Where We Work

Last week I was in the Berkshires and had a chance to tour “The Mount,” the house Edith Wharton designed and built in 1902, at age 40, and where she wrote some of her most famous novels, including The House of Mirth and Ethan Frome.

I kept waiting for the guide to take us into Wharton’s study as I’d conjured it in my mind: a wood-paneled library with a desk by the window overlooking the garden.

Wharton had such a library, designed to look like her father’s, lined with books specially bound and colored-coded so she could arrange them by category; but I was surprised to learn that she actually wrote in her bedroom, modestly furnished with a bed, a vanity, and a dresser.  She wrote in bed every morning and dropped the handwritten, numbered pages on the floor to be collected later by her secretary who sent them to be typed in New York. In the end, Wharton only lived at The Mount for ten years. After her marriage failed, she moved to France, where she lived out the rest of her days. She died in 1937.

I guess I’m like everyone else when it comes to being curious about writers’ lives . . . about any artist for that matter.  I want to see where they work, I want to know what they think, how they feel about their creative lives. Years ago, someone gave me a book called The Writer’s Desk for my birthday. It’s a slim book of black and white photographs showing famous writers in their workspaces, accompanied by a paragraph or two, where the writer or poet shares their creative process. It’s interesting to see the workspaces–some of which are spare, with only a desk and a chair, while others are overrun with books and papers. Most, though, are by a window. Here are some of my favorites.

Eudora Welty, Jackson, Mississippi, 1972
“I’m one one of the people who think best in the morning. I like to wake up ready to go, and to know that during that whole day the phone wouldn’t ring, the doorbell wouldn’t ring–even with good news–and that nobody would drop in. This all sounds so rude. But you know, things that just make a normally nice day are not what I want . . .”

Jean Piaget, Geneva, Switzerland, 1993
“As you know, Bergson pointed out that there is no such thing as disorder but rather two sorts of order, geometric and living. Mine is clearly living . . .”

Rita Dove, Charlottesville, Virginia, 1995
“What I love about my cabin–what I always forget that I love until I open the door and step into it–is the absolute quiet. Oh, not the dead silence of a studio. A silence so physical that you begin to gasp for air; and it’s not the allegorical silence of an empty apartment, with its creaks and sniffles and traffic a dull roar below, and the neighbors’ muffled treading overhead. No, this is the silence of the world: birds shifting weight on branches, the branches squeaking against other twigs, the deer hoosching through the woods . . . It’s a silence where you can hear your blood in your chest, if you choose to listen.”

E.B. White, North Brooklin, Maine, 1976
” . . . The members of my household never pay the slightest attention to my being a writing man–they make all the noise and fuss they want to. If I get sick of it, I have places I can go.”

Dorothy West, Martha’s Vineyard, 1995
“I am a writer. I don’t cook and I don’t clean . . . Dear child, this place is a mess–my papers are everywhere. It would be exhausting to clean up!”

So here’s my idea:  Send me a picture of your work space, where you create, accompanied by a few sentences about your creative process or how the space inspires you, and I’ll post it here.  Artists of all types–writers, poets, painters, cooks, composers, wood workers, dancers, photographers–are welcome, so spread the word. I’ll call it, “Where We Work.”  This idea is inspired by my friend Rod Dreher, a political columnist and foodie, who has a section of his blog called, “A View From Your Table,” (here) where he invites his readers to submit pictures of meals they’ve eaten. This post is particularly long, and features a meal he and his friends prepared, but most are much shorter and simpler.

I think it’ll be fun!  I hope you’ll do it. Please send your submissions to:  nbaszile@gmail.com with “Where We Work” in the subject line.

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3 thoughts on “Where We Work

  1. Love that West quote, “I don’t cook and I don’t clean. I’m a writer.” Just finished a story in bed, one of my most productive places. I’ll try to photograph it when the cat’s in the the right place.

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