A visit to Patti Grayson's studio. Patti is the author of The Twistical Nature of Spoons
Birds fascinate me. A perch-trained ringneck parakeet flew about freely in my first apartment and subsequent homes. My son’s graduate studies focused on birds, both volant and flightless. When my daughter travels, she texts me photos of exotic species that won’t likely migrate in the direction of my beloved backyard feeder. So it is fitting, in the context of my writing life, that two chickadees grace the cover of my first novel, and that magic-show doves play a key role in my most recent release. And what a serendipitous coincidence that my adult works have been released by a publisher named for a bird. I delight in the Turnstone Press logo that features its avian-wader namesake in two different poses: mid-step, intent on its industrious endeavours, and paused in a pensive skyward gaze.
With all this in mind, perhaps I can be indulged when I choose the word nest to describe my studio/office. By definition—when it pertains to people as opposed to winged creatures—a nest is a place “secluded and comfortable … a snug retreat.”* Although it lacks a bit of seclusion, since it has no door and it isn’t actually a room, my studio is tucked in a dormer nook on the second floor of my house, and aptly fits the rest of the description.
I am not a café composer, nor have I ever had the wherewithal to squeeze in writing time on the lunch breaks of my various day jobs. Other than accomplishing some occasional pages while ensconced in the wilds of Northwestern Ontario, the vast majority of my work has been completed while sitting in my same swivel chair at my original IBM keyboard. What is it that makes me prefer to roost aloft in this one familiar space? Perhaps, when I am trying to go out on a creative limb, I’m best served by an environment of cozy confinement. No doubt the elbow-distance proximity of my crammed bookshelf plays a role—so many voices to inspire me. And I’m certain that my alcove’s bevy of keepsakes also contributes to my homing-pigeon instinct. These accumulated mementos might fall under the phylum of clutter, but to eliminate them runs the risk of erasing their accompanying stories. They speak to what charms me in my everyday life, and they showcase the influences that infiltrate from other artistic realms.
Here's a sampling of what feathers my studio nest:
A pocket-sized copy of Romeo and Juliet purchased at the iconic Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris.
An hourglass that runs its black-sand course in half-hour intervals. Gifted to me, it serves as a visual reminder to keep my derrière in the chair.
A hand thrown pottery jar which stores treats for the fluffy canine that has been my office companion for over a century (in dog years).
An ivy plant that originated with my husband’s grandmother; its shoots are propagated regularly to ensure its continuation in the family.
A vintage wooden medicine cupboard—found discarded near a bike trail along the banks of the Red River, hauled home, refinished and repurposed—it now houses bottles of fountain pen ink. The exquisite ink colours, in turn, contribute joy to the doodling revelry and reverie that occurs daily at my desk.
A commedia dell’arte mask that served as muse while I completed my latest novel. The mask’s artful contours (handcrafted by a fellow Winnipeg actor) embody an other-worldly appeal.
And of course, there are birds. My favourite is a gourd bird perched in a miniature patinaed cage. Its intricate workmanship seems to project a chirping refrain—one that urges me: De~tails, draft De~tails. Whenever I’m nestled in my studio, I try to heed its call.
* The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, sixth edition.
The Twistical Nature of Spoons: A chance encounter. A family secret. Lives bound together and torn apart.