Over the years I have attended 5 million literary readings, workshops, craft talks, and the like. There are some questions you can predict the audience will ask.
Always. Such as: "Ms. Author, do you write with a pen, pencil, or computer?" Or: "Mr. Author, WHERE do you write?"
I have never heard any earth-altering answers to these questions, nothing that gave us deep insight into the creative genius of 'authorship'. In fact, until recently, I thought these were fairly dumb, time-wasting questions conceived by naive numb skull wanna-be hopefuls. Until recently.
I have been in the same office since 1988. Nineteen years. And now the entire building is being emptied so that long overdue renovations can be done. I teach at a public university in a Deep South state, so when I say 'overdue', well, let's just say that the fire-hazard air conditioner perched in my window will now be replaced by central air-conditioning, and when renovations are completed we hope that when someone plugs in the microwave in the main office that breakers won't smoke and spark and the lights all over the building flicker. It will be nice, we think, to have warm water for hand-washing in the bathroom sinks, and holding mandatory office hours in offices warmer than 55 degrees Fahrenheit in the middle of winter will be a treat, not to mention no longer having to type wearing warm gloves. We are excited that the three feet of perpetual water in the basement will no longer be a problem and that most all of the asbestos has already been removed.
So why am I not smiling?
Because for the last nineteen years, my room with a view and 500 pounds Sterling has been this dark, rustic, moldy 12 x 15 space, complete with moths, spiders, and, at times, large roaches. I could move my entire household more easily than moving this office.
So for the next nine or ten months--until the paint is dry and the boxes are moved back in and unpacked--there will be at least one big question in my life:
WHERE do I write?
Like many writers, both male and female, my domestic life expands to fill every moment I'm not at work. When I am at work, I have 'permission' to write because publishing is part of my job. It may be only one of many hats I'm required to wear as a college professor, but in the rest of my life, there is no room for such a hat to exist.
When Natasha Trethewey visits our campus next spring, I hope some student raises a hand, walks to the microphone, and asks for all to hear: "Ms. Trethewey, would you mind describing to us WHERE you write?" May she smile and be detailed in her reply.