The introvert in me recoiled from social interaction at a writer’s residency I attended a few years ago, not because I wanted a hermetic life in which I spoke to no one for weeks on end, but because I wished to emerge from those isolated writing sessions under no particular social pressure. I ate three meals a day (glorious meals that someone else cooked for me—with no need to clean dishes after) with others who (perhaps) wanted to talk more than I did about what they were working on, how it was going, or just—talk. I had to eat, so I went to a busy dining room after a day of seeing no one. As I walked there, I felt my energy buzz fizzle as I put my world-face on. There was loads of wine—I was not the only introvert. Afterwards, people disappeared quickly to their rooms, their computers, desperate to reclaim an alpha state. The pressure is on when one’s writing room must be paired with a social life.
When I enter the Writers’ Room, I have a private space, but I’m not alone. If I see a friendly face while there, I can engage—or not—but the entering, the working, the exiting the room—is a fluid, quiet transaction.
It is, in fact, a flourishing microcosm, and one I have come to anticipate. There I have a desk space, but also a comfortable reading space. I have, in essence, my first studio apartment where I spent my year of graduate creative writing work at Boston University—only bigger. The gym, in its way, is a microcosm, too, but it is utilitarian. When I tell people I’m going to the Writers’ Room, and they look at me as if I’ve said I’m going to the gym, I want to insist on the difference—it’s not just that I’m doing something positive for myself, it’s freedom and succor. Organization and generation. It’s the light. It’s the near perfect quiet. It’s the lack of interaction.
On one of my most productive, happiest days, I remember being there completely alone, spread out in the reading area, listening to the traffic below. Most days there are others in the room, but with no additional pressure to network or compete. Nowhere else have I ever learned so much about my community by entering the bathroom. By which I mean the active, ever-changing blackboard used for notes, information about readings, suggestions for gatherings, etc. We are here even when we are unseen.
We move together, fluidly, many of us working at a slug’s pace. Occasionally one of us squeaks a chair, or puts on a coat. Time’s up, but I hardly noticed it go by. The other day, someone was banging for someone else on the back door. We forget our keys, we stare mindlessly, we clear our throats in our common space.
Yesterday, helicopters were everywhere outside, the steady chopper sound impossible to ignore, even from the cocoon. The world is out there. If I could tame it, I would. When I leave, I have all the people I could possibly need—a city of people—and I transition in the crowd.
The space is one in which I would like to live. But it’s the transient life of the renter, the city life, the life of keys in my pocket and the electricity of exchange.
—Valerie Duff, 2015 WROB Poetry Fellow