No. 32 | Seven things I want for my Fortress of Productive Solitude

Superman is an enviable dude. Loving parents. Cool job in a big city. Pulitzer Prize-winning life partner. Can reheat coffee with his eyes and chill beer with his breath. Looks even hotter when he wears his underwear outside his pants.

Above all this, though, is the one thing about Superman I envy the most: the Fortress of Solitude. If you’re not familiar, the Fortress of Solitude is typically portrayed as an Arctic laboratory/workshop/museum/apartment that only Superman can access. After all, it’s got to be hard to get any work done in Metropolis, what with little old ladies constantly getting their purses stolen and all. Secret identity issues aside, there’s no way you’re going to complete delicate repairs on a Phantom Zone projector at an open-office desk in the Daily Planet bullpen.

It’s refreshing to contemplate Superman the scientist, Superman the researcher, Superman the maker. Toiling away in his Fortress, doing the work nobody sees in-between catching falling satellites and punching bad dudes really hard.

Here’s what would make my own Fortress of Productive Solitude a perfect comic book fantasy:

1. Lots and lots and lots of work surface. More than that. More.

Budget and space constraints mean most office workers get, at best, a desk. I like enough physical space to set up an intellectual assembly line for whatever I’m working on. For an article like this, that might mean a pile of index cards where I dump ideas, a big sheet of paper where I’ve written out some key phrases to guide my thinking, printouts of highlighted articles I’m using as reference, outlines on sticky notes, and so on. Having all of this spread out on a big work surface is so much nicer than shuffling crap back and forth on one tiny desk.

Don’t forget the walls. A full wall magnetic whiteboard and a full wall corkboard would be a great start. I’d also like a wall I can just make a damn mess of with paint and markers and whatever I feel like (quite common in an art studio).

2. Total and complete privacy.

My favorite depiction of the Fortress of Solitude is in All-Star Superman. The key to the Fortress is made of a super-dense dwarf star material, making it so heavy only Superman can lift it. Dope.

Privacy is a bulwark against anxiety and self-doubt, both terribly detrimental to my creativity and productivity. Not to say one shouldn’t show their work or share their process. I just don’t want to show and share while I’m in the middle of it. I want to be free to approach things in unusual ways. I want to be able to talk to myself. I want to play weird music at full volume and sing along and drum on the table and not worry about bothering anyone. I want to let 300 crumpled pages of rejected ideas pile up on the floor, because who cares about the mess because this room is just for me, just mine.

3. Enough room to leave things be.

I’ve found that hobbies and projects that pack up neatly into neat little boxes that neatly fit under my coffee table tend to neatly stay there, gathering a neat layer of dust.

I don’t like to put away unfinished projects. (Yes, I’m awful to live with.) Coding decisions into how things are arranged, piled, stacked, dumped, and otherwise sorted is part of the work.

A desk for each project would be a good start.

4. A box of my favorite pens that never runs out.

In my Fortress, there will be exactly one kind of pen. It will be the completely unmagical Pilot Precise V5 RT Retractable Rolling Ball Pens Extra Fine Point Black Ink. There will be an infinite supply of them. I will joyously throw them away without any regard for the environment the very moment they give even a hint of running out or otherwise not working flawlessly. It’s so easy to give up, to stop, to find literally anything else at all to think or do or worry about that isn’t the work. No more losing afternoons to lost pens.

5. Quick access to a social space.

I like people and find them energizing. An hour at a coffee shop can add some productive energy to a slow day.

While I don’t want my work space to be a social space, I’d like to have one nearby. A busy street, a coffee shop, a store. Superman can fly anywhere at super-speed, so he’s covered. I’d need something in the neighborhood, you know?

6. An obscene amount of (pleasant) artificial light.

Superman has super sight and X-ray vision. Not me! I am not getting any younger and I want some damn LIGHT in my space, please, thank you. Start with: “at 100% brightness, all color is reduced to white”, and then give me a dimmer switch.

Windows are fine but I’d rather have the wall space. And windows don’t give me light at 2am.

7. A printer that isn’t a perpetual anger machine.

Seriously though it is 2017 how have we not solved printing. Just print the thing and don’t give me confusing messages and don’t leave streaks on things and don’t cost $1800 when I run out of cyan.

Originally published as List No. 32 of the 7x77 newsletter project.
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