I have been writing in a closet lately. It’s not that I don’t have another, actually quite wonderful place to work. But that other place is a super old building (tough to say – early to mid 1800’s?) that’s not quite water tight, and it’s been a rainy summer. Besides, the view from there is great – a hummingbird in the echinacea! the mailman! the neighbor is leaving! is arriving! So. I’ve been working in a closet. And I love it.
I stare at a wall, offwhite and empty. Every so often a dog shoulders into the doorway to nuzzle my elbow. From a row of hooks to my left hang a bunch of old ties, mardi gras paraphernalia (feathered paperboard mask, plastic beads), and those plastic hawaiian leis that were so popular a while back. (My husband’s things from before we married and I moved in.) Sometimes for kicks I’ll drape some neckwear over my head while I work. It helps to keep me from getting too serious. I write about the Bible a lot, which as you’ve probably observed can be simultaneously hilarious and Puritan-witch-hunter-serious.
On a shelf overhead are a few boxes of those old computer disks – the square ones, remember? – that may or may not contain important information. Next to that are a couple of silly hats. I’m not kidding. There’s a joker hat with tiny bells on the triangle peak things that run around it, a plastic clown hat, and a velvet Santa cap. I’ve actually never lifted anything off that shelf as I’m too short to see it completely and fear there may be stinkbugs or spiders. Besides, I’m in there to work. This is a fact that bears repeating to myself several times every hour.
To my right, there’s actually a window (see image right), which is part of why I chose this particular closet. Also, the window is a little high, and it looks out into the branches of an ancient magnolia. I.e., there’s not much going on out there, and I’d have to turn and stretch to see, anyway. I have dreams of putting in a cushion-y window seat; but for now, I sit at a wooden desk that I found in a thrift store when my parents were visiting. It’s lovely – big old scratch down the middle, burn stain (an iron?), and all — and fits just like our two retrievers in the backseat of my Model 1 Prius: tight enough to stay out of trouble, roomy enough to ride comfortably for hours.
When I feel myself getting all snooty-snooty about things not being just right, I think about Alice Munro writing at a small table in the corner of her dining room or Julia Child in her modest kitchen. The work is there. Now get to it. Thus sayeth my inner Boss Lady. But there’s a nice bed behind me and a shelf full of books I have not (yet) read. Still, they can wait. For now, there’s that word-follows-word business of writing. Every writer has a different spot, rituals, companions (external or internal), and even those change. Where do you work, and how? Or rather, what’s working for you? I’d love to know. Meanwhile, happy writing!
(A version of this essay appeared on the Writer House blog 8-27-2013.)