In Bed With Alyssa Pelish

The Triclinium

I first encountered a description of the triclinium at an exhibition of the ruins of Pompeii. A bed in Roman times, the wall text informed me, was also used as a triclinium for eating, reading, writing, and even for receiving guests. It was one of the most important pieces of furniture in the household. At the time, I was living in a studio apartment in Manhattan, and my full-size bed was, no question, the most important piece of furniture in the room. Occupying the far wall and outfitted with a fleet of throw pillows, it was where I, like the Romans before me, ate, read, wrote — and even received guests. Food and drink typically rested in a small wooden tray beside me, my laptop rested on a modified desk, and I rested my back against a firm foam wedge as I typed. The desk was folded up and the pillows rearranged when guest were expected. While a proper Roman triclinium (it should be noted), consists of narrow couches framing three sides of a table, its resemblance to my own spread of counterpane was otherwise undeniable. This was the command central of my narrow studio space: from here, I could survey the entire apartment, such as it was, in the crossed-leg posture that’s as close to the fetal position as one can get while still being able to write. I came to prefer working there.

Just recently, I migrated to a much larger apartment, in Brooklyn, that has many more rooms. The triclinium, though, retains its importance. Because I share the apartment, there is still only one room that’s wholly mine – and that, of course, is where the triclinium is. I still feel most at home writing here. The food- and drink-laden trays (“as if for a pasha,” a guest of mine once observed, eyeing the trays and pillows) still figure in, as does the modified desk for the laptop. I like to curl into any space that’s my own, possibly less like the Romans and more like the child in that Robert Louis Stevenson poem, “The Land of Counterpane.”

The Durer print behind me just reflects the nature of the triclinium itself. It’s St. Jerome in His Study, hunched over his writing, surrounded by a collection of symbolic arcana and the expected papers, tomes, inkpots (and pillows), household pets dozing on the floor. I love the print for its intricacy and intimacy, but I hang it above the triclinium in particular as a kind of affirmation, I suppose, of how I am.

Directly across from St. Jerome et al. is a lush, colorful Paul Klee abstract, Ancient Harmony, that mostly just allows the mind to wander. Thick, uneven patches of color. I would’ve chosen Highways and Byways if I could’ve found it in the sorts of places where you find these art prints on the cheap. That one’s like an abstract spider’s web in liquid colors that evokes, for me, the associative mind at work.

The tall window in this room is an especially nice addition to the whole set-up, in that it allows me to peer out at the day without, of course, being peered in at. The green canopy of leaves is comforting; it cushions the busy street below. Creates something of a tree house effect. With my earplugs in (the soft silicone kind that mold themselves to the shape of your ear), as they always are when I’m sleeping or writing, I stop anticipating distractions and just get down to work.

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