Today, for the first time in the fully-nomadic creative history of Megan Cohen, I set up a dedicated workspace. Some might call it a writing desk, I call it A TINY ZOO FOR DANGEROUS IDEAS.
Here’s quick snapshot, and some thoughts about Why These Things, and Why This Way, and the weird voodoo (and pseudo-voodoo) elements of having a dedicated workspace:
I have always written in random places. I write at cafes, like a cliche of a creative person; I write at the kitchen table while my roommate chops onions six inches away; I write in bed, wearing pajamas; I’ve written in a bar, in an airport, and even in an airport bar.
I wrote a one-act in the noon sun of crowded Dolores Park, waiting for my friend to come meet me after he got a haircut. I wrote a one-act in the midnight dark of the creepy living room of a hostel run by Quakers in a 19th-century Brownstone in Boston, when everyone else in the building was asleep.
One time, like a sort of awkwardly on-the-nose parody of a playwright, I wrote a monologue in the back row of a theater during a rehearsal, scrawling handwritten notes by the light of a phone while the actors went on with the rest of the play.
It’s always been a badge of honor that I could write anywhere, any time, under any conditions– traffic noise, hunger, hangover, on a moving horse, whatever– as an artist, I wanted to be able to survive in any climate, like a cockroach. UNTIL TODAY. Desk day!
Here’s what’s at the desk:
* I’ve got a real plant with real flowers, to remind me about things being real.
* I’ve got a fake plant, with paper flowers, to remind me about things being pretend.
* I’ve got a couple of athletic trophies, to remind me how much practice and sweat it takes to be good at stuff.
* I’ve got an ERS coffee mug, to remind me that being good at stuff is worthwhile.
* I’ve got a tiny dinosaur hiding in the foliage to remind me that things are hilarious.
* I’ve got a Munny hiding in the foliage, so the dinosaur doesn’t get lonely.
Last but not least, I’ve got the alphabet hanging on the wall. All the letters; there are so few, it is kind of shocking how much we can make out of them. They are hanging there to remind me that if the Tiny Zoo explodes in some kind of firestorm, the alphabet is really all I need to do my work. So, that’s the What of the area… as for the Why…
Question: Why set up a writing area? Why the sudden sanctified and dedicated corner of the bedroom? Why put the dangerous ideas in a Tiny Zoo at all?
Answer: Because they are dangerous!
Dangerous? Yes, dangerous. How are they dangerous? Well, without some kind of containment zone, the writing tries to take over everything in my life… and it is very aggressive about it. When I know I can write anywhere, then I feel like I have to. Whether I’m in a park or a cafe or in bed or on a plane, no matter what I’m doing, I feel like I should be writing ALL THE TIME, and like if I’m not writing ALL THE TIME, I am failing as a writer.
Without containment, there’s no getting away from work. Imagine a doctor who lives in an ambulance.
(You may say “Well, that makes sense, but why do you need space to contain your work? Why don’t you just write from 10am to noon every day, or something? Megan, just have a rational schedule, like a rational person might have.”
Well, yeah, but… it’s about trying to contain my writing without limiting it.
I think of designated space as a thing for temples, baseball diamonds, liquor licenses, and public parks. I think of scheduled hours as a thing for school, the military, an hourly-pay job, or prison.
So, I’d rather have a where then a when, because there’s something about keeping set hours that just doesn’t smell right to me… but everyone has a different system, and plenty of fabulous writers do use a schedule as their containment tactic, so your question was excellent and absolutely on point, and don’t worry, you’re lovely.)
I struggle with containment. I want it, but I fight it. I am going to try it. Writing happens at the desk. Not-writing happens not-at the desk. We’ll see.
I’m here right now, in the Zoo, trying it out for the first time. I’ll let you know how it goes. – XOXO Megan