Why do journalists frequently trumpet the uncomfortable, humble physical locations of the development of new enterprises that later become wildly successful? The classic suburban basement is the most favored, followed closely by garages and dormitory rooms. Is there an inverse relationship between one’s level of creature comfort and commercial greatness? Does mentioning Bill Gates’ basement beginnings make the rest of us less jealous of his outrageous gifts and good fortune? Or does having written your first great novel in an attic perched atop an unlikely tower of steamer trunks confer goodness and integrity you might otherwise be suspected of lacking?
Michael Chabon is one of my favorite writers. Like so many others I admire his imaginative storytelling, his relationship to history, his crafting of language. He writes like a very intelligent man. So why, Michael, why, would you write your master’s thesis, soon to become your acclaimed debut novel, in such a precarious position that you had to hold your breath the entire time? And then talk about working in a crawl space at the start of interviews? Is it a point of honor? Because your description sounds preposterous. Either you wanted to be in a high-anxiety position or you were simultaneously practicing to join the circus, if things didn’t go well with the book.
Perhaps there is a secret society for geniuses who hatch their plans in subterranean, cramped, noxious or otherwise claustrophobic surroundings. To be admitted you must boast physical scars of you internment, like any other gangbanger.
Since all the vaunted hideouts are short on windows, perhaps there is a link, until now overlooked by science, between lack of sunlight and creative breakthroughs, at least among young adult while males. I personally do not have this twisted piece of DNA in my genetic code, and find my creativity and intelligence much more accessible in a well-lighted space, preferably with a good cup of organic fairly traded espresso close at hand.
Even if normal people, not only geniuses, claim to work on new ventures in their basements, attics or crawlspaces, I’m not buying into the fad. As a heliotropic human, I would sooner move my dining room to the basement and work next to the kitchen windows.