A Utility Porch Of One’s Own

Like many writers I know, I’m lucky enough to have an office at home.  For years, I wrote at a desk in a corner of the living room in whatever apartment I had at the time. (I wanted to keep the bedroom free of clutter, at least in theory.) When I moved into the flat where we now live, I felt like I’d graduated to writer heaven. No more hiding pages when company came over by throwing a colorful Guatemalan blanket over the entire desk.  I could close the door!

Since then, I haven’t needed to go elsewhere to write.  Sure, a month-long residency in one of those cool new cottages at Djerassi or Virginia Center for the Creative Arts can always appeal.  But a room across town, even at a good rate?  Why would I need that?

Here’s why.  At the end of the previous paragraph, I got up to shower.  Then I applied a facial peel, followed by a mask.  I filed my nails, trimmed my cuticles, examined last week’s pedicure for signs of slippage.  I carried the damp towels to the laundry line to dry in the sun, I tossed the bathrobes in the washing machine.  I watered the plants on the deck.

A shower, OK.  But the rest?  Optional, at least when it comes to the morning hours, aka writing time.  But when I’m at home, too often, these duties present themselves.  It’ll just take a minute.  I’ll be right back.  I’ll keep writing in my mind as I do the dishes, scrub the tub, trim the potato vine.  Uh-huh.

A few months ago, on a hike with other writers, I heard about a possible sublet available in a flat of writers’ offices on Sanchez Street.  I pushed aside the little voice saying Indulgent, indulgent and decided to give the sublet a try.  On the days I go to Sanchez Street, I often don’t get there until 10 or 11.  By the time I get dressed, pack up my pages and my laptop and a lunch, drive across town, and park, the morning’s already halfway over.

Ah, but here’s the thing:  I keep writing past when I’d stop at home.  Duties do not present themselves.  Laundry, dishes, grocery-shopping, nail-care…all of it fades away.  The UPS man doesn’t ring the bell and ask if I’ll sign for my neighbor’s delivery of new golf clubs.  And not just those external distractions.  At the sublet, I feel, in a way I don’t at home, an inner spaciousness that lets me focus for longer amounts of time.  I hunker down, just like (come to think of it) residencies in the past.  I get a lot done.

The space at Sanchez Street is small, decidedly unglamorous–a former utility porch, but with windows onto a sunny back yard.  Other than that?  A plank desk, bookshelves, a lamp, a chair.  That’s it.  I arrive, note the time (so I will remember to get up in two hours to move my car to avoid a $65 parking ticket), and get to work.

Sure, I notice the peeling paint on the wall, but I don’t stop there.  I don’t think Uh-oh; water damage? What’ll that cost to fix?  The jagged holes made by long-gone screws don’t send me to the closet for spackle.  And when I go outside to move the car or get a coffee at the corner shop, I feel anonymous.  I never knew this block of Sanchez Street before, and I enjoy the feeling of blinking, like a mole, upon emerging.  I recognize no one, and no one recognizes me.  I’m here for only one reason.

Some years ago, Ron Carlson told me, “When I ask to read your novel, I won’t care where you wrote it.”  Perhaps that’s one reason I’ve always felt slightly indulgent paying good money (as my mother would say) to rent a work space when I already have one.  Kind of like throwing out limp carrots when so many people go hungry.  Where I write doesn’t matter as much as what I write.

And yet, being in a place where no one can find me has improved the material.  (Or so I think; we’ll see what my readers have to say). The other day, on my two-hour break to move the car, I phoned my husband.  We were still talking when I entered the sublet space.  Talking there felt weird, invasive.  I went outside into the sunny garden to finish the call.  “I love you.  Talk to you later.”  And then I pushed the power button, went inside, got to work.

Speaking of which, it’s already 11 a.m.  I better get going.

What about you?  Where do you write?  How do you shut out the world, wherever you are?  Or do you?


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4 Responses to A Utility Porch Of One’s Own

  1. My writing space now is like your writing spaces of bygone days. My desk is set up in the corner of the living room, crammed between the sofa along one wall and a row of books culminating in the TV along the other. Until I read this post, I don’t think it’s really occurred to me to think about my writing space. Now that the question has been asked, I suspect it will be impossible not to think about!

  2. You know, Deborah, I managed to write just well under those former circumstances. We write wherever, whenever we can. And to judge by your output, you’re doing great! Thanks so much for the comment.

  3. A sublet is a great idea. I’ve only lived in small apartments, so it’s just been a desk in the corner for me. And usually the desk is a foldup one that I have to put away after I’ve finished writing! But I make the best of it by at least having that space dedicated only to writing, and never using it for anything else. That way I still get that sense that when I’m there, it’s time to work, and the other intrusions have to be kept out – similar to what you felt about talking on the cellphone in your studio space. Right now I’m away from home staying in someone else’s house, and have found it quite hard to write consistently, not having a proper space. Sometimes I go out to cafes and libraries to get the space I need, but maybe I’ll keep my eye out for a cheap space to rent instead…

  4. You bring up the key point: dedicated space, and intentionality. (OK, that’s 2 points, but they intersect.) We battle so much instability and uncertainty in the writing life; knowing that such-and-such a space is THE space for writing helps ground us in some security. Some years ago, I stayed in another writer’s apartment for a month. There was a lovely desk and tons of books, but I couldn’t help feel HER presence there. A benign one, but not mine. So I tacked up sheets over everything not mine–her books, her manuscripts, her family photos. That helped. And on days it didn’t, I went to the public library where — guess what? — I tried to sit at the same spot!

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