When I moved in with my wife, we went through the typical early matrimonial angst that goes with trying to cram two independent lives into a two-bedroom condo. The fact that both of us are artists (Nuvia is a painter) complicated matters. Foot by foot the condo was parceled out. The guest room was turned into a bedroom for my daughter’s visits/painter’s studio/overflow library. The bathroom doubled as a cleaning station for art supplies and meth lab (kidding, kidding).

My wife watched with dismay as her cozy home was systematically converted into a book depository. Nuvia is a native Californian with a healthy respect for earthquakes. To her, a bookshelf is a wave of paper waiting to break. Her fear of being buried in an avalanche of books was exacerbated by the sinking feeling that she’d married a pack-rat. (For my part, I was slow to understand that non-writers tend to view extensive files of previous, current and potential research as symptomatic of an inveterate hoarder.)

When all was said and done, the only space left for me to write was the coat closet in the living room: 10 feet wide, 2 feet deep and accessed by a pair of hideous sliding mirrored doors. Nuvia had rigged a crappy wire shelving unit and that’s where she kept her laptop. Whenever she needed to send an email she’d slide open the closet door and pull up a chair. This arrangement pretty much sucked, but I figured if James Joyce could write sections of Ulysses in a crowded one-room apartment he shared with his partner and two small children using his suitcase as a desk, I could learn to work in a closet. And I did. For two years. When it was “finished,” my bitching became bolder.

If I didn’t like the space, Nuvia countered, I was free to fix it. The only thing holding me back was me. In the interest of matrimonial harmony, I rolled up my sleeves and got all Bob Villa on the closet. I took off the doors, ripped out the shelves, and spackled the walls. I went to Home Depot and picked out some paint. Then I bought a book shelf and desk unit that just barely fit into the space and installed it in the closet and tricked it out with some boxes and shelves.

Of course, when I say “I,” I mean “we.” Nuvia was with me every step of the way to offer her direction inspiration and approval assistance. In any case, the results are pretty amazing. It doesn’t even look like a closet anymore.

Jim Ruland is the author of the short story collection Big Lonesome and the host of Vermin on the Mount, an irreverent reading series in the heart of L.A.’s Chinatown. Writing Spaces is a series dedicated to the desks, cafes, libraries and retreats where Fictionaut writers work, providing a window to the physical places where some of the stories on the site originated.

  1. Katrina Denza

    Love it–both the space and the story.

  2. Tim Jones-Yelvington

    Excellent use of space, but after 10 years employed by Crate and Barrel, that bookshelf/desk still stokes my PTSD.

  3. Gary Amdahl

    I’m trying to see what you’re using for a screensaver, and what kind of doo-dads you have on your shelves. The doo-dads on the bookshelf of a writer reveal a great deal of the secret life of the writer–the secret life he will NEVER write about. Which is why no one will EVER see my library…

  4. Bill Walsh

    Sweet–the story and the space. I like that you retained the edits from your original.

  1. 1 Fiction Writers Review » Blog Archive » Less is More

    […] at the Fictionaut blog, writer Jim Ruland describes doing the opposite: taking a tiny, uninviting space and transforming it into a lush (if tiny) writer’s retreat. […]

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