Mostly anonymous, generic, artificial: they are chambers filled with kaleidoscopic stories, changing every time a new, tired body drops a heavy backpack onto the bed.
The ghosted stories in those spaces elude generally, or hide. You’re in a hotel room because your own story is spooling out, right now, and that can make it hard sometimes to imagine what other stories may have taken place in the same space. You’re here because you have a need to be somewhere other than wherever you normally live, and therefore there’s a note of the atypical in your life, even if the reasons are ordinary and prosaic. Atypical moments are the genes of drama; they get stories going. Even if you travel routinely for business or sales meetings, to visit your aunt, or to get away for romantic weekends, you’re not in your normal day when a keycard slides past a door sensor.
There’s nothing especially creative about the space, of course, unless you’re fortunate to be staying somewhere in the clouds. That’s okay, though: the anodyne room is, in itself, a tonic. You’re not doing laundry and you’re not doing dishes. Your bed gets made every day (and be sure to tip the maid, by the way) and your normal decisions are largely reduced to whatever you have in your bag and wherever you need to be in the town where your hotel is located.
Meals are a function of where you go when you walk out, where you sit, what you order. But the day begins and ends in the quiet of your room. The door closes, the keycard goes on the nightstand, your shoes come off. Even traveling with family or friends or professional colleagues, the hermetic seal of your hotel room is like what Superman must have felt like every time he stepped into the phone booth. It was a moment of respite, privately hidden from the world before he went out to do what he needed to do. It was a private moment of calm, all to his own. In your hotel room it’s about knowing that you can drop your pretenses; you don’t need super powers.
I often write when I’m in hotel rooms. I process photographs and, depending on the reason I’m staying out of town, I sometimes construct video field-production stations and work on moving pictures of various sorts. I dream of working on big projects when I’m in a hotel room, always just beyond my grasp. The time and focus for big projects has usually been spoken for by other purposes, but the clarity of mind that often accompanies days and nights on the road finds its way back home with me in subtle, valuable ways. On the road I am reminded of what matters to me, and I am often surprised with what I rediscover.
Nobody owns the place they live. Even away from hotels, it’s a borrowed room for all of us, every single day and night. Not everyone in the world has the ability to lie their heads on even one pillow in the dark, let alone a second one, and certainly not everyone has the ability to close the door to a quiet place, all their own for a few hours. When I open the door to a hotel room and step inside it never fails that I’m aware that this space is not something to take for granted. I put my bags down, notice that it’s essentially the same as the last one, and I’m grateful.