The Banished Place

by Jen Sullivan, Olive's Pearls

In grad school, I had a creative writing teacher who used to tell us that to be productive in our writing, we needed to go the the Banished Place. And often, he'd lament that for him, the Cocktail Party Place was such a more fun place to be than the banished place. Now, this teacher wasn't a lofty speaker. He liked to refer to a story's protagonist as "our guy" or "our gal," and the antagonist as "the jackass." When he said the Banished Place, he didn't mean that dark part of our soul that makes us feel different from other people, the loathsome stance of the observer. He was simply talking about that nasty little room where we do our work. For us, it was a wobbly desk made of partical board, the kind that comes in a furnished college apartment, where we'd sit in front of a typewriter, word processor, or perhaps just a yellow legal pad and number two pencil.

Those of us who sew have a banished place, too, except ours is full of loud and heavy machinery: a sewing machine, maybe even an embroidery machine. Perhaps a serger, hopefully the kind that can thread itself. A motion-sensitive steam iron on an ironing board that never gets put away. Loops of lace and trim, some of it on the floor or hanging out of dresser drawers. And the piles and piles of fabric: some aging gracefully, some downright vintage, and some , if we're lucky, spanking new and in still in the box: what I like to call the Great Unwashed. This is an interesting and fun place to be, and yet, so often when we enter, we start making excuses to leave.

My writing teacher routinely asked us students, "What is it that keeps you from your writing?" We'd say things like, "Real life stuff. Suddenly I realize I need to get the car lubed. Cook dinner. Grade Freshman term papers. Or better yet, I decide I need to do more research. I can kill a lot of time doing unnecessary research." One student would always complain, "Sometimes I get my meds wrong and when that happens I'm useless for the rest of the night," as if he were describing the management of a chronic medical condition rather than a recreational drug habit. And still another would lament, "For me, it's the dream of fame. I sit at the computer typing away and then I find myself fantasyzing about a two book deal with Viking, my book tour, and how maybe I should practice a more writerly-looking signature."

It's no different for those of us in the strange world of boutique children's clothing design on ebay. Except that for us, addressing real life concerns makes us feel virtuous instead of lazy. Children do need to eat, after all, and toliets don't just clean themselves.

But we're not exempt from the distraction of the dream of fame, either. Who among us hasn't sat at the serger with the best of intentions, only to find her foot falling away from the pedal as we wonder if maybe this will be that special ensemble that causes a bidding war, a flurry of kudos in the form of Ask Seller a Question, and then ends in a hailstorm of snipes? The next thing we know we have wandered out of the sewing room. Perhaps real life beckons, and we put in a load of laundry. Kiss an owie. Preheat the oven. Or maybe it's time to do research: let's sit at the computer, shall we, and read our email. Check out the designs of other sellers and peek at how our own auctions are doing. Maybe even shop for fabric.

And back in the banished place, the steam iron cools.

Jen Sullivan and her husband LB live in Milwaukee, WI with their 6 children. She sells handmade boutique girls' clothing on ebay under the name Olive's Pearls, specializing in formalwear with an old-fashioned feel. Though her background and education is in fictionwriting, these days her creative pursuits center on sewing and knitting.

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