From the Writing Desk Of: Tabitha Blankenbiller
1. In early 2013, my husband Matt’s company transferred his job from our home outside of Portland, Oregon to Tucson, Arizona. I had only been in the state once, as a stop on a family road trip when I was in high school. We didn’t know anyone and I found myself struggling with what to do with myself. I wrote, a lot. More than I’m writing now, which was a good thing. I flirted with steampunk lifestyle choices, which didn’t work out because I couldn’t suspend my disbelief and claim that I’d arrived by balloon air ship and not Prius V. I also frequented the local dollhouse museum, because when you don’t know anyone in a city, there’s no one to accuse you of being a weirdo. The dollhouse museum held classes, and one weekend I took a course in mixed media dioramas. I fell immediately in love with the collages, and the puzzles that mimicked writing—trying to figure out how to solve problems with structures, how to represent your entire heart in a facet you could hold. I sank hours into these assemblies and they began to take over my office, the spare bedroom, the kitchen. I started mailing them to friends back home like postcards. A few of them egged me to sell them on Etsy, but I couldn’t stand the idea of someone opening up a package and leaving a one-star review: I hate this. This is why I never read a single review, even the good ones. You have to know yourself and what you can handle, and what you can’t. These four dioramas are the ones that were gingerly packed in bubble wrap and peanuts to come back home to Oregon with us: my first class project, a pin-up model in her midcentury kitchen; a shrine to Oberyn Martell; a Northwest/Southwest dichotomy; Madame Leota’s séance room from Disneyland. And yeah, I know the stretching portraits aren’t in the séance room, assholes. I’VE BEEN THERE. I JUST LIKE THEM AND IT’S MY GODDAMN CRAFT TIME.
2. When I was living in Arizona, I got up to Sedona and Flagstaff once. It was a few scant weeks before I was offered a job back up in Portland and spirited away on a one-way ticket home. I had thought I had time to return to all of these disparate places I adored in a state I claimed to hate. To the north, the radiance of the red rock sparked by Route 66’s last spates of neon, the gaudy pink tour Jeeps and crystal-reading mystics that told me that “the trees needed me” back home. On main street in Flagstaff they had this artisan candlemaking shop, and I couldn’t put down this adobo-shaped candle house that I’ll never light because it’s way too precious, and even though it was something ridiculous like $40 I had to get it and now it’s here, this little piece of a place I thought I could “always” go back to and check out that restaurant, that bar, that cute guy at the general store selling homemade cookies. This summer Matt and I are going to New Mexico and staying in the person-sized version of this candle, and when I told my close friend about it, she remarked that it was “amazing how much Arizona made an impression on you.” I didn’t quite see her point until I sat down with all the favorite things I choose to sit and work with.
3. There’s a street in Tucson called Fourth Avenue that had everything. A tiki bar, an organic co-op, a New Orleans courtyard bar that was older than the state itself, a body-positive yoga and photography studio, a record store, a pinball repair center. It also had an import shop that sold goods from across the border, a division only a brief drive from our front porch. They sold these model covered wagons that reminded me of the 8-bit ones I used to coax across the Apple PC prairie when I was in kindergarten. I brought it home and placed it next to this chicken from a friend I no longer speak with. You’ll get home, the talisman vowed. It wasn’t wrong.
4. Please meet my $65,000 piece of paper. It’s the most expensive thing in my house except the house.
5. For a few years my parents were visiting state parks like Glacier on the regular, and they would stuff these mini vases from a pottery shop in Whitefish into my stocking at Christmas. When we were in Tucson, I started to see the same sized vessels at the desert museum gift shop, and I made a tradition of bringing home my favorite and lining it up perfectly with its brothers. The collection hasn’t budged since I got back—small pottery isn’t really the Pacific Northwest’s forte. But I can’t sit down and work unless they’re all in their proper place. I have the same issue at my day job desk, where I have over a dozen Starbucks mugs lined and perfectly spaced in an order that makes sense only to me, and office legend has it that if you try and touch them I’ll stab you in the jugular. This is also not wrong.
6. I’M SOUNDERS TIL I DIE I’M SOUNDERS TIL I DIE I KNOW I AM I’M SURE I AM I’M SOUNDERS TIL I DIE
7. A year ago, I had to finish my first book edits. As mentioned I work full-time, so tackling an entire manuscript seemed impossible on the work nights and weekends that are normally my parameters. In truth I’d only written the first draft in pieces, as essays that I could concentrate on and perfect in those margins, hoping but not knowing if the project arced into a full, cohesive story. The question hung above me relentlessly for weeks until I broke down and booked a stay at one of Silver Fall’s state park cabins. With a few days off work, without internet or other people or excuses, maybe I could concentrate and edit the draft into something usable. It was April, a lottery month when it comes to Oregon weather. I hit on dark and torrential downpours—a productivity jackpot. Marooned in the cabin with nothing but my Lisa Frank binder full of pages I discreetly printed off on the office inkjet, I had the time and focus to take the work as a full creation, and drill down line by line, word by word into what worked and what didn’t. The last day of my stay was a schlocky metaphor of sunshine and blue sky breaks, and I left Cabin Number Five with a book. The covered bridge postcard is from the park gift shop and depicts the view from my cabin’s window. I had to help a docent rescue a baby bird before he could ring me up, and then I had the vacant weekday falls all to myself. It was magic I can’t recreate, only fondly remember.
8. Yes, those are cat-sized Mickey Mouse ears. I did it all for the Instas.
9. That desert museum mini-rug coasters my omnipresent Diet Coke. Yeesh, my BFF really has my southwest number. Am I that transparent? …Don’t answer that.
10. I have a vintage shopping problem, and it’s always worse when I’m up visiting my enabler (Mom). This is from the last time I was up visiting her in my hometown of Buckley, Washington in March. I spotted this perfect French cookbook, circa 1995, a few moments before she did. Our “firsties” rules are strict and abiding. I dream of some future kitchen where I can display all these treasures I find in their midcentury glory. Just as I dream for a space where all the old cuckoo clocks and hatboxes and suitcases and ceramic can-can dancers just out of frame can flourish. For now, this spare bedroom/writing room/place where the cat likes to clandestinely poop to spite me will have to do.
11. When I was a kid and we’d occasionally have the family vacation to Disneyland, I’d prepare by saving up my allowance all year for souvenirs. I bought the music box hiding underneath that typewriter pencil sharpener, an unpictured Disneyland Barbie, Candy Palace gift boxes, and countless other treats that have been lost or broken or Goodwilled. What I could never afford was one of the limited miniatures they sold in the fancy Disneyana art gallery, the light-up Sleeping Beauty castles and Main Street Cinemas that sell for actual thousands of dollars now on eBay. But when I was at Disneyland this April after a book tour stop, I was there as a grown-ass woman with her own credit card. And I finally brought home my very own Olszewski model of…yes, Madame Leota in her séance room. This one doesn’t have stretching portraits. HAPPY??
12. You can grow up into a grown-ass woman with her own credit card, but you will never be so old that you no longer need Sailor Moon to guide you.