Melville’s “Bartleby,” one of my favorite short fictions, is a story of walls, of being pressed against them. At the end, the narrator finds Bartleby “strangely huddled at the base of the wall, his knees drawn up, and lying on his side, his head touching the cold stones.” That is sometimes the position you can find me, behind the locked door of my writing office. Of course, there’s that famous refrain of Bartleby’s, too–his “I’d prefer not to”–a stance that feels oddly courageous in the world of Wall Street. That’s part of the allure of the writing space, a place to hide away when the world offers choices I’d prefer not to partake of. (That is the first time I’ve ever used “partake of”).
I like to condense the writing space to something (very) tiny, walled-in. I know, in truth, I’m just sitting in a room typing and nothing really is at stake. It’s as undangerous a place as could be, unless one fears paper cuts and too-hot coffee and carpal tunnels. But that’s not the right state of mind for writing, at least for me, thinking that my writing space is where I have it easy. So I press myself up against this wall and imagine I’m doing something so terrifying that anyone in the world would prefer not to. Thus, in doing so, in writing as if up against unfathomable terror, I’ve convinced myself I’m doing something mightily heroic and important, that this tiny thing I’m up to has colossal implications. I’m thinking, now and for the first time, how the clutter of this space is really a metaphor of a certain state of mind. It’s kind of a mess, isn’t it? And there’s always that wall, like someone asking for brilliance, or maybe it’s more like a brain fresh out of ideas.
Randall Brown is the author of the award-winning (very) short fiction collection Mad to Live (Flume Press 2008). He teaches at and directs Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing and MA in Literature programs. Writing Spaces is a series dedicated to the desks, cafes, libraries and retreats where Fictionaut writers work, providing a window to the physical places where some of the stories on the site originated.