In My Room


I never thought I’d do this.

This room is sacred to me, the most personal, intimate, safe place I can imagine. Here, I can let my mind roam and give myself over to all manner of foolish thoughts and schemes.

open-door.jpgMy office is on the second floor of our house, first door on the left at the top of the stairs. There must be something about this space: I don’t know how many friends and people we know have come by the house, ventured upstairs to see me…and stop cold at the threshold of my office. It’s like an invisible barrier holds them back and they peer inside, uncertain of whether or not to enter until I actually say “C’mon in, it’s all right…”

The space is so manifestly mine. It’s like an extension of my mind, all of my obsessions and interests crowded into about 120 square feet of area. High and low culture co-existing side by side. Proust and Gumby. Sam Beckett and Captain Kirk.

beckett.jpgart-book.jpgBut, look, it’s all right, I’m smiling, waving you inside and some of your misgivings dissipate. First thing I always do is point out Sherron’s artwork (the space painting, cave art, 3-D Beckett and book sculpture are hers’), and once you’ve expressed your appreciation, steer you toward my bookshelves. As Borges famously wrote: “To arrange a library is to practice, in a quiet and modest way, the art of criticism”. It’s plain to see where my interests and reading tastes lie. I revere authors who break with convention, push the envelope until it’s somewhere beyond Alpha Centauri and stubbornly present their vision of the world without apology, eschewing artifice and formula. Pynchon, Calvino, Ballard, McCarthy, Joyce.

book-case-iii.jpgNot too many genre books in evidence (that should come as no surprise). I keep most of my SF and mystery books in the basement—at least until we can invest in more bookshelves. But even then they won’t be allowed in here: this is a place where I make ART, not look for diversion and escape.

“He speaks truly who speaks the shade…” (Paul Celan)

painting.jpgAh, you noticed all the toys. Yes, well, that’s part of me too, I suppose. The child inside who resists the notion of growing up and putting away childish things. I think that’s why I’ve retained such curiosity for the world around me and such a profound sense of wonder. I hope that stays with me ’til my dying day.

bookcase.jpgThat’s my “power shelf” there at the top; some of my most sacred objects are up there along with pictures of my family. The real source of my strength when it seems like fate, circumstances and my own stupidity are combining to take a massive diarrhetic dump on me. Below that, a shelf of spiritually oriented tomes, from Rumi’s poetry to the prison letters of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. More inspiration for when the “black dog” of depression and despair is chewing on my ass.

caesar.jpgSometimes this place seems filled with a creative spirit, to the extent that the hairs on my arms stand up because of such close proximity to the Ineffable. There’s a sense of connecting with, becoming part of something far vaster than I’m able to comprehend.

Other days, the air is still and dead, uninhabited.

music.jpgYou can see from the posters and the mini-stereo that music plays a crucial part in my life. The three CD’s I have on rotation right now are Ministry’s “Rio Grande Blood”, Nine Inch Nails’ “With Teeth” and Nick Cave’s “Grinderman” (“No Pussy Blues” fucking rocks). But at the moment I’m playing a recording of the great Jacqueline Du Pre performing Elgar’s Cello Concerto (someone once dubbed it “the saddest music in the world”).

cliff2.jpgWhat else? My gorgeous desk, which Sherron bought for me with a paycheck from her first real grownup job. The top opens up like a big hinge and there’s an old Olympia typewriter underneath, used only in case of emergencies. Just can’t quite let it go yet.

cliff5.jpgThe computer I use is an old Power Mac a friend gave us after she upgraded. I’ve had it for about eight years but suspect that it might be time to invest in some new hardware. But…have you priced out an iMac lately? Around eighteen hundred bucks, possibly more if I wanted to get some of the specialized software that would allow me to edit movies and compose music. Maybe in a year or two…besides I detest change, any kind of change, so I suspect part of me would be quite traumatized by switching computers. Knowing me, I’ll likely drag out the process as long as I can.

The big yellow armchair isn’t as comfortable as it looks and it’s probably not good for my bad back. I’ll wait until I can get a really nice rocking chair—something that will keep my wonky spine in alignment without taking up too much room.


But, really, this office isn’t about sitting around and relaxing, it’s a work space. For 8-10 hours a day I immerse myself in my latest project, getting up frequently to pace, talk to myself or burst another one of those stress balls with constant, compulsive squeezing. And then I spring back into my chair and have at it again, repeating the process dozens of times during the course of the day.

cliff3.jpgLately, I’ve been re-editing So Dark the Night, an incredibly tedious process, going through a 475 page manuscript over and over again. For the past while I’ve been editing standing up (Hemingway wrote that way too), which is a real departure for me but it seems to be helping the back and shoulder strain. It might be paying creative dividends as well because the editing is going faster and more smoothly than I expected.

Anything else? Yes, I’m a Boston Bruin fan—you got a problem with that? I didn’t think socliff11.jpg (Bruin fans are notoriously pugnacious). The great Bobby Orr was my earliest hero, along with Neil Armstrong and Gene Autry. All are represented in the office (Autry symbolically, with a lineup of plastic cowboys and Indians over my office door).

Well, I think that’s everything. Whew. This hasn’t been as stressful an experience as I imagined. Rather liberating, really.

I don’t know if any of this provides you with fresh insights into my personality or work…or if it’s just given you a very good idea of what sort of disturbed mind you’re dealing with.

Regardless, thanks for stopping in.

Me? Well, in a little while I’ll head downstairs to crack open a Guinness and then it’s back up here, the fourth section of So Dark the Night awaiting my slashing red pen. One of my sons will get your coat (don’t worry, he won’t expect a tip). No problem, it was good to meet you.

Uh, sorry, would you mind closing the door behind you on the way out?

Thanks…hope to see you again soon.

Take care…



  1. carrie

    Actually this post makes you seem more “normal” then I thought LOL… Your office reminds me of my off-campus college bedroom right down to the John Lennon and Bob Marley Posters. I had the same exact ones along with the original posters from “The White Album.” Thanks so much for sharing. I really enjoyed the tour, especially Sherron’s artwork. Be well and good luck writing!

  2. Ron

    Thanks so much for that wonderful glimpse into a part of your private world.

    I must say I’m envious. I used to have a small study (an absolutely sacrosanct place too) until my worsening snoring necessitated turning into a cramped bedroom. It was either that or divorce, I fear (at least at the time).

    In the weird North American scrambling of the English language ( 😉 ), second floor means the floor above ground floor? In AussieLand we call that the first floor.

    When my computer is on, it’s constantly playing streamed radio from the Atlanta Blues Society.

    Cheers (and it’s still bloody hot here at the moment).

  3. (S)wine

    although i have a study set up, i find myself using that as my daughter’s bedroom/playroom when she visits me.
    and so i end up writing in all kinds of spaces on laptops or desktops or with pencils in notebooks.
    guess i’m more of a gypsy when it comes to writing space.

  4. mattcody

    Ah, I like the gypsy analogy. Being a New Yorker, my office is wherever my laptop is at the moment – the couch, the desk next to my son’s crib, the coffee house down the street . . .

    Your office actually makes me homesick for someplace with space!

  5. Jonathan Mercer

    Jack and Coke is a staple tradition of my family. Starting with me. I will force my children and my children’s children to love the bourbon-come-whiskey.

    It’s good to see a writer’s habitat. Mine consists of a messy desk with various notebooks thrown over the place and a number of screwdrivers for some reason unbeknown to me.

    (also, I’m enjoying the snippets of your writing that you’ve offered)

  6. Niklas

    Grinderman’s “Get It On” is also worthy of playing non-stop. It’s nice to see old men rock out, even though I prefer Blixa Bargeld going full out in Einstürzende Neubauten, now that he’s no longer part of The Bad Seeds.

  7. damyantig

    Where one works over the years tends to become an extension of one’ personality….thank you for the tour.

  8. kinziblogs

    Cliff, what an honor!I get invited into the sacred place after only knowing who you are for five minutes!

    Most of the writers I know are Jordanian, so I appreciate a glimpse of a compatriot’s domain. Love Bonhoeffer, too.

    thanks! Hope to come back and read around a bit (after deadline)

  9. Annalise Russell

    Thanks for the peek into your world, Cliff. We moved into our current house last summer, and I’ve spent time in every corner on every floor trying to find my ‘creative’ space. My office here is open, and that’s fine for most things I do, but not fine for my creative process. However, I have found that the laundry room works great – go figure. ~Annalise

  10. Oscarandre

    Thanks, cliff – no room for a study here at the moment but, when the kids are older I’m going to enjoy setting up my space. I like your work ethic too.

  11. vbonnaire

    Hey, thanks for coming by with the tips on sharks and so forth…I’ll be fine, got the best o’hollywood for my teachers, ’tis true!
    here: sbwc(dot)org

  12. hermipowell

    I liked that you said, “This is a place where I make ART, not look for diversion and escape.” You must truly be a writer, at least that’s how I feel as a writer, even if the writing starts out as a diversion or escape my desire takes me create art. Thanks for allowing us inside your head. Nice office.

    My office is wherever I take my MacBook Pro laptop. Jealous yet? Yeah, this machine was a Christmas gift last year from good old mom. She’s AWESOME! I’m still learning how to use it.

    Thanks again for visiting my blog. See you on another post!

  13. Miki

    My niece Contessine called me and told me that she had been in a great place, the kind of inner places she loves, and I should have a look myself… I just hope she didn’t leave the mess she leaves when she visits my own atelier! I wonder if she really closed the door behind her… or is she perhaps still inside, hidden within a book? She is a real bookworm, you know…
    But she was right: a great place, and full of creative atmosphere… one can almost “touch” it

  14. Jared Ponath

    This is my first time checking out your blog and I really like it. I just happened to be listening to James Brown while reading “…had better not meet me in a darkened alley”, (or something to that effect). The line in the song made me laugh – “I don’t know karate, but I know ca-razy.” Seemed appropriate. I have pretty vivid memories of my trips to visit you and Sherron. The posting on your office was areal flashback. I think the last time I was there was when Jesse and I got snowed in on Thanksgiving 98. Judging by the pictures very little has changed. I finally did get around to reading Gates of Fire. I constantly had to consciously relax my white knuckled grip. It’s sad though, when I hear someone rave about 300. When I first heard about it I was pretty excited – Then I saw the trailer. I definitely feel your pain when you talk about the options out there for music and movies. If you are into iTunes try out “Fan” by Kings of Leon or “The Charriot” by The Cat Empire. As for movies, I think the only thing out of Hollywood in the last year worh watching has been the Boune Ultimatum. I’ve never read anything by Robert Ludlum, but the movies are terrific. I have really gotten into HBO’s Rome series though. It’s generally the best option at the local video store. Drop me a line sometime!

  15. ~F~

    Ok, I’m officially jealous – not only do you have your own room but you have 8-10 hours a day to spend in it! Oh the luxury! I am thankful for the little corner I have but it certainly isn’t my own. As I write this, my bookshelf with my beloved books is doubling as a farm for a pack of animals and the bottom shelf is set for a tea party. Toddlers…gotta love ’em!

  16. Kate

    I really appreciated this post. I love seeing the places people create for themselves. Thanks for sharing!

  17. Pingback: Writing with a View « Daily (w)rite
  18. dfrucci

    Ahh I like the office you have there. In my bed room my desk is totally writing. I have tons of papers, books on writing, dictionaries and such. By the way, does editing while you stand really make it easier?

  19. RaiulBaztepo

    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

  20. Nilsa Wolfenden

    Thanks for posting this article. I’m unquestionably frustrated with struggling to search out pertinent and rational comment on this subject. Everybody nowadays goes to the very far extremes to either drive home their viewpoint that either: everyone else in the planet is wrong, or two that everyone but them does not really understand the situation. Many thanks for your concise, applicable insight.

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