Where to write?
The question has intrigued me for all of my adult life. Occasionally Poets & Writers Magazine will run the feature Where We Write, which examines a writer’s tie to their hometown, or a place that inspires them, or attending a residency that few can afford or even dream of.
I don’t know any glossy mag or blog that has tried to make sense of where, physically, writing takes place. What I mean is: I went seven years without a writing desk.
I had a standard issue dorm room desk for two years, and I used it to cram for Latin tests, pine for a long-distance partner over AOL Instant Messenger (ask your parents about that one, kids), and plod through a year’s worth of Journalism assignments.
My first apartment was a studio efficiency. It had room for a desk. I picked one up at a thrift store. I didn’t have WiFi at home because in 2007 that wasn’t considered the necessity it is now. Still, I wrote there, at a desk.
During my last year of college, my desk couldn’t fit through my bedroom door, so it became a TV stand for a TV that never turned on. A year later I was so poor I sold that TV for enough money to get a haircut, because I was on the hunt for a new job and wanted to look presentable. I lost that desk long before that even happened, I wish I could remember how.
Also during my last year of college: my laptop died. I lived at the library, and wrote all my final papers and school newspaper features without a personal computer.
After that I served an AmeriCorps*VISTA term at a rural college, and part of the gig was a free dorm room. That was the year I decided to start writing fiction and submitting short stories to journals. I got a lot of rejection slips, but I put some good writing hours in at that desk. And then I left it.
And then… nothing. No desk for seven years. My lack of space is part of my story. So is my lack of money. And so is my determination to write anyway.
I lived in a housing cooperative with 30 roommates and once spent six hours cooking them a Thai tofu curry. My bedroom was tiny and cheap and the previous inhabitants left furniture behind. I seem to recall a rusty bed frame and broken box fan. That summer, I wrote in bed and took naps in the hammock on our front porch.
I lived in one room, with lavendar walls, inside a historically preserved, sporadically-restored mansion. Another efficiency, with room for a bed and an armchair and many books. But no desk. I couldn’t afford a desk or the space for one. I wrote sitting on the floor, with my laptop balanced on a folding chair. I also couldn’t afford WiFi at home. When my laptop died (again). I wrote fiction by hand, then typed it out at a computer terminal at the public library. You could only use the desktops for one hour at a time. I typed quickly.
I was living like this when my first short story was published online, and my second one.
I couldn’t afford a desk but I thought I could afford a trans-Atlantic move. I rented an efficiency in Greenpoint, Cape Town, South Africa, that was just one big room, mostly taken up by a bed. Absolutely no room for a desk there, but there was a deck with two lounge chairs. I read novels in the sun for days on end. I still composed fiction and poetry. It was expensive to pay for megabytes of data over the Internet, but I did so anyway. I published poetry about my time in South Africa, though I was so poor as a student there I can’t recall sitting on that deck without inviting phantom hunger pains.
I’d been out of undergrad for five years, barely surviving, not taking care of myself, drowning under student debt that never seemed to get any lighter, working multiple jobs but still not living well. I moved home, to my parents’ basement, with my tail between my legs. I moved home with precisely three outfits, a lot of credit card debt, few marketable skills, an abandoned Master’s degree, and the stubborn hope that I could complete this novel I started writing.
My parents’ house is warm and comfortable. There is always hot coffee and the New York Times Book Review, waiting just for you to read it. Siblings and friends come and go at all hours of the day. There’s always someone to talk to, to hug, I am serious, at every moment of every day. It’s a great place to heal a broken heart. They didn’t even charge me rent.
I’d been lost in the wilderness for years, and was grateful for a bed, a chest of drawers, and a TV I never turned on. But, you guessed it, no writing desk. I read library books and balanced my laptop on a couch in the basement. I renewed my subscription to Poets & Writers Magazine. I worked three jobs to get those debts a little more manageable. (Only one of those jobs required a college degree.) I published fiction and poetry in dribs and drabs.
Sometimes I would long to write or edit at a desk so strongly I’d go on Hotels.com and find a $36-a-night room in my area, just to have desk access. Or I’d take a weekend away and find an AirBnB for myself with one requirement: a writing desk.
I saved, I worked like a fiend, I dove into Craigslist. I rented one room in a house share with strangers. The room was furnished, so all I had to do was move my clothes and books. It came with nightstands and end tables and a bed… no desk. I cradled my laptop in bed for a year.
I moved around some more, I subletted. I wrote at kitchen tables, on couches, on coffee tables that belonged to other people.
I moved again, a month ago, at the same time a dear friend was leaving the state. She gave me furniture she couldn’t take along. A bookshelf, an end table, a couch… a desk. My very own.
I just had a birthday (during the last move, in fact). Once again I took stock of my life. I felt a quiet pride: In the past seven years I have amassed no wealth, earned no titles, still not completed a Master’s degree. And yet. I’ve been down and out and hungry and lost, but I made writing my ritual. I never gave up on fiction, essay or poetry. (I’ve even sold a piece of Journalism or two, though it will never be enough to make the devastating student loans I amassed for my degree make sense.)
The most important thing I own now is my desk. It is my altar. It is colorful and filled with talismans I picked up on my adventures.
Here it is, my pride and joy, mine:
Laura Eppinger graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA in 2008 with a degree in Journalism, and she’s been writing creatively ever since. She the blog editor here at Newfound Journal.