“I can see the modest garden I’ve planted, as well as the veritable highway of squirrel traffic.”
I refused to hang any blinds in my office. This place to write was the first I’d ever had that did not serve another purpose, and I believed I would want every view this window afforded me, would relish every bit of light and weather. From where I sit I can see the modest garden I’ve planted, as well as the veritable highway of squirrel traffic that runs along the telephone and cable wires above it. All spring I watch them drop down to dig up the bulbs and seeds I’ve buried, to alter the plans I’ve made about shade and color. The analogous nature of my work as a novelist, the vision that is every day undermined and reimagined, does not escape me. Only recently have I stopped knocking on the glass, trying to scare them away.
Previously, I had taken compulsory pride in being able to write from anywhere. I wrote on marble stoops at pulsing San Francisco intersections, in smoky Southern pool halls where I was the only woman, from cheap-ticketed back rows of airplanes, in tents along the California coast, on the pilled couches of friends who somehow did not begrudge me for refusing to set up a home for myself. Having grown up poor, sliding in and out of rented apartments, transferring few belongings from one to the next, I saw a certain danger in ever really attaching the self to a place. A place, after all, could be taken away, and how would one emerge intact? The merger of identity and environment seemed an imperfect science, a risky surgery with probable complications.
When we moved into our home in Brooklyn and I set up this office, I kept it spare, installing only a desk and a spider plant atop an aslant library ladder. I finished my second novel that way, sometimes napping on the bare floor, more and more grateful for the quiet. Slowly I have allowed the room to house evidence of my life and work: first only research texts for my next project, then shelving to house them, then a few novels whose style raised rich questions in my head. Above my desk is a framed portrait of my grandfather, a newspaper editor for decades, at his. Though I never met him, I recognize his look, the focus required to train life onto a page, where it quarrels and eludes us and doesn’t wish to be captured.
There are still a couple of seats left in Kathleen Alcott’s fiction workshop, Choices and Concision in Short Fiction. Apply now.
Born in 1988 in northern California, Kathleen Alcott is the author of the novels Infinite Home and The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets. Her short fiction, criticism, memoir, and food writing have appeared in outlets including The New York Times, The Guardian, thenewyorker.com, The Los Angeles Review of Books, ZYZZYVA, and The Coffin Factory. Her short story “Saturation” was listed as notable by The Best American Short Fiction 2014, and her most recent novel was a Kirkus Prize nominee. She lives in New York City, where she has taught at Columbia University, The Center for Fiction and Catapult.