From the Writing Desk of: Dave Housley
Pictured: 1. My laptop, an Acer Chromebook that had the best keyboard in Best Buy on the day my cat broke my old laptop (see number 3, not pictured list below). I learned how to type on a typewriter (I am old) and I am very good at typing (as opposed to writing), but tend to clack my way through keyboards in a few years. 2. Iced green tea. 3. Veggie chili. I subscribe to a very basic reward system when I am writing, which goes something like this: hey you’re actually out of the house and doing it – you’re writing – you should give yourself a reward. Veggie chili was the fuel that kept me writing a good deal of my new book, “This Darkness Got to Give.” 4. Car keys. 5. Backpack. I’ve read some of these other lists and they’re really interesting and personal. It’s fascinating to see what somebody’s own space is like, and how different they all are. Now I wonder if it’s sad that I’m not making a list of things that are in my actual home, or my actual office. Am I a weirdo? My inability to focus, coupled with my tendency toward laziness, and the regular distractions of home and family have driven me to these work habits where I do a fair amount of writing but almost none of it in my house. Everybody else seems to have figured something out here, and I’ve pushed myself somehow into these public spaces to do all my work. I never really thought about it much, even congratulated myself on the ability to get work done despite all of the other things I have going on. Now I’m wondering if I’m just a weirdo who has developed strange habits. 6. The counter of Webster’s Books and Cafe, a wonderful bookstore, cafe, record store here in State College, PA. Webster’s where I go to write on weekends and I’m here most Saturdays and Sundays. They have great coffee, sandwiches, and the aforementioned veggie chili. There are always other people in here working on something or other, and the people are friendly and supportive. There’s not much of a literary scene here in State College, but Websters always makes me feel like I’m at least part of a community, something more or at least different than a crackpot with a laptop. A good deal of my current book was written here in fits and starts. A good deal of my previous book, Massive Cleansing Fire, was written here as well. When I finished the second draft of the book my writing partner, Becky Barnard, and I are shopping right now (a sci-fi YA novel about an alien girl in an Indiana high school) David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” started playing and it was about as perfect a moment as a solitary writer sitting in a cafe and clacking away at a laptop is going to have. 7. In front of the counter there are rows and rows of mugs. Those are the member mugs. Websters went out of business once and then came back in this space, and the membership model is something they brought to the new space. It was really a bummer when they weren’t here and it made me realize how important public spaces are, especially something like this, a progressive, funky, vegan-friendly, writer-friendly, reader- friendly space smack dab in the middle of Pennsylvania. 8. Behind the counter you can see the edge of the bookstore. To the left there is the local author section, and my books and some of my friend’s books are there.
Not Pictured: 1. Just beyond what you can see in this picture, toward the top right, there is a Poetry Booth. It’s a repurposed phone booth, programmed with poems read by local writers. Enter a number and hear a poem, and it’s all free. Super cool. 2. My house. I almost never write at home. See below. 3. My family. I have a twelve year old son, a wife with her own business and side hustles, a six month old puppy, a six year old dog, and a very bossy cat who likes to rub up against my laptop so much that he actually broke my previous machine. None of these are pictured, because none of them are compatible with me getting writing done. To be clear they are all wonderful, so much so that I really can’t write at home any more at all because it feels so incredibly selfish to be doing that while I could or should be playing with my son, walking the dogs, talking with my wife, mowing the lawn, cleaning the kitchen, doing literally any of the things I should be doing.
4. My office. My desk. I do have an office, and a desk, and both of those are about three miles from here, on the other side Penn State’s football stadium. I’m the Manager for Web Strategy at Penn State Outreach and Online Education. That’s my real job. This writing gig is a side hustle all the way, and a poorly paying one at that. I try to keep the two separate and to be honest it’s not hard. If I write at work, it’s generally a performance review or an email or a report about conversion rates or web analytics. If I’m working on a story or a novel, I’m working on that somewhere outside my office and away from my desk. I don’t know what it would be like to have my work life and my writing life exist in the same space. I’ve been doing it like this ever since I’ve been trying to do it. I think it may be easier like this, less pressure, a good solid eight hours a day when my head needs to be elsewhere. I think it helps both sides to have the other. The downside, of course, is the feeling that you’re always neglecting something, that life would be easier if those two worlds were just the one. Then would I be able to write in my house, in my office? Would I still be a weirdo in the coffee shop taking a picture of his laptop and then writing a thousand words in list format? Probably.
**** Dave Housley is the author of This Darkness Got to Give, his first novel, and four story collections, the most recent being Massive Cleansing Fire and If I Knew the Way, I Would Take You Home. His work has appeared in Booth, Hobart, McSweeneys, Redivider, Split Lip, and some other places. He is one of the founding editors and all around do-stuff people at Barrelhouse, and the primary organizer of the Conversations and Connections writer's conference, which is held in DC in the Spring and Pittsburgh in the Fall. Sometimes he drinks boxed wine and tweets about the things on his television at @housleydave.