What I am working on right now: a series of personal essays—so far only one, actually, so it’s a very short series, but it’s a very long essay. What’s on my desk: aside from what I am in the middle of writing (see above), what’s on my desk tends to be what I am reading, either for pleasure or for possible future projects. At the moment, this includes David Hume’s letters and essays (for a writing project that I will probably decide, in the end, not to do, but it’s been instructive anyway); David Malouf’s story collection, Dream Stuff, because I’ve already read everything else I can find by this wonderful Australian writer; and Dickens’s Bleak House, which I have read twice before, but not for at least fifteen years, and it is one of those books you need to reread at intervals—or at least I do.
On the desktop: stamped, addressed, unsealed manila envelopes of job applications with Post-it checklists of what’s in them and what still needs to go in them; the line-edited manuscript of my new novel, Osprey Island, which needs to be gone through in the next six days; a galley of John McNally’s new novel The Book of Ralph; a Post-it list (“garage door, MULCH, kitchen sink drain, Jen’s light”); a dirty spoon; a bottle of zinc lozenges; One Story issue #27; a nearly empty two-liter bottle of Hy-Vee seltzer water; a receipt from the New Pioneer Co-op for two scones, a Sunday New York Times and a bag of Newman’s Ginger-O’s, which were on sale for $2.49 and are really really good dipped in milk and have inspired odes by my poetess-friend, Laurel Snyder; a roll of one-inch masking tape; a “Florida” collector’s salad-plate with labeled four-color illustrations of “Marineland,” “Water Skiing at Cypress Gardens,” “Lucky Palm at Silver Springs,” and “Aqua-Ballet at Weeki Wachee Springs”; a lime green “ouchless” ponytail holder, fraying; Fernanda the cat, who has a fractured pelvis and isn’t allowed to move around freely for another three weeks but just cries and cries when I put her in the kennel where she’s supposed to stay; the cup of coffee Jen just brought me because I can’t get up because Fern’s actually on my lap, not on the desk, and I can’t bear to disturb her. On the computer desktop: four thousand words for Wordsmitten; emails to thank everyone at Tulane for bringing me down there and then taking care of me when I got the flu; eighteen different versions of that odious job application letter where you try to be yourself and sell yourself and just wind up loathing yourself; the nicest surprise message from Laurie Colwin’s daughter, Rosa; and this. On the proverbial desktop of my mind: a bleeding bride, a still-born twin, electroshock, a family of postwar German suicides, an imaginary cocktail party, a thirty-year-old virgin, the difference between selflessness and not having a self, and a spanking after thirty-five years of marriage.
My desk isn’t big enough. I’ve got to get a new one, some kind of long table. I write on a big heavy black typewriter, a manual model from the 1920s. This may seem like an affectation, but it really works well, the typewriter I mean. It smacks the letters onto the paper in a satisfying way. I only write the first drafts on the typewriter and then later on I look over the pages and see if I like them enough to keep working. If I do, then I type it into my computer. When I write on a computer, it’s very tempting to make changes as I’m going along. The typewriter removes this temptation. It also forces me to retype the whole thing, which is a good process. Anyway, my desk has a lot of typewritten papers lying about in various piles. My hope is that these will someday form a novel. I continue to write short stories, but I want to finish this novel. It’s not even close to done. It’s embarrassing. But when it’s done I promise it will be good. Also on my desk there are little digital videotapes. We’re editing new material for How’s Your News? It’ll come out on a DVD in March. I can edit everything on my little laptop computer, which is a blessing and a curse. I have trouble staying focused sometimes.