I don’t know how to write at home anymore. My home is so unpeopled – it’s a place of busy work and distraction, of cooking and tidying, of immersion into books and blogs and shows. Home is for the steady work of editing and formatting, the after-writing.
Writing for me takes place in a buzz of public enactment, through claiming quiet space amid cacophony. Writing is learning how to block out other people’s conversations, to hew to the page. I write only at tables, in coffee shops, pubs, occasionally airports or food courts. I write where the social conventions of staking out an interest in a chair and table or countertop prohibit wandering. To be in public is to be rooted and employed – if not in eating or speaking, then in reading and writing. I need to be bound in to write. I need blinkers.
Writing for me is also communal. I write with other writers (‘with’ as in near, not in a collaborative sense). Together we claim public space and we write. We pile our books and laptops and notebooks and pens between us, and we are undeniable. We bring our artistic practices into places meant for drinks, dates, and networking. The spaces of asserting social identity, of being seen and signalling. The gathering spaces. Here we flaunt our otherness, we insert our aesthetic concerns.
I write best where other writers are. They create space for writing between them. I find space to write among them. I find permission there, or, more accurately, I find myself able to give myself permission there. Writing becomes possible, and likely. But why do I need permission? Some confusion of values keeps me apart from this best thing I do. Some conflict of values draws me into doubt.
Writing is beginning again, another and another new attempt. Writing despite the demands of my remunerative career, my priorities of security and financial independence. Writing to chip away at this model of adulthood. Writing into (against) tenuousness and uncertainty. Writing without clear rewards, often without outcome. No correlation between time and result. Accepting the difficult vulnerability of this desire.
My best writing is ludic and wanders. To write I need room to experiment, freedom to fail, and forgiveness. I need to kill time. I need poetry accreting out of lost time, slate space. Blank and opened and filling.
Writing in public can spark an alchemy for me. It can allow a rush of synaptic peculiarity, which comes perhaps from drifting away from self, or sinking deeper into self. I find a generative tension between private thought and public being.
I write best companioned and alone. Aesthetically solitary, but socially flanked. Here I can allow myself primarily creative existence, I can melt into my ulterior motive, I can finally focus.
- Written by hand at the Kensington Pub in the company of nine other writers; transcribed and revised at Higher Ground in the company of one other; edited at home.
Natalie Simpson is the author of accrete or crumble (LINEbooks 2006) and Thrum (Talonbooks 2014). Her poetry has appeared in several anthologies, including The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2013. She practices pro bono law in Calgary, Alberta and curates filling Station magazine’s flywheel Reading Series.