Breaking the Things You Love
to Make Better Things

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I saw this a while back and it has been simmering away in the back of my mind:

Quotograph by Todd Chandler

The juxtaposition of the text upon this sketch of an apartment is just amazing. I am making changes, revisions, in my own life and to say that this really resonates with me is an understatement. I have been thinking and mulling and pondering what I wanted to say about this image when I got around to sharing it in a meaningful way. I started writing a post about change and potential and breaking the things that we love to make better things. It sort of got away from me.

In the middle of writing that post (because I have ADD and keep my comm channels open all the time) I saw a post from Ja-Nae Duane about being Uncomfortable.

I have also been thinking a lot about what stops us from making much needed change in our lives. Of course, I immediately think of fear and its ability to keep us safe, from the unknown, as well as ourselves.

I was in yoga yesterday (a class I was really looking forward to all day) and was having difficulty staying with poses, even down dog. I felt uncomfortable, slightly irritated with myself and was sweating out all water I consumed that day.

At first, when I felt the discomfort in these poses, I would begin to wiggle and move out of them. Frustrated with myself, I would try to gently come back into them, remembering to breathe.

My breathe made me think of other uncomfortable situations that I have had recently…

Hmmm, this struck a chord with me, as I, too, have been pretty uncomfortable lately. So I left a comment, replied to Ja-nae’s Tweet about what I was working on. Then Erin Feldman, who is the inspiration behind all of this, chimed in:


Thanks Erin. You can see what I had accomplished up to this point here (Monster screen-shot of original post draft)

So I popped in my Stream of Passion CD and started destroying revising.

Back to what I was saying: the image really resonated with me and what I have been feeling lately about creative destruction in a person’s life and work. Especially in the context of the origin of the sketch. From rcrowley’s Flickr:


Today, while waiting for the Comcast guy, I measured the entire apartment to draw this nice floorplan. The living room has two big bay windows. The north wall of the bedroom has two windows and the kitchen has one. The Golden Gate Bridge is visible from all of them. The whole place is something like 800 square feet by my ballpark measurements and mental arithmetic. Twice as big as my old apartment.

I have an image in my mind of a dude waiting around in his empty apartment – and who hasn’t done that? – with literally nothing else to occupy his time. No TV, no Internet, probably not even any furniture. So he creates a sketch of this empty space. But it isn’t really an empty space is it? An “empty” apartment space is actually filled with potential, a kind of energy, an as yet unrealized instantiation of a Home. The empty apartment space’s potential will be consumed in a transformation into a space in which he will live. The “stuff” of his life will replace the potential, the space will be realized.

The act of moving in to the empty apartment is a revision of that space and a conversion of its potential into a reality. One particular reality, of course, as rcrowley’s revision is/was/would be different from mine or from yours. We have different “stuff”, different experiences that have formed our preferences, different expectations of the realization.

I am sure that seems like an awful lot to take from a pencil sketch that has been revised into a bite-sized infographic representation of a manifesto on space and change. Yet I have to say that I love what Erin Feldman has written about this, in the piece that inspired the Quotograph:

I tend to think spatially when it comes to my writing workflow. It’s not simply a set of steps or a period of time or a certain environment. It’s a space, a room, a house. It’s a space in which I dwell – sometimes easily and sometimes uncomfortably.

I’m not sure why I think of my workflow in those terms. It could be my background in the arts (despite my inability to maintain perspective in a drawing – everything is skewed in the wrong direction or is going in opposite directions, creating a sense of a not-quite-right space), or it could be the fact that I’ve edited one too many papers or dissertations. Such things seem to have a natural affinity with space; they are wholes comprised of individual parts or rooms. Then again, maybe I’ve been house hunting for too many weeks and have become obsessed with the concept of space. I seem to have a propensity for becoming fixated upon a particular concept for weeks and months at a time. Who’s to say?

In any case, I think spatially. While I may use the words “time” and “environment” to talk about my workflow and process, what I truly mean is “space.” I am creating space for the work that is about to happen. I am creating, as Virginia Woolf would say, a room of my own.

In the weeks since I quit smoking I feel like I have blown up my space, that I no longer have a room of my own. I have certainly broken my routine and my “environmentfeels different. I am in a very uncomfortable “space”. The simple revision of one aspect of my life, I quit smoking, has been incredibly complex and destructive. My writing and discipline have suffered as I focus so much energy on not doing something that I did for 15-plus years. I suppose that I never really thought about what I was doing, it just seemed like the thing to do. It was an integral part of my daily experience, as natural as walking across the room and as utilitarian as a power tool when you are building something.

I smoked to relax.

I smoked to kill time.

I smoked to occupy my hands and mind while driving.

I smoked when I needed a “break” or to gather my thoughts about whatever it was that I was working on.

Like my friend Laurel said when I told her I was quitting, “Everything happens just before or just after you have a cigarette. That is going to be the hardest thing to accept.”


She was right. Breaking these behaviors has been immensely difficult. I struggle with them every day. I am learning new routines and creating new habits. It is very uncomfortable and I don’t like it. My Lovely Bride likes it very much, my Facebook friends like it and are very supportive, as are my IRL family & friends. But my office has become a disaster area and I am having a very hard time keeping things organized. Not to mention that I have added a new activity to my life (likely as a defense mechanism for taking something so big out of it) and I am still making “space” for it.

Re-reading Feldman’s post and meditating on Chandler’s image have helped me to clarify some of my thinking on this. Having a cigarette out on the deck was the old space, the old routine, the now-broken method of revision and creative destruction. The root of my difficulty is: I have yet to settle on a new space, a new routine. It is going to take more than eating a celery stick out on the deck because that just doesn’t feel right.

I must build a new space.

Where? Not only in my mind, which is where the greatest part of my work happens, but also in my work place, workspace, my thinking place. I swear, as I sit here writing this I am tempted to turn my desk 90 degrees just to see if it helps me feel less uncomfortable.

My desk and work station
My desk has been here since August 2009

So I did it. I moved my desk to another wall. I am still not done re-arranging the office, I wanted to finish this first. But I am on my way. As I am writing this I feel better. I turned off Tweetdeck and my email and all the other incoming channels. Changed the CD. There is a breeze coming in the window and it feels better.

Next step, thinking space. The Deck is off limits, at least for a while. If I go out there I am going to want a smoke and that will derail my thinking. I need a new spot to think.

Here is a sketch of my upstairs area where my home office is:

Office Floorplan

Notes on the image:

1 – “Work” Desk with computer, screens, etc
2 – “Writing” Desk for pen and paper stuff
3 – Hobby table and book shelf (currently occupied with little pewter soldiers)
4 – Open Wall – my “Work” desk used to be here, now I have room for a tall bookcase!
5 – Area under angled ceiling, storage boxes and such
6 – A small “Nook” at the top of the stairs with a bookcase and chair under another angled ceiling…new “Thinking Place”?


For those of you that have stuck around for all 1,575 words (so far) it may seem pretty obvious. “Hey Stephen, if you need a new place to think go sit in that chair right over there!” I know, forest, trees.

I am going to finish cleaning up my office and on Tuesday we’ll give the new arrangement a trial run. I will post an update at the end of the week. Until then, well, this space was good and broken. We will see if I have been able to make it into something better.

One thought on “Breaking the Things You Love
to Make Better Things

  1. You’ve really got me thinking …. I am living somewhere where I thought I didn’t like the space. I don’t like the location of the house. I am always talking about it negatively and how I can’t wait to be somewhere else but your writing has me thinking about it differently. But I am the apace. Wow …. I’ll need to think on this for awhile …. . Love how you wrote this displaying your thought process. That was good advice from Erin 🙂

    Thanks Stephen!

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