Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Where Writers Write: Dana Diehl

Welcome to another installment of TNBBC's Where Writers Write!

Where Writers Write is a series that features authors as they 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 Dana Diehl.

Dana is the author of Our Dreams Might Align, being released by Jellyfish Highway Press in December 2016. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in North American Review, Passages North, Booth, and elsewhere. She earned her MFA in Fiction from Arizona State University, where she served as editor of Hayden's Ferry Review.

Where Dana Diehl Writes

I’ve had six homes over the past five years, and every time I move, I tell myself this is the time I will create The Writing Space. I dream of a desk like the ones in my professors’ homes and in the homes of older friends. Desks so wide and spacious you could stretch across them like a Labrador. Desks facing floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a garden where stray kittens lounge under homegrown tomato plants. Desks with mason jars full of freshly sharpened colored pencils. Desks that hold a single coffee cup, which is washed and placed in a small saucer so that it won’t fuse with the coating on the wood.

Every time I move, I try to create this space. I choose a secluded, quiet room in my new house or apartment. I buy a cozy lamp. I repot my tiny cactus in an interesting jar. I pin maps on the walls.
And then, I avoid the space as though it’s become invisible to me. The cactus starts to wither. A layer of dust grows like fur over the lampshade.

Sometimes I feel guilty for not working, and I think about using my Writing Space, but then I remember all of the Important, Good Writing I’m supposed to do there, and I convince myself that it can wait. I’m not in the right mood, I say. I really need to make a PowerPoint for that lesson two weeks from now, I say.

Inevitably, my laptop ends up on the kitchen table, or on the arm of the couch, or next to my bed. Only then do I find myself able to write again.

My dorm room at the University of Stirling in Stirling, Scotland, where I spent a semester in 2011. There was a lake in the middle of the campus, and sometimes a duck family would wander into the parking lot outside my window and quack through the afternoon, their calls echoing against the windows.

My senior year of college, I lived in a house with several other writers. I had a window that overlooked a big front porch and a row of fraternity houses. In the winter, we’d fight over the thermostat, and I’d end up writing in my twin bed, wearing a Snuggie only kind of ironically.

I’ve learned that I do some of my best and most productive work when I trick myself into writing. I need to tell myself I will only write until the microwave buzzer goes off. I need to tell myself that I’m just going to reread this draft, and then I’ll watch another episode of Parks and Recreation. It’s when I tell myself these lies that I find myself naturally entering that mental space where I’m not afraid to write, where I’m not looking forward to the point when I can stop.

I need the potential of interruption: my housemate’s cat jumping into my lap or someone starting dinner or switching on the television. Maybe it’s because I need stimulation to stay focused, just like some of my students can’t sit through a lesson unless they are building a sword out of highlighters or tapping their foot against the leg of their chair. Maybe knowing I could be interrupted at any moment adds a sense of urgency to my process. Whatever it is, I know that I work best when I can get up and pace to the fridge between sentences or water my plant between paragraphs.

My first year of graduate school, I wrote from a futon until I found this couch abandoned near the dumpster in my apartment complex’s parking lot. Dumpster Couch, it was affectionately called.

I wrote most of my MFA thesis sitting at this table. Something about the repetitive bounce of my housemate’s dog’s tennis ball against the floor was reassuring.  

Now I write at my kitchen table on top of a Dungeons and Dragons grid within sight of the kitchen. The table was inherited from a writer friend, and I took it with me when I moved from Tempe to Tucson.

The next time I move, I’ll go through the same routine. I’ll U-Haul my desk to the new city. I’ll buy a bamboo shoot at Home Depot. I’ll buy expensive pens with very black ink. And like before, I’ll end up doing the majority of my writing in the least glamorous part of my house. I’ll take comfort in the fact that, in another corner of my home, there’s a space that represents the writer I imagine myself to be, a version of myself that I can still become.

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