Ghent really has some of the loveliest places to have a cup of tea or coffee (two coffeeshops beloved of younger Gentenaars are the trendy Simon Says and Clouds in my Coffee). Besides traditional cafés (serving alcohol and other drinks), Ghent’s many coffeeshops are full of students on laptops, families having a day out in the city, tourists, and ordinary people. Some of our favorites are Le Jardin Bohémien (especially nice to sit at the long central table), Barista Zuivelbrug, OR, the Leescafé in the central library with its fabulous constellation ceiling from the 1960s, and Mrs. Beanzz. One caveat is that in general (although less so in the latter two locations) service can be poor. Barista especially tends to have grumpy service! But in all of these locations, you can stay and write for a good long time with one drink—and Barista’s tea comes in big (almost pint) glasses; definitely the best value in Ghent, where a tea generally costs between €3 and €4.
Where I Work:
What I’ve always wanted to do was make comic books, which I’ve begun to focus more on in the past year. It took me a long time to find a way to approach writing a story. I’ve discovered what works best for me is to write scenes while listening to music organized into a kind of soundtrack to the arc of the story.
I just passed the 100 page mark in my first comic and I’m really pleased with how it’s turning out so far. I’m about one quarter of the way through the story. I also make watercolor and gouache paintings and wooden action figures. These are usually inspired by or inspire ideas for characters and situations for my comics.
It’s never really been hard for me to find time to work on my art because it’s pretty much all I’ve ever wanted to do. So coming home from work always meant time to draw. Free time is creating time. I’ve been really lucky the past few years because I’m in a place where I can spend all of my time making stuff. I’ll wake up and start right in on a project almost immediately and will work anywhere from 8 to 15 hours a day or more. It’s basically a dream come true. I usually don’t go out on the weekends, I just want to make stuff forever. You can get me out of the house for pizza and a root beer otherwise I’m quite content to hide away and draw.
I’m actually a bit indifferent to the neighborhood I live in (leaning toward the not especially fond of end of that). Bear, Delaware. It’s your basic suburban wasteland of strip malls, TGIFridays, etc. Between that and the fact I find the act of driving unnatural and horrifying I lead a pretty monastic life, sometimes seeing only my girlfriend and our dog before realizing I haven’t left the house in two weeks. Drawing, honestly, is just kind of the most fun ever for me so I don’t really mind. I lived in Philadelphia for about 6 months last year, though! For someone whose transportation is a bike (which I love riding and miss terribly, there is nowhere to ride here) it’s much more fun.
As far as my workspace goes I really enjoy it. I’ve taken over the dining room in our house. I have a hard time working when I feel all crammed into a small space like a typical art desk affords so it’s pretty great for me to have the luxury of Kati’s dining room table! I usually work on paintings that are part of a series and it allows me to lay them all out to scrutinize them while I work, it’s super handy for making comics for the same reason (and it helps with continuity). Also, I tend to work on several projects at once so I often have different projects taking up different parts of the table.
I’ve been kind of a nomad ever since I went to art school back in 2003-2004 and never really felt I had a highly personal space for creating. Like, it’s the dining room, so if we’re having Kati’s parents for dinner everything’s got to be put away (which is totally fine! Hi Mr. and Mrs. Driscoll!). The whole house is really just a shared art space to be honest, I don’t know how much it informs or reflects our work. I like to look at it more as a kind of “Q Branch” like in James Bond. Where you go into different rooms and there’s a bunch of people doing ninja training or flamethrower testing or laser wristwatch exercises except it’s just Kati and I. In the back room I have my scroll saw set up and there is where I cut out all of the pieces for my wooden action figures, etc., the kitchen usually sees Kati making candles or myself fiddling around with silicone mixes for molds and resin casting for other toys, Kati has a sewing room upstairs which she also paints in and another room where we keep a surplus of art supplies. Combine that with four cats, a new stray kitten and a dog and it’s quite the circus but it’s also the most fun ever! Every day is the best.
In truth all I really need is my watercolor tray, brushes, some paper and a surface to paint on. Aside from that I find it difficult to concentrate unless there is a movie playing so I usually have my laptop showing some old horror movie or whatever.
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If you’d like to tell us about where and how you work, please drop an email to miel.books at gmail dot com!
Carol Rowntree Jones
Where I Write: ‘amongst piles of rich, unstable things’
Welcome to my untidy world, where I work amongst piles of rich, unstable things.
My work in general: I write, and I make books sometimes, for some of my words. I write poetry, short fiction, essays and non-fiction. I write because I need to secure something: my work explores what it is to suddenly wake up and how an awakened self can function in a civilised world and not lose the wakefulness. Not go back to the easy, the sleep-walking, the this-is-how-it-is.
I love it when my work fires and explodes into places I recognise as ‘home’, in a belonging, created, found sense. By this I mean a sentence or a phrase rather than a physical place.
I never make enough time to focus on my creative life. This is partly for fear of sitting down and disappointing myself, and also because of guilt that as a woman I should worry more about having a house to run. It’s also about simply the length of time. It’s about allowing myself the time to keep at it long enough to get to the place I didn’t know I was headed.
Saying that, sometimes my best work comes straight out, in a rush, so what do I know!
Routinely, I walk my disreputable dog every day. Mostly we walk down a lane between tall, elegant ash trees, pass through a small wood and then the path opens onto fields lined with hawthorn hedges. I can see the daily changes in the wheat, the hips and haws, the birdsong. The fizz in the hedges is the young birds calling.
Three minutes from my house in the other direction, I am in a sloping parkland field, with mature poplars, newly planted oaks and ornamental trees shielding the Hall from the footpath. Yesterday I went through the kissing gate, wondering where the cattle were and if I had to leg it to safety, to see a cow looking at me, matter dripping from her mouth. A new calf at her feet and she was eating the placenta. The calf already lifting its head. Two crows bounced around, a few feet away. I crossed the field higher up, to make it clear we were no threat to her and I was beside myself with excitement. I snook a few glances. She started to walk away – perhaps I was wrong, perhaps she didn’t have a new calf at all, was I mistaken? Then another look to see she had returned and was standing, stock-still as if to take another step, but with one foot raised, solid energy directed at the crows – Don’t you dare…
When I returned, the cow and calf were walking down the field to join the rest of the herd. I checked under the poplar, and there were the remains of the placenta, rich and pink, stretched, bubbled and drying around the edges.
Also in the field: two more calves; one hare running, a bolt of energy; buzzard mewing overhead. A way to start the day.
What else gets me writing? Conversation. See Dorothea Brande Becoming a Writer: “You will have to find … persons who, for some mysterious reason, leave you full of energy, feed you with ideas, or, more obscurely still, have the effect of filling you with self confidence and eagerness to write.”
My paid work (which I love) is media relations for The National Forest. This calls for constant writing, but of a different nature to my creative work. Although surrounded by trees at work, these rarely seem to creep into my subconscious.
So, where I am geographically: I live in the southern-most tip of Nottinghamshire, a Midlands county bordering on the north. I live in a small village (about 1200 inhabitants) called Sutton Bonington, which, if anyone has ever heard of it, is generally because it houses an outpost of the University of Nottingham; go to Nottingham to study agriculture, food sciences or to be a vet and you will be based here. So for a tiny village it is welcoming, used to transient populations of staff and students, and the village school benefits from children of different nationalities, a bonus for the local families.
The room where I work is the garden room. It was part of a big extension we did before I started writing. I would probably have made more wall space for books and less window space if I had planned it as a writing room; it is probably as well I didn’t!
Major house redecoration is currently underway, so the room is half full of books and maps and stuff decanted from elsewhere. Decorating. Maintenance. Ongoing. So you don’t get to see that half. But I will get more shelves for my books out of the shake-up. Yay!
Fireplace: wood burning stove with wine bottles drunk with my daughter. One has a label congratulating me for winning a caption competition at the local organic farm. Strangely, that made me feel like a real writer! The cactus has been with me since I slept in an attic room on the last hill of the Cotswolds before you descend to Bath. It has been with me longer than most things in my life. Also heather from the North York Moors and pine cones from Corsica.
The table where I work is an old Utility furniture dining table that my parents would have bought shortly after the Second World War. It is made of oak and has two extending leaves. It has seen many family dinners of grey mashed potatoes and gorgeous rice puddings, and I used to play underneath it, balancing on the cross piece where my feet are currently resting, tunneling up through the dining chairs that had removable seats.
I use black Bic medium ballpoint pens; I generally write in hardback A4 notebooks: I try different sizes and styles every so often, but these are what I come back to. They feel utilitarian and fine.
I went on an Arvon course when I first started to write. Kathleen Jamie was one of the tutors and at our first one-to-one session she congratulated me for having a simple A5 exercise book – nothing too daunting, nothing that demanded beautiful work from the get-go.
In preparing for this piece for MIEL, I was thinking about where I used to work. At the front of the house we turned the original main bedroom (near the front door) into a study/guest room and I set up a snug corner to work in (see other pic). However, it would get taken over, and then the room got co-used. I do live in a house with other people, so that is to be expected! I can’t remember writing poems there, though. Until recently, I would still use my beloved old iMac in that space for emails and for business-related work. This summer it had a major implosion and it appears to be unrescue-able. [PLEA! If anyone knows anyone who can rebuild a ‘vintage’ iMac running OSX 10.3.9 please get in touch!]
When I was in my final year/s of my part time creative writing degree I moved into this space, so that I could leave my work out and get back to it more easily. First one extension leaf of the table was needed, then the other. They’ve stayed out ever since.
The summer I started to write I bought a sweet little blue desk on ebay, and had to travel to London to collect it. That day, I had lunch with my brother and it was our last real conversation.
The desk is in a corner of the bedroom, never written at; holding [up] a lot.
Okay, I’m outside now, because the garden room gets so hot on a hot day and today, 2/3rds through September, is baking.
I am now in the garden looking down at it ( see picture)
Where did I get to? My computer. I’m using a MacBook, (see earlier, re beloved iMac ) I don’t particularly enjoy using it to write on at the table, I get backache, but using it on my lap is much better. Ergo… yes, I know. We make so much effort at work to configure workstations correctly: it all seems to go out of the window with a laptop on a desk.
My mother, in North Yorkshire, has a small, oval, drop-leaf table, oak, with barley twist legs. I enjoy writing at that.
I acquired the space, and no one is complaining. It’s a beautiful room but I have to moor myself in it. The table set in the middle of the room makes me feel marooned sometimes, and it can feel like a goldfish bowl when people are around.
It feels kind of temporary; I want my writing to be more grounded, more ample, than I feel in the room.
An ideal space would bring together the love and delicacy of my blue desk, the snug workplace-feel of the study and the spaciousness and clean lines of the garden room – oh, and the comfort of the kitchen table as well! Not that I want a lot!
Where I Work: Michael Lorsung, ceramicist and kiln builder
What I am making varies from day to day, in terms of the actual objects. I love history, use, and the deception that simplicity offers. I am currently working on a series of sculptures that derive their forms from wood crib grain elevators of the great plains and the plains of Canada, while at the same time are influenced by Great Lakes freighters and other nautical architecture. I also make pots because the I enjoy the challenge that merging aesthetic and utility offer me as a maker. Their forms are simple, influenced by things like North American pioneer tinware, industrial tinware from the turn of the 20th century, as well as more ceramic influences like the Mingei potters of Japan and their western counterparts. I want to make beautiful things that illuminate the otherwise overlooked.
As someone who doesn’t make a living from their work, I really have to be diligent to make sure that I get into the studio every day. I work a couple of regular jobs, one of which is for the university here in town and that affords me a studio space with access to kilns and equipment I might otherwise not have. There, I repair and maintain equipment and assist in the day to day physical needs of the facility. My other job is fabricating stained glass windows for an artist here in town. I work between 40 and 60 hours combined at these jobs in any given week. This basically means that my studio time has to be well-considered and taken as it comes. I work a lot of late nights (which I enjoy), and fit my studio practice into nooks and crannies throughout the day. I am nearly constantly sketching or doodling, and thinking of work and ideas occupies a good deal of my mind.
My studio has two 4′ wide by 8′ tall windows in it–they are old single paned warehouse windows. The bottom sections pivot in their centers allowing the hot and moist Louisiana air in when I want it…. It is a studio within the art department at Louisiana State University, and as such there are often a few dedicated students working in their own spaces adjacent to mine. This brings with it the sounds of their music, the smell of coffee being made, occasional interruptions of questions or requests for assistance…. The walls are concrete block, scarred by years of clay and neglect, the floors are worn linoleum tile that is chipped beyond recognition in places. It smells of clay—imagine digging a hole in a field after a rain, with the ground soft and that fresh, earthy fullness that meets your nostrils—that’s the dominating odor. Beyond my studio is a campus populated by turn-of-the-century architecture, live oaks, and of course students. It is regal in ways that make me uncomfortable, but visually interesting nonetheless.
My space is very much a black box. It exists for me to work inside—when I first moved into it it was full of junk. I spent a day finding new homes for equipment, and throwing away refuse left by its previous inhabitants. Now it has become a space that changes based on what I am building or making. In my current work I am building large scale sculptures, so the potters wheel becomes a rotating platform, and table space is for rolling coils and allowing slabs to setup prior to their addition to the work. This will shift again as the work dries and becomes ready for its surface treatment with buckets of glaze, engobes, and slips making their way from under tables and shelves to be mixed and applied. Perhaps the best way to describe it is that it is flexible.
The ideal configuration of a space for me is large. Large, and open, with lots and lots of shelves. I collect things—sometimes these things make their way into my work directly as additions, but mostly they serve as a tactile and visual library providing me with source material to work from. I love large, empty industrial spaces. This comes from my attraction to the marks of use. I enjoy seeing tools that are well used and cared for that show the hand position of the user, they all give hints to the purpose of the object—spaces are the same way. Seeing the outline of where some machine was once bolted to a floor, or the remnants of a belt system that ran a machine shop at some point in its history are inspiring, tell-tale signs for me.
Valerie Wetlaufer: Where I write
I wanted to wait to show you my writing space until it was perfectly organized, until all my pretty little things were on the wall and neatly arranged. Until I’d finally finished shelving (and re-shelving) books and filing away papers, but then I remembered a Voltaire quote about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. The truth is, when I am working, my space is never tidy and perfect, and wanting to present it that way to the internet is dishonest. So here is my workspace in all its cluttered realness.
The other reason I’ve put off writing this is that I just moved, and I’m still settling in to my new writing space. I have this lovely little desk in a corner of my bedroom, and I do work there, often, but I spend more time at the expansive kitchen table, where I can spread out my books, overlook the forest, espying deer, rabbits, turkey, a few foxes, and benefit from a ceiling fan.
After twelve years in higher education, I’m slowly feeling my way through a new, freer writing routine, and the freedom to read and write every day without feeling as though I’m neglecting a pressing deadline is glorious. I’ve resumed my not-always-regular practice of writing a poem a day, and these poems mostly get typed at the table, with my coffee, sparked by some passage in Proust or whatever poem I’m reading at the time.
When I began a daily writing practice in 2010, my writing locale became less important. I still like having a special place I can go to write, but writing a poem a day meant that sometimes I wrote the poem in bed first thing in the morning, or on my phone on the way to work, or scribbled on the back of a scrap of paper while standing in a line. Still, despite evidence to the contrary, I need a writing-specific place for peace of mind. I like to store personal mantras (whether writing-related or not), so I can see them as I work. I like my books to be nearby, as I most frequently gain inspiration from other writers. I like small things with which I can fiddle. I prefer, if possible, a room with a view.
Childhood amended (part 2):
Personal geographies form important aspects of our identities. Landscapes, cityscapes, seascapes, even lunar landscapes mould our psyches and our psychoses. Memories of places and spaces linger like way points over shoulders on the narrative journeys we call our lives.
Current thought on cognition and memory focusses on the notion that there is no central ‘hard-drive’ in the brain where memories are somehow stored and retrieved. There is only ever one copy of each of our memories in our brains. Individual memories are fragile texts, and when one is called into what we term consciousness it is read and then rewritten.
Memories change. They are fluid, liable, under conditions of joy or trauma, to be recast in new forms.
Childhood memories are rewritten as we age. Each time we remember a place from our childhood it fuses with new perceptions and new locales. What we call déjà vu can perhaps be seen as an indication that memory exists partly as sensory stimulus in the physical world around us.
A walk down any street may suddenly trigger a memory of a childhood event: the time you were bitten by a dog; those red sandals you wore to school. A particular arrangement of colours, buildings, avenues of trees, a quality of light, the sound of a bell, the smell of market stalls trigger synaptic pathways in our brains that stimulate the memory of a place that is similar.
As we walk on and enjoy this uncanny sensation (and enjoy the words we have that name these sensation events) the memory that was triggered has been amended; new experience has been tagged on.
My childhood has been amended.
This may be one reason why memory fades; the specific replaced by the generic. Perhaps this is why we seek the individual and the unique in a world that is increasingly modular and the same in feel.
My memories of growing up on an airfield are amended by these images. The photographs may not speak directly to you in the way they speak to me—these images send whispers to my ears and bring tears to my eyes. RAF Newton has taken me back down the Fosse. Back to my childhood Kemble and the anxiety of war.
The Fosse as runway to pacifism.
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(All images & text by Jez Noond.)
If you are interested in writing a post for our LOCALITIES series, please get in touch.
Childhood Amended (part 1)
The Fosse Way runs diagonally across England, a north-easterly Roman road that connected Exeter in Devon to Lincoln in The Midlands. At Lincoln, the Fosse intersects with Ermine Street, the Roman road that connected London to York.
I grew up on an airfield in Gloucestershire. RAF Kemble is just under half way along the Fosse, not far from Cirencester. My earliest memories are of my father cycling to work, across the airfield, his blue police uniform gradually fading to grey as he disappeared into the morning fog, the red tail light on his bike; a lit cigarette that became extinguished. The Fosse Way cut through the airfield and ran along by the front wall of our garden. Open the front gate and you’d step right into the past.
Parallel to the Fosse was the main airfield runway. I’m certain of these large brush strokes of memory. Modern satellite mapping systems allow me to check remotely and online to scrutinise what is left of this terrain. The precise details however, the sensory data as it were, feel as though they have been lost, painted over by more recent experiences.
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I don’t know how I learnt about the Fosse Way but I know that I’ve known about it since before I can remember. There was and is something magical about the Fosse. When my father took us for drives in his Zephyr, I begin to understand what the Roman road meant, what it looked like.
The Fosse: the ditch became a metaphor.
As he drove along, I sat in the middle of the back seat, behind him and my mother. I looked ahead between their shoulders, through the windscreen at the perfectly straight Fosse undulating in grey-green hues to the horizon.
The Fosse Way was a like a runway.
RAF Kemble became fused with the anxiety of war. My childhood obsession with war has, to some degree, fictionalised my ‘growing up’. The planes that flew to Yemen from England in the Aden emergency of the 1960’s were maintained and sprayed at RAF Kemble.
For me, that childhood anxiety is present in the images that accompany this text. The images allow me to experience memories that have been rewritten, memories that have become overgrown, that have been left untended as new concerns have diverted attention away from anxiety.
The images are not photographs of my childhood, nor are they purely documentary in nature. They are images of memories. A kind of false memory syndrome. A methodology for memory.
And so, many years later, I visit a place towards the other end of the Fosse, in Nottinghamshire, a place that resembles the memories of my childhood back down the road in Gloucestershire. My mother and father, whose shoulders I looked over, are no longer with me. The memories of them are covered with lichens and blackberries too. The memory of my father’s police dog, an Alsatian called ‘Gunder’, on whose back I once rode as a small child, is now the black silhouette on a yellow sign at a perimeter fence. RAF Newton in Nottinghamshire, like Kemble, is one of the many World War II airfields dispersed along the Fosse Way.
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(All images & text by Jez Noond.)
If you are interested in writing a post for our LOCALITIES series, please get in touch.