What Competes in the Room Where She Writes

by | Sarah Day 2 - Group B

I’m a bit too likely to exactly mimic people and, while I wanted to write a list of all the incongruous things I removed from my office (teaching at the U.S. Air Force Academy) when I retired from the military, I went with this instead:

What competes in the room where she writes:

• The cactus wrinkling because even it can’t go this long without water;
• The tomatoes ripening out of kitten reach.
• The question, are there more waiting in the garden?
• The two horses and mules with pricked ears and an unspoken requests;
• The skein(s) of yarn and thread, embrodiery patterns and tea towels, artists’s paints and pencils;
• Sleep;
• The electric piano and sheet music for the A-level competition piece from high school;
• The printer laser toner cartridges and tiny chips needing surgical transfer;
• Matches plus one candle;
• The photo of all the aunts, cousins, her sister and mother in straw hats watching her hug the president;
• Her decade-dead grandfather’s carry-on bag full of her living grandmother’s writing;
• Hundreds of hand-held books in expectant silence. Judgement;
• High in one corner, shifting spectre—hope, desire, fear, imposter syndrome.
• The first keystroke. A beginning leading to an end.


  1. Sarah Freligh

    Max, this is a great list of distractions! I see many items there that would also end up on my list (I’m typing this even as Stewie is trying to walk across my keyboard).

    I love that first detail–the cactus “wrinkling,” yes, indeed, they do that–and how the “even it can’t go this long without water” feels so significant for all the ways it evokes what’s really at the heart of this — the need for us to write, our water, our air, amidst the competition from the world. That you’ve set it in a single room –and found so much there — is all the more fabulous.

    Next pass — and I know you will, so I feel silly even saying this — dig into the significance of each of these, the way you do with the cactus. The aunts, cousins, sisters, mother in their hats–are they listening to you tell their stories or are they looking askance: We told you not to tell.

    I love the tomato ripening and the “are there more?” You could even move that one down farther, conveying how we fix on things and can’t move away easily. Ditto each of these — which ones would come back?

    Great start. KEEP GOING.

    • MaxieJane Frazier

      Thanks, Sarah. Clearly just not “feeling” something new today. Maybe should have put in something I was working on instead! But I love your suggestions if I decide to keep working on it. Writers writing about not writing is…well…uninteresting to us writers, yes?!

      • Sarah Freligh

        Nah, I like anything about writers not writing. It makes me feel like I belong to a big clan.

        • Traci Mullins

          It’s always good to be reminded that I’m not the only one who’d rather do anything but write, especially when the imposter syndrome dogs my steps! Your list is so interesting, and the grandmother’s writing especially piques my interest. Even makes me wonder if there’s a story just in that—perhaps her grandmother abandoned her own writing for some of the same reasons the narrator is tempted to do. Lots to think about as you let this simmer.

  2. Catherine Parnell

    This list is indicative of a mind at work even when it’s not at work, a condition we all suffer from. We call them distractions, I call them essentials. What would extend this would be a back and forth, a call and response, something that would provide meter & rhythm and elevate the material to the next level. This is a monologue in the making — and that last line! Excellent!

  3. Mikki Aronoff

    I also love stories about writers not writing! And I can really relate to the burden of books crooking their fingers at you (I wrote something about this earlier in another workshop today, so that’s fresh in my mind). Your list is so fulsome. Things spoiling, dying, letting them spoil, letting them die. Don’t worry, there’ll be more. And the nag of the bag of grandmother’s writings – what a thing to live up to – yikes! That’s genetic, so what’s happening?! But that beautiful last sentence lets us know the narrator’s plowed through all of that and come out the other side. Even a letter (singular, not the epistle) is a beginning, no?

    • MaxieJane Frazier

      Mikki, thank you. You have me thinking about the writing in the bag–all the things we wish my now 96-year-old grandmother had compiled. If that isn’t a call to write, what is?

  4. Chelsea Stickle

    I have ADHD so this piece really resonates with me. Everything you’re supposed to do pulls at you until you’re pulled apart and have done nothing. Lovely.

  5. Suzanne van de Velde

    Maxie — I love the way you frame this, as though each of these disparate entries might carry equivalent weight, depending on the moment. The endless hours required to resolve a printer issue can feel as demanding as the needs of living things. The weight of family history.
    Like Chelsea, my ADD is a potent force I must wrestle with daily. I’m an Army brat who somehow still tends to think of people who served military as being so disciplined that none of this would have much pull, so it’s a selfish relief to read your list — but then you did push through, so…
    I like Catherine’s suggestion of a call and response, that’s something to play with, a brisk comment from one of the women in the photo, the bleat of a tomato.

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