Most people aren’t very impressed when you tell them you work in the back of a nail salon. Not when you’re a writer, anyway. My friends assume I’m joking. My dad approves, because he figures I’m getting a deal. My mom says I should get my nails done during my breaks. A few others suggested opening a window because of the fumes. The most common reaction? More than a few people have compared me to Jimmy, the shady lawyer in the television series Better Call Saul.
At first this meant nothing to me. I didn’t really know the show. But after a little digging, I learned that this office is meant to demonstrate the disastrous state of this attorney’s career. Really, who would rent space behind a nail salon — even at a discount? Only a failed lawyer, businessperson, or writer, obviously.
So now I feel the need to defend myself, and my office.
The Treat Yourself nail salon and spa is a lovely little spot with ample parking. It’s only a few steps from downtown Oak Bluffs, on the reportedly magical isle of Martha’s Vineyard. There’s a bowling alley down the street. An art gallery, too. Need a pair of pink pants? Maybe a new tie with some whales on it? No need to worry. A Vineyard Vines store awaits you up the block.
The salon is on the second floor of an office building, above an insurance agency. My room is at the back. After saying hello to the receptionist, I walk through the small waiting area, turn left, pass the tanning booths on my left, the massage cave to the right, and hold my laptop bag against my hip, careful to avoid knocking over any of the hundreds of bottles of nail polish lining the hallway walls. Then I enter my little sanctuary.
My office is roughly square, with a single tall window and two large fluorescent ceiling lights that hum slightly. Books line the shelves and the floor, too, because I ran out of space. Dos Passos and Tolstoy and all the good ones live in the bookcases; my own novels and nonfiction works are stacked on the carpet. There’s a small black vacuum, but I don’t know if it works, and a tall black filing cabinet that’s definitely broken.
When I first started working as a writer, I had more romantic visions of my eventual workspace. I pictured huge windows with views of still ponds or roaring ocean waves, a wide wooden desk. Great light. High ceilings. Wide-plank flooring. A barn? Yes, absolutely. A rustic barn with enough room inside for a basketball hoop at one end. And an espresso machine with sufficient pressure. Maybe one of those flume-powered pools, too.
Instead, in the years I’ve been working as a novelist and science writer, I’ve logged time in kitchens, spare bedrooms with low ceilings, an unfurnished basement that required a hat and gloves in the winter, a shared office, dozens of coffee shops, and a nice little room within a small technology company in downtown Canton.
That was my favorite workspace. Instead of the ocean, I looked out on a convenience store parking lot. If my writing took a dreary turn in those years, blame it on all the sad souls who frantically and hopefully scratched their lotto tickets in their cars, then drove off depressed when they failed to win.
But honestly, that was a great spot. I shared the office with a few good friends, and I could close my door and focus. A huge pear tree hung over the back fence, which inspired a song-poem called Office Pears. Which, in a roundabout way, brings me back to the nail salon.
A writer doesn’t need an ocean view to be inspired or productive. That sort of thing comes from within. What you need is a place to shut out the world and get the work done, and for that, a view of a blank wall is much better than one of rolling waves. So, in my office, when I’m not staring at a page or a screen, I gaze upon chipped paint and wallboard, and I work for hours straight, disappearing into whatever story I happen to be writing that day.
Look, I get why that office wasn’t good for Saul. As a lawyer, he needs to meet with people and convince them he’s a professional. Me? I just need to write decent books and articles. Sure, it’s a little awkward to step through my door and make eye contact with a woman having her toenails sanded and clipped, but it’s kind of funny, too. I like my nail salon.
That said, if any Vineyard residents out there want to rent a barn with a basketball hoop to a writer of children’s adventure stories and sci-tech journalism, send me a note.