A Room of My Own: Ando McDonnell


A room of my own.

I have no room. No office. No studio. No desk. 

No home.

For the past ten years, I have been nomadic. 

For the past five years, I have lived mostly in the forest. Occasionally in a monastery. Other times in a forest ashram or private hermitage.

A basic, simple, essential life.

Sleeping in old canvas tents in December. 

Graduating to wooden huts, just big enough for a bed, and space to enter and place down your clothes, and stretch in the morning. 

…and back to tents, and tiny caravans.

No electricity.

The floor has long been my desk. 

Often, the forest floor.

Today, my desk, by chance, is twelve foot long solid oak dining table in a Georgian listed building, with full length window opening out onto stone steps down into three acres of grounds. I have been gifted this opportunity for three months.

It’s a long way from the life in a tent, notebook or iPad on the forest floor. 

But it’s no different for me. Except, perhaps, lacking in simplicity. 

I appreciate the luxury of it, whilst knowing it is temporary.

What isn’t?

The funny thing is that whilst sitting at this table, I crave the forest, a place to walk and sit under the pine trees. To listen to and watch the wind flowing through great swathes of eucalyptus trees. My old teachers, the trees.

Instead, I have new teachers. A tall old failing cedar. A fresh young magnolia. Grand old horse chestnut trees, their folded unborn leaves containing hand like leaves, bursting with strength and life force.

How do I write?

There is no how. No method.

Should there be? 

I don’t believe in definitions.

Or frameworks. 

If I believe in something, I believe in being empty and free.

I believe in Zen. 

In poetry.

To write poetry, the truest, most living poetry, is to be empty, like the bamboo.

When the bamboo is empty, hollow, only then can the wind play it’s song through it.

A Zen poet is like this. 

An empty thing, like Chuan Tzu’s Useless Tree.

What purpose do I need to write Zen poetry?


I need to be purposeless. 

Truly purposeless.

And in my case, deskless is part of that.

So today, I write this article from a 12 foot solid oak table in a grand house. 

But in three months, it is scheduled to be a 3 foot tiled cast iron table in a tiny Portuguese villa. 

These places, regardless of shape or size, are always my hermitage.

Because true hermitage is an attitude, not a location.

Do I crave a room of my own?

Yes, sometimes.

But the lack of one has given so much power to the poetry. 

I would like a room of my own, but I don’t need one. 

Just something to write with, when I wake before dawn, with words taking shape inside the hollow bamboo of my being.

The song of the wind.

The song of the wind needs no place of it’s own. 

It’s the movement that creates the song.

Ando is a Zen poet and writer, a former lay forest monk.