I call it the “Mystery Box.”
Because it is a box. From which radiates — well, who the fuck knows? It’s me. Sitting in it. Every day. A mask over my head with a question mark embroidered upon it. Hammering out words, stories, characters, ideas, all the expected nonsense. Writers exude mysteries. Questions. Puzzles wrapped in enigmas wrapped in crippling-self-doubt and also, sometimes, ham.
Point is, now I have a place from which these mysteries emerge.
Hence: MYSTERY BOX.
(Though bonus points go to Michelle Sydney Levy, who actually thought to call it “The Myth Lab,” which I love so much it hurts. But I also know that if I get into the habit of calling it this, eventually the tiny human that is B-Dub will go to school one day and say, “My Daddy goes to work in a Myth Lab” and of course the teacher will hear meth lab — which is part of the joke ha ha ha — and then next thing you know it’s cops and FBI and they don’t find meth but they find all these bodies! Wait I didn’t say “bodies.”)
Previous to now, I had an office inside the house — which, admittedly, I adored! It was a corner office. Three windows overlooking our lovely woods. I’d see deer gamboling about. Foxes prancing. Sometimes the people I keep trapped in my cellar would break free and hobble through the trees with their broken manacles dragging behind them and I’d be like, oh ho ho look who thinks they’re going to make it to the road, oh you goofs, and I’d get out the tranquilizer rifle and gently adjust the scope and let all the breath escape my chest as I lightly squeezed the trigger and —
Well, I’m reminiscing.
Point is, I dug that office. I did. Big shelves. A nice closet. I painted the walls this perfectly wonderful nuclear apple green because it gave the room a kind of vibrant, cuckoo energy. And I am admittedly a little sad to say goodbye to that office.
But as those with children know, children are little productivity vampires. They don’t mean to be! They’re delightful in that they pinball around and are not easily contained. (We could stick our kid in a straitjacket inside of a padlocked steamer trunk buried in the cement foundation of the house and Baby Houdini would be naked on the roof in two minutes, shoving LEGO bricks down our chimney. B-Dub was in an actual bed by, what, nine months? Because no crib would contain him.) So, I was managing to get the writing done, but it was more of a, “Chipping minerals out of the walls with my teeth.” Slower-going than I wanted.
And so my wife said, let’s get you out of here.
And I thought, well, here it is, finally. She’s realized that I’m an awful person and has — wisely! — decided to divorce me. Or maybe just straight up kill my ass. That also would’ve been an acceptable answer — really, nobody would blame her.
That apparently isn’t what she meant.
So began the time when we tried to figure out just where I would go, exactly. We bandied about a few options. One was just renting an office — some dinky space somewhere. It would’ve worked, though it would’ve meant obviously driving somewhere every day and dealing with weather and traffic and ew, yucky. (<– privilege).
Option two, and we went down this path for a while, was to take the space above the garage — which right now is a kind of creepy unfinished space that I use as a “mouse killing chamber” (seriously, I just pop open the hatch and then chuck these little green bricks of rat poison up there and the result is this rodent graveyard). If it weren’t for the hantavirus that probably lives and breeds up there, it would’ve worked.
We had a contractor come out and price it for us and… it wasn’t cheap. Plus: there arrived logistical issues. Where would the entrance be? Staircase? What would we do with all the mouse bones?
My wife mentioned off-handedly to the contractor about putting an office somewhere on the property, instead, and he was like, “Yeah, we can do that!” And he got all excited about it and we started scouting spots. Back yard, front yard, in the woods, deep beneath the earth in the Dwarven Ruins of Krongg’nang where the Artificer of Doom sleeps in his Mechanical Cryptwalker? The contractor was geeked. We were geeked. The three of us started talking about it and planning it then he came back to us a week or two later with plans and a rough estimate aaaaaaand…
Holy shit, what? Sixty fucking grand?
And we all had a larf and I said, no, no, really, how much.
The contractor raised an eyebrow and was like, f… forty grand?
And another round of mighty guffaws was had.
He was clearly becoming aware that uhh, yeah, no, we’re not paying that, nor could we pay that. So he went on his way and said he would return with a new design and a lower cost.
In the interim, though, I thought, okay, let’s investigate. Let’s dig deeper. This is kind of a trendy thing now, these silly office sheds. I took to looking at Studio Shed because, oooh, pretty. I gandered at the writing spaces of other penmonkeys: Neil Gaiman’s magic gazebo, Laurie Halse Anderson’s writing cottage, Robert Jackson Bennett’s precious workspace, or this very special writing space (which comes with free shower and lotion as a bonus). And then it was Kelley Armstrong who told me her writing office secret:
Have Amish shedmakers make you a shed.
Then have the same shedmakers convert the shed into an office.
And I was like, “Hey! We have lots of Amish around us. Mennonites, too. Such wonderful beards!” Scads of Pennsylvania Dutch surround us — and here, in fact, I believe I have stumbled upon some kind of shedworkers mafia, because we already have one shed on our property made by a family named Stolzfus. And nearly every shed maker we contacted across the state was operated by or had an employee by the name of Stolzfus, or Stolzfoos. OMG CONSPIRACY, RIGHT. I tried to find out more, but suddenly I saw bright lights in the sky and then woke up in a cornfield somewhere with missing time. I had a big long beard, and it smelled of hay. My name is now Uncle Esau.
We started to solicit some quotes.
And holy crapcakes was it cheaper.
Ah, but here’s the trick: they’re shedmakers, not contractors, not interior designers, so, that means you have to take the reins and basically become a contractor. Some things need to be farmed out — and, further, they’re not really going to design the thing for you, you have to give them help. Lots and lots of help.
Now, an important caveat? I’m a dumbass. Like, I’m smart enough when it comes to MAKING WORDS, but in all other things, y’know, I have the common sense of a coat-rack. And not a very useful coat-rack, either. In fact, as I go deeper down the rabbit hole of my writing career, my common sense seems to be dulling even further. When confronted by a simple problem, I’m often likely to come up with a solution like, “Can’t dragons fix it?” And it’s like, no, no they cannot, because dragons are not real, dipshit. “Vampires?” Exasperation is imminent.
Thankfully, my wife is very smart. Without her, you’d probably find me wandering in the woods, pantsless, starving, covered in burrs and eating my own socks.
So, she took control of the project.
And she painstakingly interfaced with the shed people (god, that sounds ominous — THE SHED PEOPLE). She dealt with the electrician. Permit dude. The HVAC guy. The movers. The Murder Pit digger guy. The ancient shed-gods. All those folks.
Over the last many moons, my wife busted her ass to make the shed happen. She weathered the (several) problems that popped up. She helped me settle on a design that did not look like a four-year-old painted it with poopy hands. Delays and problems besieged — and oh yeah, right around the holidays, too, whee — but then, it happened.
They delivered the shed. And put it together.
You can see the sad, headless snowman watching in horror. Trying to inch closer to find solace from the sun. But no, snowman. You’re fucked. The shed is mine. No melting in the writing shed. No sex in the Champagne room.
Then it took like, a month or more to kick-punch the weather into cooperating so that they could run power, put in the HVAC, establish the laser perimeter, install the sharks, and so forth.
160 square feet.
Sits on a gravel pad framed out with wood. (Eventually, landscaping will be essential here.)
Beadboard, whatever that is. Board made of bees or beads or something.
Split HVAC, LG.
Which means, yes, it has electricity.
The wi-fi surprisingly not only reaches from the house, but is peppy as a coke-addled squirrel.
No plumbing. I, like the bear, will shit in the woods. Or in the house, if I’m feeling particularly motivated that day. I guess I could dig a latrine or something? Whatevs.
There’s an attic. For whatever I wanna put there. Bodies. Guns. Bootleg DVDs. Oompa-Loompas. Liquor. Stacks of otherworldly pornography. Ghosts. Bootleg Oompa-Loompas.
If you’d like a tour of the shed properly…
Here is the exterior.
Then, the one side:
And then, the other side:
The shed has changed my routine in a shake-up where the pieces have yet to settle. I used to roll my ass out of bed like a log off a truck and then would zombie my way downstairs at around 6AM to make coffee in the Chemex and then I’d mummy my way back up to the office where I’d let the spirits of caffeine inhabit my body and will the tired flesh toward the act of making shit up. Plus, I could pop over to the computer at any point in the day. Noon, evening, 3AM, whatever. Now, the system sits away — and lots of little other habits (lunch, for instance) are upended.
The new routine — still evolving! — means brewing coffee in the morning and putting it in this insulated carafe and then stagger-bumbling my way across the winter-smushed yard to the office. It also means that when in the house, I can get email and social media on the phone, but only there (or iPad). Means I’m somewhat less connected, which is a feature, not a bug.
Still have things to do, of course. Landscaping outside to cover the pad. Hang various posters and whiteboards and meathooks. Draw a summoning circle in invisible ink. Put in a couch, maybe. Invite a coven of sorcerers over to bless the place. Install a whiskey dispenser.
If you wanna know the total cost, well, I’m not going to tell you that. C’mon. (Assume it cost as much as a good used car, or as much as a less good new car. Which, cost-wise, works consider I rarely use a car and the money I might spend on a vehicle went instead toward this — a project that also adds to the value of the property, as opposed to car whose value depreciates by half the first time you pass gas in it.)
So, that’s it. That’s the shed. The mystery box. The myth lab. Already wrote my first 4000 words there on Friday, so it was a hella productive day. And the mailman drove up and stared at me for like, a good 30 seconds. As if maybe I was trapped inside, and needed help? He looked confused.
Sorry, mail guy.
*ties balloons to shed*
*lifts off to kingdoms beyond*