Saturday, July 11, 2009

Home furnishings

My book manuscript, I have decided, is a piano. And I don't know how to play the piano! But that's only part of the problem.

Several nights ago, I was out for dinner with a friend in the profession whose monograph is at about the same stage as mine.

"I think about my book every day," she said. "It's like a physical presence, like a piece of furniture."

We started talking about what kind of furniture our manuscripts would be, if that's what they were: something hideous? merely functional? twee and filligreed in a house full of midcentury-modern?

"Well," I said. "Mine's been in the corner with a sheet over it for ages. And it's nice there. Doesn't get in my way, and I can forget about it for long periods of time."

"But under that sheet, it's actually, uh. . ." I thought for a minute. "A piano. An upright piano. Nothing fancy, like a grand, but old and rather handsome--maybe something I inherited from a great-aunt?"

"I can't get rid of it. But I don't know how to play it. And it would be pretty just to look at, I guess, and for sentimental value--except that it doesn't really fit in my apartment, and I'd have to organize a whole room around it, and if I'm going to have it, I want to be able to play it, and not just, like, put doilies on it or whatever."

It was one of the more illuminating conversations I've had about my work--or, really, my vision of my career--in a while.


If your book manuscript (or dissertation, or latest research project) were a piece of furniture, what would it be?


Belle said...

Not an antique, but a vintage and out of tune violin stuck in the back of a closet. I go months without thinking about it, then wonder briefly what it would cost in time, effort and money to get it to something usable to anyone. And I remember the glory days when I knew how to play it.

medieval woman said...

This is a great post! I think at the moment my manuscript would be a bean bag chair - the kind where you're not quite sure how mushy it really is. It looks overstuffed like it might support the weight of a human being comfortably, so you sit in it and you discover that it surrounds you, choking out the air, you writhe around and you can't get up out of it - you're too low to the floor and it's will is too strong. So, you finally accept your fate and just lay there wallowing in it, knowing that all you'll ever be able to see is the bean bag chair for the

And it would be a soft teal color.

Dr. Virago said...

What an excellent metaphor!

OK, I think my current project is a couch that looks like it would be the most comfortable and functional couch in the world. But then you sit on it and something's not right. It's too deep or not deep enough. Or the cushions aren't firm enough. Or the arm's at the wrong height. Or when you take a nap on it, you're butt always falls in the crack, no matter what you do. But you can't get rid of it because you spent a lot of time and effort picking it out, not to mention money, and it's not that old. And no one else wants it. And anyway, who's to say what you got to replace it wouldn't be worse. And hey, at least you have a couch.

Digger said...

I'm not sure what kind of furniture it is. It is in pieces. I keep finding new pieces, and refinishing others, and trying to fit them together. I had instructions, but I seem to have misplaced them. Every once in a while, something comes together. I really need to find those instructions. I hope it's a roll-top desk, though. I love roll-top desks.

Sisyphus said...

These are great! So creative!

Hmm, to figure out what type of furniture my dissertation/book manuscript is, I'd have to get it down from the piles of junk in the attic. Will think on it and get back to you though.

Horace said...

My dissertation is a probably a really nifty automobile--something kind of fast and kind of fancy--which I have built from parts. The first time I built it it ran ok, but didn't have nearly the elegance or speed of the real thing. So now it's in part on the garage floor where I tinker with it on the weekends.

As for my actual piano? The century-old baby grand I inherited from my grandmother? I sold it to a grad student this spring for eighty bucks.

Doctor Cleveland said...

Ouch. Selling a baby grand hurts. (Or, it hurts me just hearing about t, and I've never owned a piano.)

My book is a large and complicated piece of furniture, that's taken up a lot of inconvenient space in my home: a grandfather clock.

It's big, parts of it are fragile, and it can't be moved much. It's been horizontal on a pair of sawhorses in my home for years now, awkwardly straddling the opening between my living room and my dining room.

If I have guests, everyone has to walk around it. I walk around it myself every day. Even if I put a drop cloth over it, it's too big to ignore. And if I don't work on it, it stays there as an obstacle.

Because of the complicated clockwork, I can't just declare it finished when I get the woodwork stained and polished appropriately. I have to get the clock to run. And once I've gotten it running, I have to get it to run properly, and keep time. At least once I've hauled it upright, started it, and discovered that it was nine hours and twenty-three minutes off. If I only get it close to right, it will haunt me forever, a few minutes faster or slower every day, constantly needing to be tended and adjusted.

Someday, not too far in the future, I will finish it, lift it erect and place it along the wall. I will enjoy its time-keeping for a while, and the extra space in my home, and then I will forget about it. It will tick quietly and comfortably in the background. I will only notice it when dinner guests do. And I will take the saw horses outside, or to the basement.

Then, of course, I will begin tinkering with something else, something small. And that project will grow more complicated. Eventually I will realize that I am too far into that project to quit, and that I need to put it on those sawhorses in the living room again, just for a day or two. And the whole process will start again.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

I like Digger's. Clearly I have no imagination: mine is a very large and very cluttered desk. I shift the piles around, but can't make sense of them, and the whole thing is in some very inconvenient spot, like the middle of the living room, because the desk is too big to fit in the room I use for a study. But I'm not willing to get rid of it, or cut it down, because it's a really nice piece of wood. If I could just see the surface of it.

Renaissance Girl said...

Mine is a lovely and baroque breakfront that I've inherited from a beloved grandfather: imposing with shiny glass over the display case, very glittery. But also very fragile. And it's in the dining room, which is great because that's where you'd think it's supposed to be--the room where I enjoy myself most--but it's too big for the room, and it draws my attention more aggressively than it should. I'm constantly aware of it. It's awkward, and even when I try to come at it from another angle in the room, I keep hurting myself on it--my elbows and toes have been so bruised by it that I'm skittish about walking near it these days. I'm questioning the wisdom of having fought to get it in the first place. Perhaps I should have let one of the other grandkids take it, and contented myself with the Garden Weasel, which I use all the time anyway and which has practical utility and offers some ancillary pleasure. But I suspect that the other grandkids wouldn't care for the breakfront properly, and I have this profound love for my grandfather, so I am committed to it for the long haul.

Flavia said...

Dudes, I love you all--thanks for playing.

MW, I especially love thinking of your MS as a teal beanbag chair. Maybe that should go in your book proposal somewhere?

life_of_a_fool said...

this is great. I also love Digger's answer. I think mine is some sturdy old piece of furniture - something with the potential to be functional -- like a big chair that is missing it's seat or back, maybe. It could be great, if restored well, but I don't know how to do it, so it sits in the middle of my apartment as I debate whether to patiently do the work well or rush through it to get it over with.

miltonista said...


Flavia said...

Miltonista: are you thinking of the story I'm thinking of?

Because if you are, that bidet presages a very fine career indeed. (And a very hot former grad student/wife.)

miltonista said...

Good god, all I meant was to evoke the assiness/shittiness of my dissertation (although I strangely didn't feel like likening it to a toilet--do I find my dissertation cleansing?). I have no idea what the story is, but you'll have to tell me at some point.

Doctor Cleveland said...

I think we all need the story now. Flavia, launch your e-mail.

St. Eph said...

I like this game very much. My dissertation is the office chair I use while working on it. It's not at all the kind of chair I thought I'd have in my office (which isn't an office at all, but my dining room), and it took me a while to figure out that using it is much more comfortable than trying to use a regular dining room chair. It's not pretty, but it's comfortable--I'm happier not looking at it, and if I can just get my ass into it, I know I'll be happier that day. But it's allllllll the way over in the dining room, and the couch is just right here.

This is an improvement, though, as it used to be the fancy briefcase I bought on sale (but still for too much money) used for a week, and stuffed into the closet because it barely held anything and fit weird on my shoulder.

Ink said...

Ooh, what a great metaphor! Love all of your answers. Ok...the book I just finished working on was a couch with unruly giant springs that sproinged into your skin suddenly and without warning.

The chapter I'm working on now is a door that no longer fits into the frame correctly so keeps swinging shut without warning. Oh, and if you wrench it open, it will scrape your foot viciously.