Where do you write? Where and when and how do you carve out time and space? Do you have a room of your own? Does your writing space have walls? What hangs on the walls in the spaces where you write? How do you create a space(s) that allows you to survive? What Black Space(s) sustain you?
Off the Wall #1:
by Joy Priest
I am a 24-year-old pauper.
That is to say, I’m broke than a muthafucka.
I don’t say this to be a poor-mouth. I know I will eventually hit my yield, and when I do, I’ll possess the supreme knowledge that is knowing how to navigate society with the bare minimum. As for now, I’m working the upward struggle characteristic of my twenties.
There is little I own. A few shirts with holes via careless Black & Mild burns. One pair of black jeans ripped at the inner thigh. A cat named Lee-NUH (spelled phonetically). My favorite two-paneled wingtips—the sole split-in-half horizontally. A used record player found in a Goodwill. A hand-me-down, queen-sized bed. Unsubmitted, unfinished poems. Numerous, sporadic stacks of books. These are the things crammed into my 12 x 16 foot writing space. living space. One of ten rooms in an Antebellum-era colonial house that sits on a busy downtown corner. STUDIO FOR RENT is the sign forever stuck in the front yard bank.
chinese takeout spoiling from the refrigerator stands in the air. lee-NUH’s litter box is full. thick mildew from the claw-toed tub. the smells dance together, like a mix of colors relieving into mud.
in the very center of the room, a desk is in a perpetual state of impending collapse. normal things: laptop, books, printer, notebooks. out-of-place things: unpaid and never-will-get-paid bills, a sleeping feline, food, recently folded laundry, vinyl records, scarves, vintage Nintendo 64 game cartridges, discarded panties. chaos.
in the spirit of full disclosure, most writing is done on the bed.
the 20-foot-tall walls are mostly bare. art costs money. one would think: teenager’s bedroom, with its poetry festival posters and hand-written musings, before: artistic space of young boheme with sensible taste in decor. a few paintings and sketches, bartered from a local artist for one of my chapbooks or a live reading, loiter on the walls.
the protective energy here says it was once a daughter’s room.
A mandate by the city’s preservation society protects historic buildings like this one from being remodeled and renovated. The house is falling apart. Peeling paint hangs chandelier-like from the ceilings. Lead pipes spit out murky water. The ancient filthy upholstery and carpet, holding storied stains from 1976, isn’t proper for bare skin and feet. The steps, a balancing act. When the house was built in 1830, a bell to call servants was mounted on the wall above the second landing, and there it sits, still, with no ring left.
the basement reveals secrets. a rotting service staircase winds through the walls to the upper levels of the house. wooden slats have been laid over a dirt floor.three padlocked rotting doors break up the cobblestone walls. open one and you may discover a tunnel network running underground. all passages meet at the city’s downtown center, “Cheapside.” this is how we were led to the auction block. this is the way to a space where our life had the least value.
This town has an affinity for hiding what it doesn’t want you to see right before your eyes. So many things have endured here this way. In this place: what has lived and what has not. The most humbling experience involves that which occurs outside of my #7 room. The sounds that shove me back into a reality always surfacing in my work. The noises out there won’t let me ignore them. The dead things won’t let me leave them dead. The ones who won’t let me forget I own nothing yet, not even the space to move my pen toward peace of mind.
a door slams out in the remote foyer. hollow thud of footsteps echo from the main staircase, ascend with the poisonous wallpaper. a frequent squatter’s terminal cough reaches at me from his stolen bed on a lobby couch, inches from my threshold. his conversations with himself a low growl in my ear. words from the yelling match downstairs, between a heroin-loving visitor and my paranoid schizophrenic neighbor slip under my door. door always bolted . . . until a week’s worth of rain warped the cedar. the two months rent I owe my landlord is a constant haunt. the coming steps could be his. “Notice to Vacate” married to my door.