From a Newtown Literary contributor: Maria Napolitano
Writer Maria Napolitano’s work was featured in issue #14 of Newtown Literary. Below, she shares photographs and tells us about her writing workspace. For more, check out her website, or follow her on Twitter @maria_regina39 and Instagram @mrn39.
I moved into a new apartment this year, and the first thing I bought was this desk. It felt too big at first—two flat-packed boxes I couldn’t assemble alone, that quickly grew into an enormous L-shaped creature filling the spare bedroom under the window. I worried I’d overcompensated: I hadn’t had a desk for a year and a half, and had gotten used to balancing my whirring laptop on my legs or couch cushions or filling the little kitchen table with its metallic clamshell.
Without a desk, I’d felt my creativity dwindle. Spontaneous writing, painting, drawing, and working were impossible. I needed to clear a place to sit and create a makeshift workspace for every task, and I hate to admit it, but that little barrier wore me down. I work well in long but spontaneous stretches, and the throw pillows, dishes, books, mail, clothes, everything that surrounded me and grew on every possible surface was a physical reminder that I couldn’t start to work without rearranging my space. And on that note, it didn’t help that the space was actually my new boyfriend’s—and I suddenly had no desk because I’d left mine behind to fit into his apartment. Giving up a room of my own felt like an acceptable compromise to move in with the person I loved, and I was happy with him, but I still chafed at the symbolism and effects of this change. When we began looking for an upgrade that could fit both of us comfortably, office space was at the top of my “must-have” list. “Nice-to-haves” included a dishwasher, access to a yard, and top-of-the-line air conditioning, and when we found a two-bedroom with all of these features (and many more) we pounced. My new desk arrived before our new couch.
I am not a very disciplined writer. I work in book publishing, and like all my colleagues take a good amount of work home with me. To be honest, I take more home than most: my previous position included eight-plus hours of at-home reading per week, and my new job allows me to work from home regularly—a perk that would have been wasted on me only months earlier. In a business centered around writing and words, from long manuscripts to a glut of emails, sometimes I can’t bring myself to write, let alone edit any of my own at the end of the day. But I flourish when I’m also doing something analog, something creative, something to flex a muscle that isn’t just work. It’s no coincidence I became a runner soon after joining this workforce: time on my feet was time away from screens and pages, but there are only so many miles I can log every day. After a proper workday, I’d like the option of scribbling out a new poem, working a bit on an essay, maybe repotting a succulent or adding some shading to a pencil drawing in progress before tiring out. And I want to maintain that forward motion and energy, instead of burning out with one or two marathon sessions of creativity before deadlines loom and other projects stagnate.
I’ve made my desk into a flexible space, to satisfy my at-work needs and personal creative tendencies. Now, I find this corner of the spare room welcoming, stimulating, and not too polished—a place where I can settle in and ask what I need that day, no questions asked and no glossy pressure on. Do I have any projects whining to be finished? New ideas bouncing around? Real, day-job work to get down to? I can leave my works-in-progress strewn across the left-hand wing of my desk, drying under the window, while my Mac (a very lucky hand-me-down, to replace the ancient laptop) dominates the right side, always ready to offer up emails, word processors, or music in the background. I can turn back and forth easily, or focus on one task when I need to.
With houseplants curling around my monitor, a window box of herbs sitting in the sun, and an espresso machine living a new life as a planter spilling out from the center angle, you might think I’m an expert plant mom. Not the case! But my plants’ visible growth, the care they need, the work I put into terrariums big and small, and the personality of some cheap little figurines peeking out from within the plantscape comforts me and makes me feel that this is truly my space. I delight in seeing a surface I’ve arranged, covered in knickknacks and notebooks and art supplies, that I can sit at whenever and however I want. I can turn my Sad Desk Lunch into a treat—fresh basil or mint plucked and dropped directly into my bowl; I can transcribe or edit new poems on screen without disturbing my newest watercolor resting to the side; I can sit down for a minute to check my email and get lost in a manuscript that might just be the next bestseller; I can gaze out the window for inspiration and switch tasks when I don’t find it; I can work eight hours and run out the door, knowing everything will be exactly as I left it, ready for me to pick up again when I’m ready.