In today’s ORIGINS, Roxane Gay discusses the origins of her story, “Do You Have a Place For Me?” which appeared in May 2010
issue of Spork.
I’m an emotional writer. My heart always guides my words. I rarely use prompts. “Do You Have a Place For Me,” however, was inspired by a prompt of sorts—a poem by xTx, with the same name (and forthcoming in PANK). I can’t quite put my finger on why but something about the poem moved me profoundly. The ideas and images that writer worked with lodged in my brain and my heart because the language was so beautiful and so intense. I was also inspired by Elizabeth Hildreth, a writer who is working on an incredible series of English to English translations where she takes the work of a writer and reinterprets it through her own words. I got turned on to her work because she did a translation of a story of mine and also has work forthcoming in PANK. As I read the poem “Do You Have A Place For Me,” I immediately knew I wanted to write something that did something similar to Elizabeth’s translations, something that responded in some way to such remarkable words.
At the heart of this story I wanted to explore a connection between two women who are close friends and like most people, have complex desires. They have separate, happy lives, they’re in serious relationships. And yet, they are drawn to each other. There’s some kind of inexplicable pull. The weekend after I first read the poem, I was in a really small town with friends. It is the kind of place that is hidden and entirely forgotten, where you can go and no one knows or cares who you are if you haven’t lived your entire life there. You stand out but you are entirely invisible. That town was exactly the kind of place I think these women would want to go to. My friends and I went to a little bar in that town and while I was bored and hiding in the bathroom checking my e-mail, I thought, “I could see two people so desperate to touch each other, they would make out in here.” I started writing the story on my phone until a very drunk woman started banging on the bathroom door. Her name was Helen. She was extra friendly but needed to use the restroom.
This story, for me, is really about tension—having one thing and sometimes needing another, being one thing and becoming another, being in one place and wanting to be somewhere else, wanting things you can’t have, feeling things you shouldn’t feel. These are tensions most people struggle with at one time or another. I know I do. And they are the kind of tensions I love to write about because they are intense and consuming and a little painful. They’re relatable and like I said, I am an emotional writer. As I wrote, I wondered what it might be like, that first time, when these women decided they would find a common ground, a secret unfamiliar place where they could hide in plain sight, steal way from their lives for just a little while to maybe ease those tensions a little bit.
I was particularly interested not in what happens when these women are together but rather, what happens when they’re apart, when they’re happy and home. How do they hold on to each other? How do they maintain that connection, and, maybe love each other? I guess this story is trying to answer the question the title asks—each of these women hoping against all hope that if they asked, “Do you have a place for me,” the answer would always be yes.