kids’ pictures on top of your bookshelf, the entire scotch sequence–especially holding it on the roof of your mouth, and the toothpaste on the sleeve of your ratty black robe. Lovely piece.


  3. I love this line. “I type “puzzle with“ into my Ouija search window – for that is what Google has become – and the spirits finish my phrase – “one piece missing.”


  4. ghostmmnc says:

    I loved this. You took me on a tour of that corner of your room, with all the details, and memories of the things you’ve surrounded yourself with. You could have just said here’s a chair, a poster, and a bathrobe, but even without the pictures, I could have seen it just the way you described. Made me laugh about the Ouija search window…it is so true! I type a word or two into google and it ‘knows’ what I mean to look for!


  5. adamjasonp says:

    Interesting piece—getting into the creative process, touching on a number of things. Caught me by surprise, how it flowed.

    …And I can solve a 15 puzzle in half a minute.


  6. elainemansfield says:

    I’m stuck on the idea of losing a home and renting a room from a friend for three years. What does it mean to our sense of self and what happens physically and psychologically when we’re forced to start over because everything crashed? Death forced big changes on me, but I stayed in the same place, by myself with a dog and then a new dog.

    In that one room, you have a full creative life with endless prompts. So this leads me to consider what is small and known in my writing world. I’ve been in a writing class with the same teacher for 6 years. I look forward to it every week. The students in her small groups change, but some stay. We get to know each other and watch each other’s writing develop. Your world makes me wonder if I need to take a leap rather than sticking with what worked in the past.


    • Elaine: One of the things I began realizing as I started looking for a new place to live was how much I actually have not started over; how much I put into storage thinking I would somehow return to a place in which it would all make sense again. But I’m really not the person I was three years ago, so I am having to do a lot of rethinking of that. As to your wondering… I think anything you look forward to is worth keeping. Though perhaps you might want to add something new to the mix?


  7. I could do with taking a writing course; they do help with practising the art of writing, don’t they. I hope yours is an enjoyable tool to grow in your writing. You seem to have quite a collection of memories in your room; like we all do of course.

    It’s an interesting one when families split up; what becomes of the many neat titles that we give people … hmmm … inlaws vs. outlaws … I wonder.

    All the best as you fulfill your promise to yourself this summer with owning your own place, whatever that might mean for you. I bet your friend will miss you when you leave. #aNoviceMuMTwitterFeed :-)


    • Yes, I think she will. I will miss her too. I feel like I should share my password and let those who will take a week of my time, I’ve been there such a poor online student – for reasons that will be clear in my next post. Also sadly suffering from that disease you so aptly named, blog comment buildup. I feel like there should be a degreaser or something for that.


  8. pegoleg says:

    I wandered over from today’s Daily Post article on being Freshly Pressed – how lovely to meet you.

    I really like your writing style. You infused the everyday items in your range of vision with so much “you” that we got a real feel for the person who usually sits in that wing back chair.

    I’ve never taken a writing class, and that’s primarily due to laziness. Laziness and a more-than-healthy dose of fear that my writing would be picked apart and tossed to the wind like kids do with a dandelion gone past its bloom.


    • Oh Peg, I read your comment the day it was posted and thought – here’s one I need to give more thought to in response, and I took some time to go to your blog, which is lovely and funny, and then the day job grabbed me. I’m really grateful that you stop by, even if I broke every rule of bloggy good manners by waiting so long to tell you. ;-)


  9. Mary Rowen says:

    Paula, I’ve been in love with your writing style since I discovered your blog, and this piece is no exception. Like Judith (above) I felt a strong connection with the section about the scotch. The warmth and peace of that scene…the end of a day…very lovely. I live in a very small apartment with my family, and yet, am always trying to make sure the important things–certain pictures, sculptures, etc.–manage to get some respect, despite the clutter that often threatens to overwhelm us. Brava on illustrating so well what that’s like.


    • Aw Mary. Thanks so much. Sorry to be so late in responding. Lately I’ve been falling asleep in the middle of that scotch – it’s been that kind of busy. Not particularly mindful, but it is what it is.


  10. […] I mentioned in my last post, I am taking a course in Mindfulness and Creativity. I was told to remember this was not a power […]


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