Welcome to another installment of TNBBC's Where Writers Write!
Where Writers Write is a series in which authors showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where the authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen.
This is Michael Don.
Michael is the author of the story collection Partners and Strangers (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2019). He lives in the Boston area and teaches at Tufts University and GrubStreet. He co-edits Kikwetu: A Journal of East African Literature.
Where Michael Don Writes
In the last ten years I’ve lived in six different apartments across four US states and two apartments in Nairobi, Kenya. Over this time, my possessions have been sold, given away, stored, recycled, thrown out and destroyed. Everyone says it and it’s true: moving keeps you from accumulating too much crap. I pride myself on my minimalist mentality. Sometimes I’m even boastful. Dogmatic. Judgmental of the maximalists. I’m sure it’s annoying. Watching Tiny House Hunters is one of my guilty pleasures. I don’t own a dresser because I don’t need one. My half of the bedroom contains only a side table with a reading light and a few books. There is nothing on the floor except for the occasional pair of socks that are still in use. My nightmares feature Walmart and packed up U-Hauls and SWAG.
Now in my new Boston area apartment which is on the first floor of a three-unit 1915 Craftsman style house, my writing space moonlights as a guestroom and the laundry folding area and a storage space and it is also my partner’s office, all of which makes it impossible to live my best minimalist life.
The room is 12 by 9, heated by an old radiator and doesn’t have a door, though there is a wide doorway that opens up to the living room. We finagled a tension rod and curtain to create some sort of barrier, but it does little in terms of sound or light. The desk, scratched up from its many moves, contains piles of books, an overflowing basket of mail, miscellaneous stacks of papers, a modem, and half-used notepads. The full-sized bed is more often than not home to piles of clean clothes waiting to be folded. A Swahili mirror from coastal Kenya sits on the floor and leans against the wall and a bookshelf. Under and around the bed are puzzle pieces and balls and toy cars and pacifiers my toddler has brought in and dropped off. The closet is full of stuff I probably won’t look at until I move again.
In an ideal world, my writing space would be neat and tidy. Every object would have its own designated space. Many of the objects wouldn’t even exist. I’m jealous of friends with neat workspaces. However, in this fantasy world of supreme order, something would get lost. I’ve come to learn that I don’t actually like writing in a quiet and clean space. I sometimes write at cafes because I like the noise and energy of others. Perhaps similarly, I like looking around my office at all the stuff: the mirror, the books, even the mail, and thinking about the many friends from the different places I’ve lived who have visited and slept in the bed. This grounds me. As a fiction writer, this messy physical blend of work and life is a gift that keeps on giving, even if it also drives me fucking nuts.