An office for writing, at last!

A photographic tour of my (spectacularly delayed) office makeover and conversion from massage to writing space

At the end of 2010, I quit my “day job” as a massage therapist and started writing and publishing full-time. My first order of business was the office conversion, because the massage office was not exactly optimized to be a writing and publishing nerve centre. Unfortunately, that important project was spectacularly postponed by my wife’s terrible Asian truck accident, a month into 2010. As I was on the verge of redecorating, I had to fly to Thailand to be with her in hospital for a few weeks. (She’s more or less okay now, but it was a really heck of a thing — many serious fractures.) Everything in our lives was pushed back by that emergency — way back.

Almost two years later, I have finally finished my office makeover, more or less, and it seems particularly nice thanks to a spectacular gift of artwork I received from friends and family for my 40th birthday late this summer. So I’d like to share some pictures. But let’s start with how it was

The 10-foot-square room I’ve worked in for almost a decade now was dominated by a behemoth of a massage table, and the massage table was dominated by … the cat, of course. Cali died earlier this year at the age of 17. She never really forgave me for taking the massage table out of the office—it was the ultimate catspot.

In the massage years, my computer system was tucked into a small closet. The tiny metal desk fit exactly next to a small filing cabinet, without a centimetre to spare. It was cute, and a perfect way to fit a computer workstation into the massage room without getting in the way of the massages. This miniaturized workstation was where was spawned and developed into a publishing business big enough to finance my retirement from massage therapy!

Having lived with a tiny desk for years, the first priority of the office revamp was to get a BAD — a Big Ass Desk. And this is it. I got it for dirt cheap on Craigslist, and rolled it home three blocks on a dolly with a couple strong friends. It’s not super pretty, but it’s practical, hefty, vast, and it would probably shield me from a good-sized bomb. In fact, it is big enough for a technological dream come true: an array of three large computer displays.

The one in the middle is an Apple iMac, which powers two Cinema displays on either side. Each display is 27" with 2560×1440 pixels. Even one of these has more pixels than 99% of systems out there. There are more than 11 million pixels in front of me as I type this: about four times as much as a single typical high resolution computer display.

Why so extravagant? It’s actually not: it’s just a matter of my weird priorities. Some people buy a new car every year: that’s extravagant. I’m a writer, a publisher, a tech hobbyist, and I use every pixel. See also: Three giant Apple displays and how (and why) I manage and use them (especially the brightness problem).

And they’re just gorgeous. They are like aluminum and glass art. Speaking of which …

This is a huge photographic print of Burrard Street Bridge, an Art Deco style, steel truss bridge between downtown Vancouver and Vancouver’s west side (Kitsilano). My wife and I have lived next to Burrard Bridge for many years, and I have walked over and under it literally thousands of times, and photographed it nearly as often. (I have my own nice collection of Burrard Bridge photos, but nothing that can be blown up to such epic dimensions.)

This incredible artwork comes from English Bay Gallery on Granville Island; the photographer is Yoshi Yamamoto. It was purchased for me by friends and family for my fortieth birthday on August 29 this year — a particularly good and poignant birthday, closely following the tragic death of an old friend, Keith Greenard. We were all overwhelmed by Keith’s death and this gift of art seemed unusually life-affirming.

The photo is printed on aluminum, which makes it extremely thin and light. It’s glossy, bright and clings to the wall, and it seems almost like a window. Everyone who bought it for me will probably read this: thanks to all of you. It is, without doubt, the most memorable, interesting, and warming gift I have ever received. It makes my home so much more like my home.

When I picked up the big Burrard Bridge photo, another of Yoshi’s photos caught my eye: a smaller one with fall colours. I was delighted to discover that colour can also be printed on aluminum, and I got the idea in my head that it would be a perfect companion piece: a giant cool black and white print on one wall, and a small, bright colour print on the opposite. As soon as I’d thought it, there was no stopping it.

I used to teach an outdoor taiqi and mobilizations class right beside the tree on the right, at Sunset Beach — that’s how I got my massage practice going in Vancouver. That gives you an idea how many memories are attached to these images!

This is the closet that my workstation used to be in. Now it’s a cozy reading nook! Kim tends to sit in there and chat me up in the mornings, while I’m trying to work. I don’t really mind: I made it comfortable for a reason. I also made it for the cat. She took her time — I think the couch had “new couch smell” — but she did finally start using it in the last few months of her life, for which I will always be grateful. A writer needs a cat hanging out in his office.

Notice the draperies: those cover the closet and the west wall, and they are for sound dampening, essential for audio quality as I produce videos like this one and audio versions of my books.

The cable chaos behind the machines. (And yet nicely accessible: I’ve never had a desk I could just walk behind before. Can’t recommend that strongly enough — makes maintenance soooo much easier.)

I have a spectacular old rug, obtained for a fraction of its value via Craigslist, thanks to the determination of my bargain-hunter of a wife. It’s subtle, but it adds immeasurably to the decor.

The SaveYourself salamander! Actually, this is a gecko: but he’ll do. I found this l’il dude while while on vacation in Playa del Carmen, and he was just too perfect not to bring home.

Another mascot: a wee tiny wooden cat. This was a gift to me from a friend and former client, and it has been perched on top of my computer for years now. Thanks, Selma!

One final view of the bridge print, at sunset.

And that’s my madeover office!