There’s a house I pass four times a day: twice in the morning and twice in the evening. It’s on the corner of a quiet side street between the bike route and daycare. It’s one of those grand Portland houses with a wide front porch, old-style double-hung windows, and rosebushes and rhododendrons planted along the front. Most evenings (and some mornings) there’s a woman sitting on the porch.
She’s got a great setup. A café table and comfortable chair. A funky chandelier hanging overhead. Extra throw pillows. In the mornings there’s an oversized mug on the table. In the evenings, a martini glass. Whenever I see her, she’s got her computer open and she is completely, utterly intent on what she is doing.
I don’t know this woman. In my head I call her Linda. Linda, I imagine, is a novelist. She gets up every morning, makes a pot of coffee, and goes out to her front-porch office ready to dive into her latest book. She checks her e-mail, answers messages from her agent and her fans. Pops into a couple of forums just to rile the newbies up (“OMG Linda was here and she totally agreed with my post about casting Benedict Cumberbatch as Daniel if her book was a movie!”). Sends out a couple of tweets: “Finishing up chapter 12. Deadline’s been moved up 3 weeks. #fml #amwriting #furiously” “There goes that crazy woman on her giant-ass bike again. At least her kids aren’t screaming this time. #pdxlife” She writes for a few hours, getting up only to stretch and refill her coffee mug.
In the afternoon she makes herself a sandwich, maybe does a little laundry or some yard work, just for a change of pace. She snips a few roses to put in that vase on her little café table. A little bit of busy work is exactly what she needs to untangle the next bit of plot. Around 4:00 she makes herself a drink and settles in for another few hours of writing. By the time I ride by, kids in tow, sweating from riding three miles uphill into an east wind, she’s back to being immersed in her characters’ lives.
What can I say? I want to be Linda. Or my fantasy of Linda. My house has a porch – two, actually. The upstairs one is right off my bedroom. I have a café table and an Adirondack chair, a few throw pillows. No chandelier, but there’s a ceiling fan. I could have a front-porch office too, but would that make me a writer like Linda?
Linda-the-novelist represents to me an unattainable ideal. She’s like the Mona Lisa, attractive because of her mystery. As long as Linda is a novelist in my head, it means that I’ve got something to dream about. It makes the hard reality of trying to be a writer on the side a little more palatable.
I can’t actually see her screen, not from the street, so for all I know she’s not actually working on that novel. Maybe she’s taking a break for a few minutes or hours or days. Maybe she’s commiserating with her novelist friends about coming up with the next plot point. Maybe she’s not a writer at all and is goofing off on Facebook and Pinterest like the rest of us. Sometimes I think I’d like to stop and ask, but honestly, I’d rather stick to my version.