At the first signs of spring, I emerge from my basement office, yawn, stretch, scratch myself, and squint at the light. After a winter of semi-hibernation, I'm hungry for sun and fresh air. I find both out on my favorite writing space - my back deck.
After a morning cup of Irish tea and a half hour watching increasingly depressing morning news, and after the dew has been burned away by the morning sun, I haul my Smith-Corona manual typewriter up to my summer office and carefully park it on a circular wooden picnic table. I park myself in a creaky yellow rocker that, like me, has somehow survived a lifetime of New England winters. "Hello, old friend," I say as I nestle into the wicker seat. I put paper in my Smith-Corona and my feet up on my writing table. I smile as I survey my backyard domain, await my muse, and wait for the caffeine to kick in.
The view from my deck is one I've waited for all winter. I live on a secluded, heavily-wooded parcel of land in eastern Connecticut, equidistant from Boston and New York. I know there are houses on the surrounding properties, but in summer, I see only trees – oak, maple, pine, birch. They surround, shade, and shelter me from the world and its distractions. My imagination convinces me I'm alone in the middle of a deep but friendly forest. The only sounds are birds, cicadas, and the wind making its way through the assorted foliage.
In addition to my Smith-Corona, I bring notes, a yellow legal pad, a box of white 8 x 11 typing paper, a large glass of un-sweetened green tea, snacks – usually Triscuits and thin slices of Muenster cheese - my bifocals, a paperback Merriam-Webster dictionary and a hard-bound copy of Webster's New World Thesaurus. If it's been a productive winter, I'll bring rough drafts of stories I've work on.
Even though I own several computers, my Smith-Corona is an integral part of my writing process, a process leftover from my college days. This process begins when I try to decipher notes scribbled on assorted scraps of paper. When I've made sense of these scribblings, I arrange and transfer them to a yellow legal pad, revise and edit the sentences and paragraphs, then type everything out on my Smith-Corona. I'll then take these pages and transfer them to the Dell laptop that sits on the coffee table in my family room. Through the sliding glass door I can still see and hear the sights and sounds of spring. Sometimes I'll catch sight of a bird stealing Triscuit crumbs from my plate or a hummingbird sipping from the feeder my wife puts out every spring.
After a hopefully productive morning, I'll have lunch on the deck – last night's leftovers, usually. While carefully re-reading my draft, I might reward myself with a glass of wine. I'm not superstitious, but I sometimes think that if I get over-confident, the piece I'm working on will attract rejection emails like a Trump confident attracts a Mueller indictment. If it's been an especially frustrating morning or I've inadvertently over-caffeinated myself on green tea, I'll take the bottle out to my summer office - a decent Chianti or a Louis Jadot Pouilly Fuisse.
On one unusually productive morning, I was able to write the introduction to a non-fiction story I'd been researching and working on for over two years, a story about home.
"One summer, on a whim, I visited the town where I grew up. I'd left in 1965 when I enlisted in the Army and had visited only occasionally, usually on leave from the Army, and later, after I'd been discharged, during semester breaks from college. After a decades-long absence, I expected some changes, but what I found that summer day left me speechless. I stood on the steps of the old town hall and stared in disbelief at what I saw – and didn't see. For the most part, Atlantic and Main had vanished."
A sad and somber tale of a lost city penned on such an idyllic spot.
I read somewhere that life is finite - as is my time in my backyard office. As a New Englander, I know that eventually I'll be evicted. Fall is an especially wondrous time of the year with the blaze of color, but it's also when I'm put on notice. I delay the inevitable by donning a hoodie and sweat pants when I can see my breath, but when autumn leaves begin to clog my Smith-Corona, I know it's time to retreat to my dark and dismal basement workspace. The upside is that without all the distractions of my summer office, I can sometimes be at my most productive. But I'd trade productivity for the view from my back deck any day.
About the author:
Michail Mulvey is a retired educator who taught for over four decades at all levels, from kindergarten to college. He holds an MFA in creative writing and has had short stories published in literary magazines and journals in the US, the UK, and Ireland. In 2013 he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He lost, of course, but he did take first prize in the 2007 Southern Connecticut State University Fiction Contest. His work has appeared in such publications as Johnny America, Scholars and Rogues, The Umbrella Factory, Prole, Poydras, The Front Porch Review, Roadside Fiction, Crack the Spine, Literary Orphans, and War, Literature and the Arts.
The Woodshop examines the work spaces and habits of writers both big and small. Joan Didion spent the night in the same room as her work when it was almost finished. Don DeLillo kept a picture of Borges close by. When, and how, do you work? Tell CutBank about your workspace. Submit via email to firstname.lastname@example.org