The divan came to me in 1996, the year I spent as a visiting professor in New York City. It was also the year of my first writer’s block. Okay, I told myself, if you don’t feel like writing, don’t. Just don’t, and let’s see what happens.
What happened was the divan, among other things.
Without the obligations of administrative and committee work, I was left with time to explore. Art exhibits, performances, a garden history course, the street life. And Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.
Freshly divorced, I used the book as a way to restore myself. I began practicing visualization. Never before nor since have I been as taken by the force of my desires. The images were so vivid, I would consciously dive back in to uncover more detail. It was like being both the viewer and director of my own film.
What I visualized (as is clear only from a distance) was the making of a writer’s life. First, there was the cabin on the wooded lake. When I peered into the window to find out what I was doing, I saw myself writing a profile, with research strewn across the bed. Second, there was the wide, wooden writing desk. And finally, there was the divan.
It’s where I listen deeply and imaginatively, often with eyes closed, forehead in hand.
I guess I must have imagined myself as some kind of reclining Madame Recamier. Reclining. To recline is to be supported in the act of repose. And over the years, the divan has indeed provided me with a touchstone space to read and think, perhaps to dream. More recently it has served as my coaching couch. It’s where I go with client file, notepad, and phone at hand. It’s where I listen deeply and imaginatively, often with eyes closed, forehead in hand.
Now I’ve gotten my coaching couch reupholstered. Not that it needed to be recovered. The industrial-strength synthetic likely would have outlived me. But when I visited Charleston House on my trip to England last May, I was struck with all the force of those Julia Cameron-induced visions.
Charleston House was the East Sussex outpost of the Bloomsbury group, country home of modern artists Vanessa Bell (Virginia Woolf’s sister) and Duncan Grant, along with a menagerie of other artists, writers, and intellectuals. No wall or doorframe or stick of furniture, it appears, was left untouched by an artist’s eager and playful hand. The textures and colors and shapes and oh that “West Wind” upholstery fabric designed by Duncan Grant! Against a muted ground of loopy, cloud-like doodles, the shock-haired west wind huffs and puffs, and a heroic female nude pulls a cloak round her shoulders.
My coaching couch is now clothed in “West Wind.” What was already a sacred space has become a work of art, and my repose is an expression of its warmth and whimsy.