The Gift of the Stairwell

Posted: March 8, 2012 in Musings, Scribe Scribbles
Tags: , , ,

Yes, I take pictures of stairwells. Yes, that is a small stuffed animal on the step. His name is Nicanor and he went all over Washington DC with Megan and myself several summers ago. We were looking for a way of making the pictures entertaining for her niece, and hit upon the Nicanor-as-Waldo motif.  The reason that I posted it here is it seems to fit  with the thoughts I’ve had today about my writing.

For months,  I’ve felt trapped in  my writing. Not on one floor, or another, but somewhere between.  It was like I was in a stairwell, with doors opening to different rooms that were either locked, or full of unfamiliar sounds and smells that made me loathe to even try opening them. Now as far as stair wells go, mine  was a nice one, like the photo up there.  But stair wells are not parts of a building you’re meant to linger in and be amazed by, their sole purpose is give you options on where you want to go. They won’t take you anywhere, locomotion is up to you. All the choices are solely your responsibility.  That’s why I was so frustrated. I didn’t know if I wanted to go up, or down. Worse, my stairwell wasn’t a private thing. Oh no. It was rather crowded.  Being in a stairwell and watching friends and even people you don’t really like, nimbly bound up and down the polished steps, can be as painful as being one of those steps.   I was thoroughly fed up with the jostling and with the not knowing where to go.  The doors that were not really inviting at all, I seriously thought about picking. Anything to get out of where I was.

I didn’t though, I stayed in the stairwell.

After a while I started feeling like a coward, and worse, not even like a writer.

I mean, a person who talks the lingo but doesn’t  participate in their field is the worst kind of fraud.

That’s what I felt like, a fraud. I even thought about just chucking the whole thing.  I seriously thought about it.

After all, I have a limited amount of hours in any given day and if I’m sitting in front of a screen procrastinating and fighting a ‘block’ there are other more productive things I could be doing.  I don’t know if it was apathy or stubbornness that made me stick it out. I’m beginning to think it was prayer.


Well, a funny thing has started to happen to me. I’m still in the stairwell, but something that hasn’t happened in years, is happening.

I can hear myself.

I know that sounds nuts, but really, I can hear myself in the stairwell. I can hear my thoughts. I can hear my ideas. I can hear me. In the mad rush to get wherever I was going, I hadn’t even realised that my creativity was being  drowned out by all the expectations of those around me.

I still don’t know if I’m going to go up, or down. But I do know this, the others in the stair well don’t bother me any more.  I can grin and cheer as they clamber up, I can offer a helping hand to those who have slipped on the way to their destination, and I can commiserate with those that are plastered against the walls looking absolutely terrified.  I like my stairwell. I’m not intending to stay here forever, but for now it’s a nice place to hang out with someone I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about.


If you feel like I did, stuck in a place between places, if you are right now thinking of giving up on your writing   or escaping the stairwell by a door that doesn’t appeal to you at all; don’t.  Really, don’t. Stay in the stairwell. Get to know yourself. And if you want to come and find me and sit on a landing somewhere, well just let me know. I’ll make sure you don’t get trampled by all the others on their way to wherever it is they are going.

  1. Megan-Marie says:

    So I reset my password for you. You should appreciate that 😉 Just as well; maybe now I’ll actually remember my WordPress password. Dear lord, I am incoherent today.

    I like stairwells 😉 First of all, Kristine and I have had inside jokes about stairwells for well over a dozen years because we used to spend enormous chunks of our time together hanging out in them. (They were more comfortable, more interesting, and more private than the contrived “youth spaces” people tried to coax us into.) And the more I’m thinking about it now, the more I realize that stairwells were *the* hotspot of my childhood. Not only did I used to hang out on the stairs at our “old house” (there are a number of pictures of this), but in hotels, that was pretty much where Kari and I would chill and play, particularly if there were no playground. When we’d have our mini-reunion, Heather and Rachael and I would always disappear into our favorite of the hotel’s four stairwells and fight gangsters, terrorists, and crime lords with our super awesome techno gizmos.

    Kari used to read to me while we sat on the steps at the “new house,” or we’d just sit there and listen to the radio while Mom and Dad were gone. And of course, sneaking halfway down the stairs and peeking around the wall was how I watched the majority of the Star Trek episodes I’ve seen (cause it came on after I was supposed to be in bed . . . la de da . . .) Ooh, funny story. At the “old house,” Corey always thought I played just outside his bedroom door at 6 AM because I wanted to irritate him, but I tell you, it’s true . . . the stairwell is the best place to play! (Or in this case, the upper hall in the foyer. Same thing. The focus of the space was stairs.) Awesome game: We used to take yarn and dangle it down from the second floor into the foyer and Peaches would perform impressive acrobatics to catch it. And on top of that, it is inconceivably comfortable to stretch out on the floor at the top of the steps, prop a book on the first stair, and read. (I’ve suddenly noticed that because you have those uncomfortably steep and narrow east coast stairs, you have no idea what I mean 😉 Ah, well, take my word for it.)

    And yes, this is me, the person who never goes up or down a flight of steps without being convinced I’m about to die and who can’t watch anybody in a movie fall down the stairs because that’s in my Top 5 of ways I don’t want to die. Maybe this is why I like hanging out in stairwells, because I am afraid of going on the steps themselves. (Though in Barclay/Bailey hall at UU, the game I played with myself was to open the door as wide as I could and get up or down the steps to the other door before the first one closed. I’ve never really cared if people gave me funny looks . . .) And also me who cannot abide cleaning steps because sweeping the basement steps was my first chore and vacuuming the upstairs steps was a more recent one and I always hated them. (This is how I vacuumed my hair one time and cracked myself on the head with the hand vac.

    The building we are in has two charming/fascinating stairwells, and I’ve always had a soft spot for that little cozy area at the very top floor. It looks so inviting. Ooh, and the Escher-esque stairwells inside the East Tower at the main library? I could stand there all day and stare at them. Stair at them. Hahahahaha.

    In the movie Thomasina, the vicar (or whoever; dude, I have not seen this movie since the last millennium, I am just about certain) tells the little girl that there’s no place like the stairs for having a good think. This is definitely true. People don’t bother people in stairwells. Which is presumably why I like them because my life’s goal is not to be bothered. My point is, before my supervisor comes back and I am overrun with guilt for not only coming in late but not doing any work so far, is that you should not resist the stairwell 😉 I didn’t even realize I had this many anecdotes about stairs.

    Which is only appropriate ’cause that’s my Nicanor 😀 I’ma quit now while I’m ahead. And work. Right. That stuff.

  2. Kathy Black says:

    What a brilliant, lovely analogy. Keep listening. And only when you are ready leave the stairwell. As a wonderful, talented man once said…to thine own SELF be true.

Be brilliant, be peculiar, be peculiarly brilliant.

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