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Five Writers and One Theme: Sanctuary : Cover Story

This Garage Life

February 11, 2001|SARAJO FRIEDEN | Sarajo Frieden is an artist, designer and children's book author

I work out of a studio garage in Los Feliz. It's strange to think that this space is normally reserved for a car. In that odd worship we have with our automobiles, we are willing to donate an entire building to their well-being. Garages are often dim, cobwebbed spaces. Fortunately, mine is no longer. It's been transformed into a welcoming space, filled with books, supplies, music, dreams and two cats who leave paw prints on the artwork.

In former lives, a drafting table in the corner of a too-tiny bedroom sufficed for my working space. In this studio, I've had room to stretch my wings and grow. Surrounded by books and drawings, with windows that look out onto a hundred-year-old avocado tree, I'm never far from inspiration. When work isn't going well, I imagine that my real job is guardian of this ancient tree, or rather, guardian of the people walking under the tree. From the highest branches, nearly 40 feet above, squirrels like to fling fast-flying avocado projectiles onto unsuspecting passersby. It's enough to get the creative juices flowing again.

My commute is very ecological, no fossil fuels needed. I multi-task on my way, seven strides out the back door (the hydrangea needs a trim), a right turn (that whitefly is attacking my African iris again) and I'm there. In this creation business, one can't wait for inspiration; sometimes the best you can muster is just to show up.

The close proximity to the rest of my (home) life has its downside. Like a jealous lover pining for attention, my work can't always be ignored. I never have to worry about forgetting to bring something to work, but there are times when I can't forget about the work itself. My 8-year-old son, however, is convinced that he can lure me away. Once he's home from school, basketballs, footballs and odd leaping-frog games mysteriously meander through my studio doors.

If you work at home, you will be pulled in different directions at once. Sometimes, hearing his third-grade horror stories on the way home from school, I find the antidote I need when I'm fretting over a deadline or a job that isn't going well. When he's sick, or if baby-sitters fall through, I'm always available. After all, when he's asleep, I can always go back to work.

That's the theory, at least. And, luckily, the late shift is my favorite time to work. When the rhythms of the city slow, and the rest of the world is asleep, that's the time that delivers surprises.

It's also when the neighbors drop by, usually uninvited. There's the skunk with bright white streaks crisscrossing his back. He shows up, sniffing around and going about his business. I don't invite him in. And the raccoons. Recently, one 20-something pounder wandered through the open doors of the studio. By the time I noticed her, she was halfway across the floor. We eyed each other warily. I searched her face for signs of guilt. I know it was she who had been mucking up the water plants in the tiny fountain and eating all the goldfish. Some nights it sounds as if a whole colony of raccoons has taken up residence on my roof. Late into the night they carry on, as if holding a neighborhood meeting. In their murmurs I can hear them discussing the quality of garbage available on the street.

If my studio were human, I imagine she'd have a voice like Aretha Franklin, belting out "A little respect (just a little bit)" every time I crossed the threshold. Her ample, outstretched arms would always be ready to catch me if I were lost or flailing about. She'd witness my triumphs and tears, knit me back together when I unraveled, and help me find the thread I was seeking.

If you are certifiable enough to choose the freelance life (where you're only as good as your previous job, and you can never be sure if it's your last) and ready to master balancing checkbooks with checking homework, or sketching tomorrow's deadline in the time it takes to prepare pasta, then maybe, just maybe, the garage life is for you.

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Copyright 2001 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation. All rights reserved.

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