February 21, 2013

by jkatejohnston

Dear Max,

Yesterday at work I wrote a note that I now can’t find. It had to do with how Mrs. Korte complimented Teresa on the way she folded and sorted the Kindergarten laundry and how it kept coming into her mind all day and it felt so good.  Anyway, at work, after you send a fax, the fax machine prints a Report.  And if the fax goes through the report says, “Result:  Success.”  And it just gives me a boost.  Success!  Terrific.  What’s next?  I think there’s a best-selling self-help book in there somewhere.


I have a note here that says, “Oh, Kate.  Get down here in the gutter with the rest of us.”  I wrote that note because I was thinking about how much more sensitive to language I used to be.  I used to recoil from words that sounded wrong to me.  I thought they could hurt me.  And I still think it’s hard to clear your mind of cant.  When I write cant, I kind of believe it for a while.

Anyway, that note is a quote from one of my classmates in Advanced Legal Writing, years ago. I didn’t want to write the legal-cant preamble to whatever we were supposed to be writing.  So I asked the teacher, “If I just skip that part, I’m not going to, like, fail, right?  I mean, could I just get a bad grade?”  And one of the other students said, “Oh, Kate.  Get down here in the gutter with the rest of us.”  I loved her for that.  I never did write the preamble, and I got a semi-bad grade, so it all ended happy, though I was a little irritated at the time.

But what I wanted to get to is that I have to write pleadings in my new job, and in the form pleading that we use, we never say that something happened on a particular date, it’s always on or about.  So the first pleading I wrote, I knew I could prove up the exact dates that stuff happened, so I just wrote “on” not “on or about.”  And I let that sit on my desk overnight.  And then I changed it back to “on or about” and turned it in to my boss.  And it didn’t really bother me.  Besides, this is my livelihood we’re talking about.


Enzo:  Let’s do innocent faces. 

This is when we go around the dinner table and take turns looking innocent.  Teresa makes big eyes, purses her lips and puts a finger to her mouth–she looks puzzled and surprised and very innocent. Enzo’s innocent face is just incredibly guilty.  I’ve never seen my innocent face, but I’m told that it looks like I’m farting.


I helped Enzo make a fort, and now I want a fort so bad! I would be so creative in my fort.  A Fort of One’s Own.  A Writing Fort.  And I would put a sign on the door that said, NO BABIES.

We made Enzo’s fort out of his bed frame, turned on its side, my banker’s boxes of closed legal files, and big sheets stretched over the top and sides.  The sheets are pink with pictures of pie, candy, ice cream and cake.  The floor is his mattress, and there’s a little alcove, which he calls his eating chamber.  (I also want an eating chamber. Desperately.)  And the whole family together (as Enzo puts it) can lie in his fort and gaze up at the sheets and take turns saying which treat we want to eat the most.  I even put Christmas lights up inside (the low-heat LED kind) and there’s a window to the outside too.  The lighting is, like, designer.  It’s airy and cozy at the same time, and I am so jealous.


I decided to make my own fort.  My Writing Fort.  Our house is almost a hundred years old, small, but loveable.  Back in the day they made the closets with tiny windows so that your clothes would air out, so my closet has a tiny south-facing window.  I cleared out the south side of my closet, stacked yet more boxes of closed files against the south wall and covered them with a cheery tablecloth to make a very nice standing-up desk, which is the only kind I like (just like Hemingway and Donald Rumsfeld).  I fine-tuned the height by adding one volume of the OED as a laptop stand, and here I am, in my Writing Fort, and it is fabulous.  Now I just need to find room in the basement for half my clothes.

Of course there’s no power in here to charge my laptop, and no light except the window, and no room for printer, scanner etc.  So I will still need my other office, which has all those things.

The key to the Fort is that there’s only room for a few things, so there are fewer distractions.  And I’m thinking of making a Fort Rule: no internet.  No going online to see if I’m famous yet. No email or facebook or twitter or craigslist.  Just writing.  Like the old days when sitting down to a computer actually increased your chances of getting some work done.