Thursday, January 15, 2015

Where I Write

            A novelist I know can write only in a straight-backed chair. A poet friend needs to sit in a spot of sun like a cat. A certain story writer has an old camper parked in her yard, with nothing in it but a coffee pot, its cord snaking out the window to her house.
            I know people who can write only on a laptop. Or with a purple pen. Or on a yellow legal pad. Or in the morning. Or late at night.
            I’m not these people. This is by design.
            I once believed I required a college-ruled notebook and a very particular ballpoint pen—a common type with an especially bold, blue ink. I attempted to set up various writing spaces, with the thought that the right equipment in the right place would have to yield something, creatively. My default at that time, early in my writing life, was a comfy chair with a TV tray in front of it.
            I can say one thing definitively: I don’t do my best writing at a desk. Something about the formality of a desk and chair keeps me rooted so that I can’t engage in flights of whimsy and imagination. Truth be told, most of my best writing has happened in an unmade bed—a place where I can roll and wallow and sleep, then wake to catch the contrails of a dream.
            So where do I write? I’ve made it my life’s project to ensure that I can truthfully answer, “Anywhere.” I’m very busy. I teach several classes and I care for my family, and I can’t afford to be a princess about writing. Sometimes, where writing is concerned, I need to lie down on a whole heap of peas and call it my comfy bed. To make sure that I can fall into the weird half-sleep where poetry happens, I refuse to mystify the place where I make it.
            It’s the same with my materials. If I think I can only write longhand, I make myself write on the computer. If I think I need a blue pen, I grab a fat first-grade pencil, a piece of chalk, a crayon. If I believe only lined paper will do, I reach for the light bill, or for a plain brown sack.
            I think I prefer an unmade bed because it makes me feel close to dreams and guilelessness and sex. But I try to force myself to create in a folding chair, or on a porch step, or at that stern wooden desk. I write on floors and tables, against a wall. I’ve done some of my best writing at stoplights in my car.

            In short, I try to demystify the writing project and remember that poetry isn’t in a particular chair. It’s in me. Poetry happens in gulags. It happens on walks through the countryside. If it happens at all, it happens for rich and poor alike, on any kind of mat or chair, above dirt floors or parquet.

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