Daryl Farmer: The Studio

Last year, on the
October cusp of winter, Joan and I rented a studio space in a building not far
outside of Fairbanks. Joan is a potter, and our best Saturdays are spent
together here where I write using an old computer and she throws clay on her
wheel. She is also a speech therapist, and I work at UAF. But our studio rule
is that we do no work outside of our respective art – no paper grading or
writing of reports, no planning of lessons or sessions. Though internet access
is available if we so desire, we don’t. Our cell phones get poor reception. Few
people know we have this space, and those who do know not to find us here. This
space is for writing and pottery only.
On my desk I keep a
dictionary and a thesaurus. The only books I bring are those I’ve chosen that
inform whatever project I’m currently working on. Sometimes we listen to a
variety of singer songwriters: Josh Ritter, Gregory Alan Isakov, Josh Rouse,
Tift Merritt, Alexi Murdoch. Sometimes we just work in silence, save for the
soothing hum of her wheel.
Above my desk, I
have hung a string of prayer flags. I am neither Tibetan nor Buddhist, but the
flags help me to think of the writing studio as a sacred space. I try to
remember that, even as I write stories of infidelity, or murder, or take an
irreverent tone. Even the flawed among us have souls; even the wildest must
occasionally take pause to reflect. Relatedly, I keep an ornamental angel
hovering from the ceiling above me. The angel is made of macramé like
stitching, with a wooden face and hands and shoes. It was made in Sri Lanka,
and was given me several years ago by a student at Georgia Tech. The student
runs a non-profit charity now for a Christian organization. Occasionally, I see
updates from her life on Facebook. I rarely correspond with her, but like a lot
of former students who have friended me, I am proud of her, of what her life
has become. It is good to live in an age where you can follow lives of people
you have known, especially given how often Joan and I have moved.
Resting near the
corner of my computer is a quote that was hand written on a small cut of
colored card stock and given me by the writer Luis Alberto Urrea, no stranger
to the mystical. The quote is from the mid-century journalist David Grayson:
“It is never far to the unfamiliar; at any moment the wild, the eerie, the
mysterious may ruffle the stagnant pools of our mediocre days.” The “ruffling
of stagnant pools,” it seems to me, is at the heart of effective storytelling
and writing. I return to this card often, use it as a reminder to create a
ripple in the waters of all that I write.
A final item is a
small tea cup sized vessel, a creation thrown, glazed and fired by my wife’s
hands. When she gave it to me to keep near my desk, I asked her what I might
use it for. “Whatever you wish,” she said “A shot glass,” I suggested. “If you
must, “she said. The cup is mustard yellow on the inside, a light brown out. In
triangles, she has placed small dots of raised slip. Sometimes when I take a
break from writing to ponder my next literary move, I hold it, my wife’s
creation, in my hand. It is always cool to the touch.
Tonight, at the end
of our studio time together, we will share our work. Lately, she is making
olive trays, experimenting with a new design using dollops of clay attached
using a slip trailer decorating tool. I will read to her fresh scenes from the
latest book project. It is March now, and we have made it through another
Fairbanks winter. Each day, the light lingers a bit longer. Through winter we
have shared this space, have shared our art. The winters here are long, and art
is what we make to sustain us.
Thanks 49 Writers,
for inviting me to guest blog, and thanks to everyone for reading. Happy
first book Bicycling beyond the Divide received
a Barnes and Noble Discover Award. His recent work has appeared in 
Grist, The Whitefish Review, The Potomac Review,
Hayden’s Ferry Review, and Fourth River. He
is an assistant professor at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks where he
teaches creative nonfiction writing. 
You’ll find a recent radio interview he did while he was in Chico,
California at 

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