Between Screens: Bedroom-Induced Prose

I always took pride in never writing in bed. My rule was that I could only write once I was  dressed, out of the apartment, and sipping coffee somewhere (preferably by a window), next to a stranger whose presence held me accountable for putting words on the page.

I’m not one of those people who believes in the sacredness of the bedroom, that it exists only for sleep and sex. I read, watch movies, draw, get lost on the internet. Sometimes I’d play cards with my roommate. Sometimes I’d have a glass of wine, even if it was red, I’d risk it anyway. Few things were off limits, and maybe really only one:

No writing.

If I had a writing assignment due but was lethargic, or heartbroken, or so sick that I couldn’t get out of bed, the solution was simple: I wouldn’t write at all. Then, I would plan accordingly: waking up doubly early the following day to make up for lost hours and write from a 24-hour diner or the select few coffee shops that open at 4:30am. I would go to any means of self-inflicted inconvenience so long as I didn’t write from bed.

Once the lockdown started and the world shrunk to four walls, I had to re-examine this relationship between my keyboard and my mattress.

When I started “writing,” in the self-serious sense, the “magic” would always strike with an audience. I liked being anonymous yet seen while creating. I liked my ideas floating around amongst others, where I could pull at the communal air for inspiration and capture it, right there, with witnesses. I never cared whether people were actually looking at me, all that mattered was that they could.

Through enough conditioning, I became scared of bedroom-induced prose. I was scared that writing in bed was the physical manifestation of a particular imposter syndrome fear: that maybe, for me, writing was all an act. That perhaps the only reason I could write in front of people was because it wasn’t about the writing at all, but simply the muscle motions of it, just to prove something to the world. Like maybe if people thought I was doing something important, I would eventually think so, too.

Then, the world changed overnight, and like countless other routines suddenly deemed restricted,  I lost my sacred ritual. I lost the one practice that made me, even if falsely, believe in my abilities to create.

I could no longer sit at a library desk or in a rickety coffee shop chair or uncomfortably close to strangers at a wide communal table. I could no longer wear headphones and type away with an acute urgency fueled by the collective ambition in the room. I could no longer, quite frankly, rely on the presence of others to make me write.  

The recent shift in the world has shown me how silly many of my ideals were, both professionally and academically. I really believed that to be a creative and driven individual, I needed to look like one, act like one, pretend to be one. 

Now? 

No one’s looking. 

Now? 

I need to hold myself accountable and work alone towards the things I want, regardless of whether or not I look the part. With all our image-based notions suddenly stripped away, all that’s left is what’s underneath, the work without the show. It has made me realize that my writing was never the act, but rather the ritual I attached to it. 

Nothing is scarier than being alone with work you don’t like. My lack of confidence in writing was masked behind performative measures, allowing me to hide from the difficult questions I would be forced to ask if I were alone.

Now?

I’ve gotten comfortable with internal interrogation. I’ve allowed myself to sit alone with work I don’t like, and know when to stop, or when to keep going. I no longer feel the need to escape myself through the public eye. Rather, have come to terms with facing the parts of me that are afraid of never being seen, the ones buried beneath the image I so desperately tried to show.

I’ve started writing in bed, but also other places – the small patch of grass on the front lawn, the floor of my childhood bedroom, the dimly-lit kitchen past midnight. And I’ve started caring less about where, or how, I write, as what’s become more important is the why, or the why not. I’ve come to terms with blank pages and realized that filling them, just to feel or look productive, is sometimes equally, if not more, empty.

While I deeply miss the sweetness of shared spaces and the comfort of being next to strangers, I’m learning to enjoy the solace of private writing, and the power of creation solely for oneself. I’m learning to let my work exist apart from my ego, realizing how problematically I once tied the two.

And I’m giggling at that previous version of me, the one who would be shaking their head at the sight: wearing glasses instead of contacts, hair still damp in a towel, slightly slouching, and putting words on the page anyway.

*

Between Screens is an ongoing column that explores how an increasing reliance on technology and social isolation has altered artistic habits, for better or worse. 

Photo Credit: Peter Herrmann via Pixabay

About the author

Maddie Garfinkle is a writer and artist from Miami, Florida. She is pursuing an MFA in Fiction at Columbia University where she serves as Columns Editor for Columbia Journal. Instagram: @maddiegarfinkle

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