Writers' Rooms: Jen Sookfong Lee

Jen Sookfong Lee

(c) Jen Sookfong Lee

When I started taking pictures of my home office, I took a whole series of shots that weren’t very interesting. After all, my office houses all the usual things: a desk, a computer, some books and a very ugly filing cabinet. Then, I started taking pictures of more specific objects, the things that make my office unlike anyone else’s, like, for example, my grandfather’s Head Tax certificate, without which I could never have written The End of East. But still, this wasn’t good enough. I wanted to show people something more unexpected.

Incidentally, the thing you should know about my office is that it’s in my narrow townhouse in southeast Vancouver. The window looks out into Everett Crowley Park, which borders my backyard and in which I spend far too much time trying to keep my dog from eating mud. Yes, that’s right, she eats mud. When I’m sitting at my desk, all I see out my window are trees and bush, finches and hummingbirds, and this tricks me into believing that I don’t live in a big city and am writing from a cabin on Cortes Island.

This is the picture I finally decided on. This is a corner of my desk on which sit a bowl that my friend’s husband made for me out of salvaged wood, some pens with woollen finger puppets on them (that’s a dolphin and a hippopotamus in red overalls, given to me by my sister), a pants-less Babar doll who somehow lost most of his clothes during the wild years of my childhood (perhaps I had him attending too many keg parties with my paper dolls, none of whom survived, so he should count himself lucky) and a Barbapapa stress ball that my friend sent to me from France. Apparently, I need to relieve stress, but only with a shape-shifting, French-speaking blob.

I keep these things with me because writing is a very solitary business. I spend most days alone and, since I come from a big family, this is a great challenge. I’m in danger of becoming an eccentric at the best of times, but now that I’m by myself so much, I could very well turn into Joan Collins and begin swanning about the house in a mink tuxedo just to amuse myself. The bowl, the finger puppets, the Babar and the Barbapapa remind me that there’s more to the world than just my office. Every one of those objects was given to me by someone I care about and it makes me feel that I’m part of the greater human community, even when I haven’t spoken to anyone except my dog for ten hours. This is important to me because once a writer loses perspective on what the real world actually is, then that writer has nothing left to write about.

Jen Sookfong Lee

Jen wrote her first short story at the age of 10, and has since published her poetry, fiction and articles in a variety of magazines. She was a finalist for the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Poetry, and has also freelanced as a food writer. Her debut novel, The End of East, was published in 2007. She is currently working on her second novel.

Visit Jen's website: http://www.sookfong.com/