Emma Straub: On Ritual
photo by Allison Michael Orenstein
“I write lying down. Not reclining all the way, but with my back supported behind me, and my legs stretched out in front. I cross my ankles one way, then I cross them the other. My laptop sits on my thighs, supported by either a pillow or a hideous lap-desk-cushion-thing I bought at an office supply store. I haven’t written a single word sitting at a desk in almost six years.
“It started as a necessity—when I moved in with my husband, then my boyfriend, we lived in a studio apartment. There was only room for one real desk, and due to several factors (the size of my husband’s computer, the fact that he makes actual money as a graphic designer, etc.), I downsized to a sewing table that I never once used. For a few days, I tried to write at the kitchen table. No dice. Every day, without fail, I would wind up back in bed, a few pillows shoved behind me, with my computer on my lap. The only drawback was that the bed faced my husband’s desk, which meant that while I was writing, I was also often not writing, but instead looking over his shoulder and at whatever he was doing. I would offer my helpful comments throughout the day, until he put his headphones on to drown me out.
“A year later, we moved to Wisconsin. My husband had a room of his own, with a door and everything. This meant that the bedroom was mine. I would often not leave the room for days except for meals. The first house we rented in Madison was pitch black almost all day, and I would often forget to turn on the lights, and find myself sitting in the darkness. I didn’t nap nearly as often as you might imagine, though I won’t lie to you and tell you it never happened.
“We moved back to New York a little over a year ago, and through a combination of luck, alchemy, and distance from a neighborhood anyone has ever heard of, were able to buy a house. For the very first time, I have my own office with a door. It is the smallest room in the house, no more than fifty square feet, a tiny rectangle. I painted the walls a color Benjamin Moore calls Malibu Peach, and filled the shelves with my reference books. My sewing-table desk and chair sit, dusty and ignored, against one wall. And at the far end of the room, beside the window overlooking the garden, I write while reclining on my chaise lounge, legs outstretched. Some may call it decadent, but I’m in good company here—Edith Wharton and Marcel Proust both wrote in bed, too, and one can’t feel too fancy on an itchy piece of Ikea furniture. Unless you sleep on a bunk bed, perilously close to the ceiling, or on a tatami mat with no cushion for your tailbone, I urge you to try it. You will thank me later, in an email you’ll send while wearing pajamas, or nothing at all, from the comfort of your bed.”