Writing Places

And what if the West Edmonton Mall

which was surely constructed

for the sole purpose of seducing humanity with delight

is a Wonder, an Amazement,

what if it is so successful

that she notices within her the stirrings of shameful joy

what if, walking those blazing air-conditioned

skyless earths streets

(though there may be earth, even piteous trees)

she cannot remain solitary, dark, quick, clerical?

What if she liked it?

And if she rebuked it utterly –

would she not be impoverished?

(Heather Spears, “The Poet reconsiders

visiting the West Edmonton Mall”)

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No time to find one of the many pics of WEM I have, so instead I went for the opposite

Where do you work? I mean, you know, if you don’t have an office job? My question is literal: do you work at your desk at home? At your kitchen table? On the sofa, lap employed for its designated computer-holding role? Or do you wander city streets, peering in windows to assess the occupancy of cafés, their level of noise and bustle, before you even open their doors or contemplate savouring their brews? Are you so lucky as to have a string of libraries dotting your route? Are you so chosen as to find a spot—gratis!—at their tables or in their armchairs? And which scenario do you prefer?

I do most of my work “from home.” I teach in a classroom for money and prestige—please feel my cheek for the imprint of my tongue—and write for glory. But “from home” is a fluid location, and my moods of productivity so fickle as to rival our March weather. I am lucky to be able to accommodate my wanderlust, and I tell myself it encourages my productivity.

My home office is ideal: on the top floor of my house, it used to be an attic. The slanted walls are cozy, and my desk looks out the window onto back yards, rows of houses, and high rises. My cat provides me company and distraction, ensuring I retain a modicum of humility even when the muse strikes. Some of us humans are not born to be masters, so we let our cats lead us.

Cat desk

Yes, cat, I actually intend to type over your napping body

Wonderful as it is, I can hardly tolerate working in my office for more than a few days in a row. Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life, talks about being shut up every day, for years on end, in a shed-like structure fitted with the bare necessities of writing and snacking and napping. If that is the secret to writing success, I am doomed. I am not meant to be a writer, lacking the diligence, the discipline, the Spartan spirit of self-abnegation when it comes to life’s comforts.

And who can live without an internet connection now? When I was writing my dissertation, I was telling myself that, as a specialist in contemporary culture, I have to be constantly connected, because, you know, any new development could alter the course of my argument monumentally or throw it off course. Yeah, I didn’t believe it, either, seeing through its holes just as I was making the case to myself (yes, there are many loud simultaneous arguments and counterarguments taking place in my head at any given point). So I developed tricks for myself. I adopted pomodoros without the promise of any delicious sauce. Most importantly, I found wonderful friends to accompany me in “Shut Up and Write!” sessions, even when the lure of the West Edmonton Mall was right there. So close.

Nostalgic as I might be for the city I left behind by choice, and the friends I will continue to miss, I have to find ways to alleviate my magpie attention span. So I engage in flânerie, interrupted by small sessions of writing in cafés and libraries. Sometimes I am brave, and try a new place. I walk in tentatively, trying not to make eye contact with the people behind the counter as I scope the locale out for a place to sit. If successful, I plonk down some item of my paraphernalia: my gloves, sometimes even a book. Then I stride, buoyed by this territorial conquest, to order a drink—sometimes a black coffee, sometimes an Earl Grey, sometimes, depending on the chi-chi factor of the place, even an almond-milk latte. I have staked my claim, paid my rent, and now I can move my body differently, take more space as I shed my winter casings. My arms unfold almost to their full length as I uncoil my scarf. My back sometimes bends backward to discard my jacket. Now I belong. I am of the place. May the writing commence.

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There’s nothing like walking the Bloor Viaduct on a sunny day.

I do not stay there for overly long. Like pomodoros, I find and intense period of concentration more conducive to actual writing than a prolonged stargaze out of the windows of the cafe. I resume my walking after an hour or two, most times returning home, refreshed by the new writing place, energized by the walk there and back, satisfied by the words that have seeped out. It’s a miraculous thing, and I never cease to be amazed and grateful to whatever force wrings those words out.

These particular words here were inspired by Lindsey Zier-Vogel and her co-bloggers’ posts at Swimming Holes We Have Known. Thinking about what makes for a good working space is its own form of idleness, but we have already established I am a Master Procrastinator. Yes, even after admitting to not being a master anything a mere couple of paragraphs above, I will hold on to this title when it comes to the art of procrastination. The key is choosing your variety of the art wisely. None of this GIF-gawking, incessant tweeting, unending facebooking, and instagram-perusing! Walking the city in search for the ideal writing place it is, even if it means you hardly get to the writing part.

So, please, do share: what’s your ideal #WritingPlace?

4 responses to “Writing Places

  • I can only write well at home! Libraries make me sleepy and I cannot focus in cafes….So I need to be home, alone, and with a clean and tidy house.. I now compromise and aim for a clean and tidy room. And I love clearing out and using the dining table as a desk! I need the space, physically speaking, so my thoughts come out logical, ordered, clear… .. And that’s probably why I am doing less writing than I would like these days! Not so much emphasis on creativity perhaps? I don’t know…the way you write is probably linked to what you write at some level anyway. A close friend who is a poet, though she respects my intelligence, considers my writing “dry”!

    • Margrit
      2 years ago

      Oh, I totally get the impulse (dare I call it compulsion?) to clean the worktable before writing. I do that every time I start a new major project. Like you, Maisaa, it seems I cannot grasp new things unless I have a bare working space around me. Did you hear about the study that says a messy workplace is more conducive to creativity? I’m not sure what that says about our cleaning habit or about our writing.

  • I am happiest whilst writing lying down. On my couch or bed. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to desking.

    • Margrit
      2 years ago

      Kerry, I’m unclear on the logistics of writing while lying down. How do you type? I’m getting to be so fussy, what with mild carpal tunnel and all, that I haven’t considered anything other than sitting–I tried working while standing, but didn’t quite manage it–but I’d give your solution a try.

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