I spend a great deal of time in my office, a little jewel box of a room with pumpkin spiced walls and a six-foot Terracotta Warrior, who always sports sunglasses this time of year. Over my desk hangs a hand tooled leather map I carried in my hands all the way from a South American street market, and a photograph of my boys, Chase and Porter, their young faces looking out through the eyes of Zeus. Naturally, the photo was taken by my daughter, Abby, only she could have captured them so astutely.
To my right hangs a painting of Hagoth, Builder of Ships, the cover of a game we once produced, and under that a map of our home section of Suzhou, China, laser-cut by my brother-in-law onto wood from one of the packing crates used to ship our belongings to the United States after I was diagnosed with cancer. Beyond the closet door hangs a painting from the Temple of Faces at Siem Reap, Cambodia, all moody greens and vibrant oranges. I like to look at it from the battered brown leather sofa, as I curl up in the big, cozy minky blanket I sewed myself. It’s the same sofa where I sat to revise my novel. It needed much revision because I had written the whole first draft in longhand, always carrying a notebook to hastily scribble in as I waited at my kids’ swimming lessons, or in the school pickup line, recording scenes worked out as I folded laundry or washed dishes. I remember I had to write very fast, before my brain recalled that I was too scared and stupid to do this, and better stop. The final product was never actually finished, just abandoned, and now I look back in frustration at all I would change.
Under the orange and green Temple of Faces sits a small antique mahogany rocking chair that no one sits in because it’s usually covered with materials for my current project. To the right of the window hangs a chaotic and cacophonous painting of Hong Kong, oranges, reds and greens, that cost me almost nothing at 1:00 a.m. in the Hong Kong night market. It would be less than worthless at Christie’s Auction House, in fact, there’s no point robbing my home because none of my artwork is “worth a doodle” as my grandma used to say, but it’s worth at least a doodle.5 to me.
Against the last wall is a bookcase with a few fancyish books, but mostly loaded with photo albums and favorite board games, not to be confused with the horde of books and giant stash of games in the basement. Atop the bookcase is an inlaid world globe, a mounted piranha, a preserved stingray, a Brazilian quartz obelisk, and a beautiful ceramic and mother of pearl mask, a gift brought to me from Ecuador by a dear friend who had returned from adopting a daughter.
On the other side of the door, and just to the left of the Terracotta Warrior, hang portraits of each of my children, all taken by Abby, who even managed to set up her own, enlisting her cousin to press the shutter. At the baseboard, under the portraits, sits a small dollhouse door, with a little gold handle and a key. I actually have little doors all over my house, tucked into unobtrusive corners, or hidden in plain sight, all different, and all painted by me. In my mind the world functions in layers, worlds within worlds, and I scatter the doors as symbolic points of connection. It’s a bit of nonsense, I know, but I am at least 70% absurdity, so it fits. In my house there is also a secret sword in the stone, a tiny fiddler on the roof of our cuckoo clock, and a life-size Dobby the house elf, who is mostly there is scare Porter.
My desk is a carved wood business I brought back from China, a bit chipped from hard use, and I’m afraid it’s only clear once or twice a month for about fifteen minutes after I straighten it. But if you poke among the piles, you’ll find a tissue box shaped like a stack of books, a mousepad that looks like an Indian rug, and a Chinese gong that makes a walloping noise, just ask Abby and Porter. On Wednesday I ran downstairs banging away, terrifying them with the very good news I had to share.
Finally, emblazoned over the double doors stand the words, “A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for. –W. Shedd.” I didn’t put them there. I’m not opposed to vinyl lettering on walls, I’m just too lazy to do it, but if I did get up the gumption, I would certainly have chosen a quote from Mark Twain, or possibly a fairly clever man called W. Shakespeare. I know nothing about this W. Shedd character, so I looked him up and found that incarnations of this quote have been attributed to various people who’d been running around writing books and giving speeches, which still didn’t tell me much.
I moved into this house in the throes of my heaviest chemo, so at first I was just too sick to remove the words. When I transitioned to the lighter chemo, I needed to bend my limited energy to Abby’s room, stripping wallpaper, painting, and hanging her art collection. When I had rested from that I needed to teach two of my kids to drive, and address the sorry state of wallpaper and paint in the boys’ room. By the end of all that, I’d had plenty of time to think about W. Shedd and his ship, and somehow they grew on me.
Today I sit in my office, surrounded by two maps, a world globe, and a Terracotta Warrior, as well as paintings, photographs, and objects I have brought from all over the world. I’ve always wanted to be safe and secure, but God had different plans, and looking back I can see that I was born a ship, fully rigged and built to sail. Tomorrow I begin a new adventure, my very first day as a school teacher. It would be a lie to pretend I’m not scared, but I’m excited too. I’ve been here before, the moment of launch. I know my hold is laden with supplies, and I face my students with tales of leviathans and exotic palaces, but most of all, I am inspired by my daughter’s photograph of two young boys looking out through the eyes of a god. I am terrified, yet alight with possibilities. Perhaps that is what ships are for.