Nicole Walker is the author of This Noisy Egg (Barrow Street Press, 2010). Her writing has appeared in a number of literary journals including Ploughshares and North American Review. Assistant Professor of Poetry and Creative Nonfiction at Northern Arizona University and nonfiction editor of Diagram, Walker co-created the artist/writer collaborative project “7 Rings” on the Huffington Post. Here she ruminates on motivation, adaptability, and the inevitable unloading of the dishwasher.
First, what is ideal about working? The best thing about my work is that it takes place while I’m doing other things.
I empty the dishwasher because the dishwasher is nine feet to the right of the end of my kitchen table, and ten and a half feet from my computer that sits on the kitchen table. I need to get away from that workspace and go dominate another. One percent of that need is that the dishwasher needs emptying. The other 99% is that I need to get away from that bad idea, that half a good idea, the almost idea, the stupid idea, the internal editor that called my idea stupid, the idea that is almost fully formed Athena-like but then evaporated when I went to check my email.
As I empty the dishwasher, I hope the dishwasher simultaneously washes away whatever I was thinking about and recovers the original, best thought. I would like to erase. I would also like my pristine idea.
I like to pretend that if I could record every idea, get the idea at the moment it happened, then the true and good work would prevail. But that’s not what happens. In the middle of Harry Potter, I have an idea of humans and adaptability. Should I get up from where I’m reading in bed and write it down? Should I have some technology that allows me to nod in the general direction of that idea and have it permanently imprinted on a document that one day, if I put it through the dishwasher of revision, it will come out clean?
That idea, if it’s a good one, will emerge again. And so my ideal workspace is wherever there is other work to do to allow the ideas to resurface.
I should go outdoors without shoes on. I should sit in the middle of my garden with my laptop and type the words, “let’s all adapt.” I should pull a weed or two and write, “there’s something very much like the movie Waterworld about humans adapting. I don’t want gills.” I should go find a hoe and dig a trench. Into it, I should plant tiny carrot seeds. “But maybe I do want gills. Who am I kidding? Gills would be rad.” Now I stand up. “If I had gills, would food still taste good?” I both wonder this and write this and I’m so glad my computer doesn’t mind a little dirt and tiny carrot seeds.
The ideal workspace is a place where my computer can be and I can escape from it. It should be in an open enough place where I swear I just saw a fox run out the backyard and with just enough open windows and doors that my kids can find me and bring the kitchen forks outside and take the pinecones inside and the wind can send me away and the flicker of a hawk tail can draw me back. It should be in reach of both popcorn and tea. It should be loud enough that I have to stand up and ask, “what?” and quiet enough that when I do get one of those pristine ideas, I can hear it echo, resound, resonate and come back until it’s finally ready to be written down.