“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”
E.B. White was right. There are no ideal writing conditions, and even if there are, they exist in our heads only, where thoughts grow, waiting to be cracked and explored. Without the stability of a familiar desk and comfortable chair, travel forces me to “be happy with whatever comes,” and has resulted in writing from some unusual places, namely:
1. Himalayan mud hut
Context: The muse doesn’t care if you’re on death’s doorstep with food poisoning, suffering third-degree frostbite, or living on a thin-aired moonscape. She will not worry about your feverish whines or irksome complaints over stomach parasites and the locomotive whistle of the tempest outside will soon silence the last of them.
Productivity rating: ☆☆☆
Altitude: 4,800 meters above sea level
Tools: Green Mitshubishi roller ball, trembly hands, bloodshot eyes, devil-may-care demeanor
Morale: Queen Latifah
Snack of choice: Thin air
Seating: Picnic table
Mood lighting: A lone lightbulb hanging from the mud ceiling
2. Curbside at the Monkey House, Kathmandu
Context: I sat on the steps of the Monkey House in Kathmandu and waited for the Shaman to show up, the one who promised to bring us to his village for a Pooja (spiritual channeling ceremony).
Productivity rating: ☆☆☆
Background noise: Street-sweeping old ladies & dogs howling at the moon
Demeanor: On edge, yet hopeful
Snack of choice: Nothing
Seating: Concrete steps in an old courtyard in Kathmandu
Mood lighting: The moon
3. Smelly cabin on the Caspian Sea
Context: The most challenging, from an olfactory point of view. Also, the slight sway of the boat left me light-headed and I spent a half-day experimenting with Mark Twain’s time-honored practice of writing while laying horizontally.
Productivity rating: ☆☆☆☆
Altitude: (Mostly) sea level
Background noise: Thirty eager teenage Azerbaijani seaman trainees frisking on the rooftop manmade geyser and splashing water over my window
Snack of choice: Not really by choice, since I’m on a ship with one cafe. Spaghetti, without the sauce.
Seating: Musky bed with sheets of questionable cleanliness and mild cigarette burnage
Time: Too long
Mood lighting: Sparks and ash from the chimney up top
4. No-man’s land on the Kazakh-Uzbek border
Context: Fortune smiled on me, when Kazakhstan suddenly decided to remove its visa requirement, but only starting July 15. And guess what? My visa in Uzbekistan expired July 14th. This transformed an otherwise commonplace border crossing operation into a midsummer midnight jamboree, like staying up to watch the New Year’s ball drop, only better, because I was entering Kazakhstan. I got to savor a few sweet hours resting among a slumberland of truck drivers in the fenced Uzbek-Kazakh no-man’s land nestled between the two economic giants.
Productivity rating: ☆☆
Tools: Black pilot V-ball, black Moleskine hardback knockoff (India)
Demeanor: Tired but excited (Kazakhstan!)
Background noise: Lots of snoring, some Polish small-talkers, & flicks of lighters (the guards smoke a lot)
Seating: Co-pilot seat in the car
Time: 9pm to midnight
Mood lighting: The romantic orange fluorescents hovering over the barbed wire
5. Soviet-era honeymooner’s suite (with doilies and lace)
Context: Fortune smirked some more, in the form of an offer in Dushanbe to sleep in a Soviet-era apartment, complete with a white-chiffoned kingsize bed fit for a honeymoon.
Productivity rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Demeanor: Cold war (within)
Snack of choice: Snickers bars, Russian vodka
Seating: Temporally and situationally-displaced wedding bed
Time: Before the Curtain fell
Mood lighting: Enough is enough
6. Moto-rickshaw ride through New Delhi
Context: I sometimes tried to get a few words in between the joltings and heehawings on my daily commute through the southern Delhi burbs.
Productivity rating: -☆
Background noise: A sea of honks, groans, grunts, haws, moos, and screams
Demeanor: Sharp-elbowed vigilance
Seating: A knee or toe
This post originally appeared on Continental Driftings and is republished here with permission.