I love the Tree of Life Tweet that shows the work space I used when writing MORTAL THINGS. Well, ONE of the places where I worked on the novel. Like most other writers and readers, I roam from room to room, nook to nook, sometimes from state to state, but this one anchors me in a couple of ways.
Most of my fiction is set in Philadelphia, where I grew up, then worked and played, and where, with Kathleen, raised our children. The pictured nook is where we live in Maine. What’s that on the left of the desk? A map of Mount Airy, our old neighborhood. And the framed drawing on the other wall? A pencil drawing by friend, teaching colleague, neighbor, and artist, the late Bob Paige, of his wife, seen sitting in her chair in their home in—wait for it—Mount Airy.
After living for decades in Philadelphia, Kathleen and I learned to our surprise that we were ready to become country mice. I can’t imagine a place that I love being in more than mid-coast Maine, but Philly has a hold on me that shows no sign of weakening. I didn’t set out to create a little piece of “the old neighborhood,” as they like to say in Philadelphia. But having Bob’s work on the wall above me and the names of all my streets lined up in the other frame settles me.
Those streets, roads, lanes, and The Avenue (Germantown) belong not just to me but to all who have ever called Mount Airy home. People from other great neighborhoods in Philly and elsewhere likewise share emotional ownership of their soul place, even when change makes certain locations difficult to recognize.
Having been born in Quebec, I can’t exactly be considered a Philly native, but people arrive in Philadelphia at all stages of life, and as long as they don’t openly cheer for the Dallas Cowboys, the locals generally consider them to be locals in short order. Only one of the three main characters in MORTAL THINGS arrived in Mount Airy directly from the hospital, but they all come to claim it as their own place.
Philadelphia as a city and Mount Airy as a neighborhood tend to stay with you, even if you leave. I don’t need to plant my finger on a familiar corner of the neighborhood on that map or meditate on Bob Paige’s artistic gifts, his friendship, and his love for his wife in order to fully inhabit my fictional terrain. The frames around those two visual images define their space on the wall, and up there above my desk, the map and the drawing kind of frame me, as someone who will always be a Mount Airy boy.
If you can capture the essence of your work space in three words, you might want to take up writing haiku! But that three-word exercise might surprise you, might open you up to what helps or hinders your ability to know who you are and to do the work that matters to you.
Thanks for reading this post. If you like it, I hope you’ll follow me on Twitter @nedbachus, at nedbachus.com, and Like the Facebook Page, Open Admissions.
Mortal Things, my novel, will be published October 4, and if you’d like to pre-order it, you can do it on the nedbachus.com website or at Tree of Life. https://www.treeoflifetreeofjoy.com/mortal-things