Last week I took a side-step or maybe even a
step back in my technological rumba with the literary future. I bought a
desktop computer again, a brand new 20" iMac, and when it arrives I'm
installing it in what I've always called "my writing work room," the personal
sacred space written into our dream house ten years ago.
In all the places I've lived since graduating from college 35 years ago I've always had one, a room with a desk in it, a workspace for literature, a dedicated nook or cranny for making art, a place to sit down and cut, hammer, sand and stain poems and prose the way someone might craft a fine chest of drawers out of walnut.
Going to my dedicated writing place-- what others may call a study-- has always been a ritual cleansing of the day-to-day, a way of sloughing off my common life and spending tracks of time communing with a different order of creation. I'd go there mostly at the beginning of days to get my "real work" done, before I graded papers or went off to teach.
My space has always been centered around a desk and a computer, some book shelves filled mostly with poetry and journals, and walls covered with clippings, broadsides of favorite poems, some shelves and window sills filled with fossils, bones, rocks, and feathers. These remains of other living things have always been a special part of the space. I guess it’s my own way of recreating that old Romantic poet’s trick of writing with a skull on the desk. Except in my space the mortal remains have to be from other living things, my cousins, not my closest kin.
As with any good carpenter, I watched my tools
change over time. In college I had a noisy Smith Corona plug-in typewriter but
I still wrote mostly with pen and paper. I preferred lab notebooks and legal
pads. My drafts of poems and musings on the universe often found their way onto
Then I discovered a portable Olivetti typewriter in the 1970s, a small laptop. I carried that green machine around for a decade, and then in the 1980s I left typewriters behind forever, moving to huge desktop portable computer.
I purchased an IBM PC ripoff Sanyo for way too much money (I took out a loan like buying a used car) and with it got a white daisy wheel printer the size of a chest freezer and a "tractor feed" paper system. (If you are over 50 you remember such machines.)
I stayed with my desktops a long time, not
abandoning that writing system until 2003 when we moved in this house. That's
when I went totally laptop. I say "totally laptop" because I need to
admit I’d been a duel computer guy for maybe fifteen years. I always had a
laptop charged and ready to go in a shoulder bag for travel, but it never
occurred to me use it in the house. When at home I always processed into my
study to worship at the glowing fire of the desktop screen firmly planted on my
desk facing the wall, facing the electric page, facing literature's eternity.
But then we installed wireless and I watched a kingdom fall. My old desktop had slowed to a crawl and I used my newer laptop in the living room, on the porch, even in the yard when I discovered the signal reached the porch swing. After that my writing workroom became a storage shed for unread books and clutter such as a pile of old laptop bags and two out-of service game cameras.
I tried to act like the workroom was not something antique as a Roman coliseum. I bought sleek aluminum stand for the laptop, a remote keyboard, and even added a second monitor where I could pull files to one screen and work on a second on the first.
So why return to the past? Why crawl back into an enclosed space with four walls and a door when the world calls and it’s even easier to be mobile? I want that feeling again. I want to feel nailed to the desk again. I want to recover the emotion that comes from return to a set-aside space, and I want to feel part of a tradition of desks and studies that stretches back thousands of years.
Not that I'm giving up the mobility of wireless (I still have my iphone and an ipad with keyboard and I will use them on the move, on the porch, etc) but communing with my established spot, the sacred center on my workroom desk is where I'm headed for now.
Any thoughts out there about creative spaces for writing? Who still prefers a desk and its ritual centering? Who floats freely in the wireless world of the whole house from comfortable spot to comfortable spot?