Smooth, dark wood-grained surfaces of tables or desks have cast their spell on me since the age of four, which is when I can first remember having a tiny table of my own. I used it to color and cut out shapes—busying my mind for hours with imaginative tasks. The classroom desk later became the place where I wrote most assignments during my elementary and middle school years—followed by a writing desk I picked out for my bedroom during my high school years. Even in college and in graduate school, I believed that a desk in a quiet place would be most conducive to and appropriate for the act of writing. I thought that the space around me needed to be absolutely quiet and distraction free—contemplative even—and this kind of environment served me quite well for many years.
However, even during those years, there were other places where my writing took shape. In high school, I wrote one of my best speeches for “grandparents’ day” on a bus ride back from a Shakespeare festival in Canada. I was surrounded by loud, boisterous friends, while landscapes filled with green and gold-leafed trees and farm fields whirled quickly past the windows. In my mind, as I wrote, I was in Tucson, Arizona in my grandmother’s garden, wishing I could spend more time in the drier landscapes with bright pink cactus flowers and soft brown mountains in the background. These colors and shapes materialized before my eyes as I wrote, desk free on a bus bound for more Midwestern views. I guess I just needed the trees outside and the jovial laughter of friends to help me fully picture the desert sands of the Southwest, emptying out onto sheets of notebook paper.
My first scholarly publication took shape in several places: a library, my apartment, and a spare bedroom in my husband’s parents’ home in rural Ohio, where I was visiting for the weekend. These quiet spaces all added up to a well-researched piece that wove together a legend of St. Genesius, the patron saint of theater, and the power of a transformation that takes place during a theatrical production within the legend itself. The piece attempted to trace the various theatrical elements that took place under the direction of St. Genesius in the legend, and each piece of the larger picture became clearer in every new space in which I wrote: the library, my apartment, the quilt on the edge of the bed in the country.
Nowadays, I still prefer to write in a quiet space, such as the office inside my home, but I don’t always have that luxury. Sometimes I’m at my son’s swim meets—surrounded by noise—writing horror stories that take place in and out of the water. Sometimes I’m in an art museum or a restaurant or coffee house. Distracting sounds lift my eyes from the page, but they return with some new insight or information I frantically write down before the idea goes away. All the time I spend in noisy places away from a beloved desk—waiting on my son or other loved ones—never goes to waste. It just gets transferred—disappearing and reappearing as ink on paper.