Why I Write in a Tannery


If you walk into the building that houses the tiny studio space in which I write – the old Southern Saddlery Factory in Chattanooga – the first thing you’ll see is a wall of framed invoices dating from the late 1800s:

Sold to Mr. Phipps, Bristol Country Club, Bristol, Tennessee:  2 leather utility bags, Brown Elk, $5.00.
Sold to Todd Gun Store, Montgomery Alabama: 1 dz. C-5 holsters; 1 only 10 gun case, automatic, Rawhide, $17.00.

As a vegetarian, I try not to think about the fact that I’m working in what used to be a tannery.  But some days, usually when the sentences aren’t flowing, I can get myself worked up thinking about what used to happen in this particular space: 1) elk and deer and cattle were killed so that 2) their hides could be used to make saddles and collars and harnesses and gun cases so that 3) folks could ride out and kill more elk and deer and cattle.

Why I have chosen to make this (roughly) six-by-nine-foot brick-walled room the locus of my creative work?

The Stay-at-Home Writer:  An Anatomy

1. Take children to school.  Drive through Starbucks on the way home.  Halfway through Venti latte, realize: a) you are about to sit down in your office/guest room and write The Scene that will make editors salivate for not only this story, but for all your future stories; b) you might be the best writer who ever lived; c) you look good without make-up.

2.  Enter house; toss cell phone carelessly onto counter.  (You are the kind of artist who is careless with breakable things!)

3.  Note: dog’s food & water bowls are empty. Check chore schedule on white board in kitchen: empty bowls are fault of youngest son.

4.  Remember careless tossing; transfer careless mindset to youngest son.

5.  Fill bowls.  Think about how great Scene is going to be.

6.  Sit at desk in office/guest room, ignite laptop.  Note: angle of sunlight reveals distracting amount of dust on screen.

7.  Search for backpack in which you keep iKlear wipes in travel-size packets.  Locate backpack on kitchen floor beneath coat/scarf/purse hooks.  Note: angle of sunlight across floor reveals astonishing levels of dog hair accumulation.

8.  Look for broom, dustpan, Swiffer WetJet.  Tell yourself you will do only the kitchen.

9.  Sweep/Swiffer entire bottom floor, including bathrooms.

10.  Look at clock, panic. Go back to office/guest room.  Re-ignite laptop; open story file.  Read what you wrote yesterday.

11.  Delete everything.

12.  Realize caffeine buzz has worn off. Go back to kitchen, make pot of coffee. Admire floor.

13.  While waiting for coffee, check Facebook on kids’ computer.  Spend twenty-seven minutes composing/editing two-sentence status update.

14.  Doorbell rings.  Panic: someone is going to see you unshowered, wearing sweats/slippers. On Facebook.

15.  Ignore doorbell.  Peek out window; see kind neighbor-lady from two doors down walking away.  Find plate of homemade Christmas cookies on stoop.

16.  Eat five cookies. (They are small.)

17.  Panic:  five cookies = necessity for exercise.  Also, you would rather shower when you are sweaty.  Also, the dog needs exercise, and by this time of day you are immune to caffeine and will therefore need an endorphin hit from a long run in order to sustain the creative energy necessary to write Scene.

18. Go for run with dog.  Think about how great Scene is going to be.

19.  Come home, re-fill dog’s water bowl.  Look at clock; there is enough time to either a) shower or b) begin drafting Scene.

20. Sit at desk to begin drafting Scene.

21. Look out window.

22.  Note: you forgot to cover hydrangea bushes before freeze.

23.  Note: boys’ bikes are still on front lawn.

24.  Note: flag on mailbox is down.

25. Get mail.  Open Christmas cards.  Every other mom looks better than you.  Without make-up.  Probably without Botox.  Their kids do more sports, are further advanced in their musical studies, and got better parts in their school plays.  You can tell none of them will need braces.

26.  Realize: you’re a mediocre mother with mediocre kids because you’ve wasted all this time trying to write Scenes when you should have been focused on doing the kinds of things that would make you a top-notch mother with top-notch kids.  How dare you call yourself a stay-at-home writer?

27.  Forget shower, forget Scene.  Leave early to pick up kids.

Why I Write in a Tannery

Related Posts

Jackson Wyoming and a river


I had one recurring nightmare as a child: I am standing in the dry bed of a creek looking upstream, the sun shining and the stones warm on the bottoms of my feet. Suddenly, a roaring wave rushes toward me around a bend and I have no choice but to be swept along with it.

portrait of clinton peters

Where Earth Meets Sky

In the cosmology of Patrick Burke, a flat-Earth believer, humans can spoon-eat uranium flakes like Cheerios. The Hubble Space Telescope never existed, nor did dinosaurs. Hiroshima was dynamited, the Titanic sunk for insurance.



Despite my crumbling infrastructure I’d had plenty of energy for walking. Between the museums and the monuments and my favorite all-you-can-eat Balkan restaurant, for three days I’d felt like a normal person, or a normal person experiencing small, constant jolts of electricity.