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Workspaces

My semi-professional workplace is pretty awesome. I work in an old house in the low-traffic eye of campus that has been converted into a casual office building. The family room is the secretary's reception area, the living room has been reconfigured for seminars and conferences, the upstairs den makes a cozy computer lab, and the attic has a suite of tiny offices for graduate students. I have my own office on the second floor with big sunny windows all around and three (yes, three) desks to spread my work around.

Best of all, the kitchen is fully functional and stocked. The department hosts lunches and breakfasts on a regular basis, and my supervisor wraps the leftovers in foil and sticks them in the freezer...then practically begs me to eat them all! She's handed me giant bags of bagels, plates of pizza, apples, muffins, and scones. On Friday I discovered a fruit tray in the fridge, purchased for a student meeting the day before and barely touched. I'm the only one who's going to be in next week, so it clearly would have gone to waste if I hadn't brought it up to my desk for some post-free-lunch dessert. (Do you have any idea how expensive this stuff is in Indiana? What's wrong with these people who just leave it there?)

My "writing studio" at home, on the other hand, leaves a lot to be desired. It consists of a laptop on a plastic card table set up at the cramped intersection of the living room, kitchen, and itty bitty hallway. I'm maybe one foot from the cat's food and water bowls, three feet from her litter box, and two feet from the doorways to the bathroom and bedroom. Sweetie's television is just on the other side of this thin, hollow wall, so I can hear every boom, zoom, battle theme, and overacted voice clip in his games, no matter how low he turns the volume to be considerate.

As for our location, we live in what you might affectionately refer to as the South Side Ghetto. Most of the residents moving in now are on Section 8, and many of them have criminal records. We've had arson, assaults, drive-by shootings, pet kidnappings...you name it. At least the drug dealers two doors down finally moved out—I don't know whether they were arrested, evicted, or just skipped town, but frankly I'm not curious to find out. Anyway, since our apartment is on the ground floor by a parking lot, we can't raise the window blinds, so no cheery sunlight for me. If the neighbors aren't walking by and talking at the top of their lungs or playing wall-shaking rap music from their parked cars, the maintenance workers are mowing the grass, scrounging around on the roof, or blowing leaves off of our enclosed patio. It makes for a rather stressful home life.

I've never been one of those people who can write anytime, anywhere. I've heard other writers say that they can write on a clipboard in the stock room during lunch breaks, or in the car while waiting for the kids to finish soccer practice. I can't concentrate unless I have total quiet and comfort. If I lived in the house I work in, I might have finished three books already. As it is, there's an intricate set of criteria that creates the golden time for productivity: early in the morning or late in the evening when the neighbors are asleep, when everyone in the apartment is fed and calm (including Luna, whose hyperactivity can be hyper-distracting), and when Sweetie is 100% occupied, asleep, or away at classes.

None of this would be the case if we had our own property, or even a rented house or two-bedroom apartment. Unfortunately, all of those options will be out of reach until summer 2014 at least. So what's a starving artist to do? Well, I could get some noise-cancelling headphones, but then I wouldn't be able to hear someone knocking on the door or attempting to break in, Luna crying to be let out of wherever she's trapped herself, or Sweetie calling me if something were to happen. I could start keeping a baker's hours, rising at 3am to write before leaving for work at 7:30, and then coming home to eat and go straight to sleep. I did that in the early days of my half-time job, but it was exhausting.

Or, more reasonably, I could just get over it. The only practical option is to learn to shut the world out and write whenever I can. I think I was spoiled growing up in a big house. If I was upstairs in my bedroom, my brothers would be downstairs in the opposite wing or playing in the big backyard. Even if they were in the rooms next to mine, they preferred quiet, solitary activities like reading manga and playing PC games. I spent most of my time in my own little world with few distractions. Sweetie, on the other hand, was raised in a noisy, cramped house, so he doesn't have this problem. He can sleep and work with music playing, people talking, sirens wailing....

If anyone has any tips for cutting out distractions and getting some work done in a less-than-optimal environment, I would love to hear them. I really need to get going on all these novels I've outlined before I become one of "those" people who call themselves "writers" but never actually write anything!

P.S. for Relatives: Don't worry about the crime-ridden ghetto thing. Most of the violence is domestic or drug/alcohol-related; nobody's interested in harming or stealing from strangers. No one here has much to steal, anyway. The rotten ones only go after men delivering pizzas and girls who walk their dogs alone after dark. The drug dealers were some of the nicest people ever; they just had a bad habit of hosting "friends" at all hours and filling their patio with knee-deep piles of waste. Really, it's no different from living in any urban center. But just in case, every so often Sweetie tests me on self-defense techniques. Better paranoid than sorry.

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