One morning long ago, when I was hiring writers to help me write everything my clients wanted me to write, one of my fellow writers walked into our very casual office looking strange. For no apparent reason, he was wearing a bow tie.
“If I dress better,” he explained, “I’ll write better.”
It didn’t work.
But I was tantalized by the idea that something utterly unrelated to writing might help a writer write better. Superstition, yes, but hey, if it might facilitate higher fees, I’ll try it.
Fast-forward several decades. I’d like my “Outsidah” column to be better. I’d like less hate mail. So my brilliant brother-in-law, a master carpenter, builds me a little writer’s nook — because I feel sure that writing in a writer’s nook will make me a better writer, as opposed to, say, writing hunched over the kitchen table. Certainly you can see how isolating yourself in a small, isolated space designed exclusively for the execution of your craft — eliminating distractions, allowing total focus — is better than trying to replicate Updike only inches away from cupboards full of wondrous treats. Not to mention the leftover pot roast in the fridge.
My tiny writer’s nook, just big enough for me, my standing desk, and narrow wall shelves, is totally enclosed, except for a window overlooking beautiful Ipswich. Well, 20 square feet of beautiful Ipswich, behind the garage. But never mind that. I don’t have to look out the window. I can close myself off from the world, just me and my laptop, and be brilliant.
I christen my writer’s nook the “Art Room” — because my brother-in-law, the builder, is named Art — and I keenly anticipate not only writing better but feeling younger, more vital, cooler, more attractive. I can imagine emerging from a hard day’s work in the Art Room and my wife’s eyes glittering with admiration, perhaps even fluttering a bit, like a cartoon from the ’50s.
Then I actually try it.
After significant experience in the Art Room, I can report that it’s roughly as effective as wearing a bow tie.
The problem isn’t the nook. The nook is wonderful. The problem is the young, vital, cool, attractive parts of the equation.
I’m in the Art Room, being brilliant, when my hearing aid beeps in my ear. This means my batteries are low. It also means I’m probably not young, vital, cool, and attractive — but this detail can be ignored, because I’m all alone in my nook: Who will ever know? All I need to do is replace the battery. No problem. I carry spare hearing aid batteries in my pocket at all times, for just such a moment. (It’s not something I broadcast all the time — because it’s not exactly in keeping with my young, vital, cool, attractive persona — but getting caught without spare batteries when you need them will quickly teach an old dog the new trick of carrying spares at all times.)
In the privacy of my nook, I close the laptop on top of the standing desk, pull out my hearing aid, lay it on the laptop cover, and fish the package of batteries from my pocket. It’s in there somewhere. No, that’s the nail clipper. Okay, there — got it.
Then it’s just a matter of taking the hearing aid out of my ear, opening the battery compartment, tapping the old battery out — well, sorry, wait. I can’t quite see it clearly enough without my glasses. Okay, got the glasses on. There, good.
I’m tapping the new battery out of the package, replacing the old with the new — oh, darn. I have a little arthritis in my thumb joints, making it tricky to handle these tiny batteries. The old battery escapes me, bounces to the floor, somewhere behind the standing desk — eh, I’ll get it later.
Now I’m putting the new battery into the hearing aid — careful, careful — closing the battery compartment, and then putting the hearing aid back behind my ear. Well, actually, the earpiece of my glasses is in the way. I can’t quite put the hearing aid back in place without removing my glasses — yeah, they’re bifocals; so what?
So I remove the bifocals, situate the hearing aid, and replace the bifocals. Just like any young, vital, cool, attractive guy would.
Now it’s time to find that runaway dead battery. I’m crouching down, reaching behind the standing desk, feeling my way along the edge of the floor. Something twists in my lower back.
Dang, this hurts. I don’t think I can straighten up.
I hope my wife misses me, and comes looking for me, because the Art Room is nice, but I don’t want to die here.
Besides, someone else will write my obituary, probably brilliantly — and for a hefty fee.
Doug Brendel is alive and well on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Oh, wait; check that “alive and well” part. Pending further notice, follow Doug at DougBrendel.com.