Ode to a Desk

I have a desk here at home that gets far less use than it should, not just because I’m an avid procrastinator, but because I’ve always had something of an aversion to the traditional workspace of the desk. As a kid, even though I had a particle board IKEA desk in my bedroom, I’d usually do my homework at the kitchen table or in front of the TV. And I follow the same pattern today, though, let’s be honest, I gravitate towards the couch the majority of the time. It’s a comfortable, lazy way to work, and I don’t think it serves me very well, but I still do it.

Who could blame me? I spend eight hours a day, five days a week at work, sitting at a desk with nowhere to go but the bathroom, or the kitchen, or the copy machine that jams spectacularly half the time I use it, causing me to get on my knees and fiddle with the vaguely labeled, preposterous green levers and knobs in its belly for several minutes just to get back to work, my hands covered in scratches and smears of toner.

There is something romantic about the notion of sitting down at the desk with impeccable posture and a furrowed brow to do Big And Important Work, but in practice it can feel like being stuck on a boat in the middle of nowhere, bringing back those fidgety memories of endless school lectures from which you couldn’t get up to escape. Writing at a desk is, for me, like the idea of writing on a typewriter: charming, yes, but it would get old after a while. (Not to mention the likelihood of yet more ink stains on my hands!)

Still, I’m making an effort to look and feel more professional by sitting down at this desk today, doing my taxes, of all things. (I like getting my taxes done early, and since I am in charge of getting our W-2s processed at work, I am in full control of my tax timeline. I realize this is not a normal or sane position to take, but so long as I don’t actually owe the government anything, the whole process makes me feel mature and virtuous. Which is rare in the current political climate…)

This desk is in front of a large window that looks out on our balcony, and beyond that, the tall, bare trees with their gnarled hands stretched out towards me in either supplication or some kind of threat. Through the woods I can see the traffic out on the highway, which provides a near-constant white noise like ocean waves that I rarely notice anymore unless I’m listening for it. From here I can see the paved walking trail through the woods where I am frequently dragged along by our big, eager hound dog, and, as is usually the case when I’m out with him, there is no one on it. I can’t blame them; it’s damn cold, and the air is slightly thickened by a very fine curtain of snow, so light as to be almost invisible.

With the exception perhaps of the traffic, it’s a calming scene: a typical gray afternoon in mid-winter, the kind I can only stand when observing it from the comfort of the centrally heated indoors. But even the cars out on the highway sometimes capture my imagination. It’s a lazy, cold Saturday, but traffic is constant, everyone’s headlights switched on under the impenetrable cloud cover that threatens heavier snow at any moment. I find myself idly wondering where all these people are going in such a hurry, and I’m glad I’m not one of them.

On days like this, when I really let myself sink into my office chair and observe the world from behind the keyboard, I can actually start to appreciate the ritual of sitting down to work at the writing desk. I can appreciate the significance of carving out both a time and a place for creative work, separating it physically from the drone and hum of everyday life, from the screeching of the television and the crumbs of a midday sandwich. It feels different to sit here, even if I spend just as much time zoning out and staring into space as I do from the comfort of the couch. Even when I’m idle, here at the desk it feels somehow intentional, like the gears are still whirring somewhere in the back of my head. It is a different feeling from the quiet suffocation of the desk where I spend forty unimaginative hours a week earning a paycheck.

I’m not sure what kind of spell this faux wood, prefab Swedish piece is casting over me, but I appreciate it. I think, despite my reservations, I may just keep coming back to this desk, if only to see what dedication to a dedicated workspace can inspire over time. Writing advice consistently touches on the theme of “showing up,” and perhaps that showing up is a little bit easier when you know exactly where you’re supposed to be.

September Stepping Out

One of the nice features of the new apartment is the deck, which by some stroke of luck doesn’t look out onto a parking lot, or the dumpsters, or someone else’s apartment, but onto trees. Trees that, for the moment, are still mercifully green (to match the fake ferns the boyfriend picked up with great pride at a friend’s yard sale).

Soon enough, though, the green will fade and all those real leaves will fall and we will be left looking at bare gray branches and the apartments beyond them. So I have to drink in the opportunity to be outside, in the sunlight, with the greenery and relative warmth, while I still can. The apartment has giant windows that cheerfully let in the outside world, which is a delightful feature, but I anticipate they will let the chill air in just as cheerfully when the weather starts to turn.

I wouldn’t say I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, just that I am a warm weather junkie and the end of summer is always a downer, which I make worse for myself by dwelling on it (like this!) when it’s still ninety degrees outside. It’s something I have to work on, the constant lamenting of the change of seasons, as if it were something unexpected and not something that happened every damn year. If I’m not careful I’ll become one of those tedious people who only ever talks about the weather. (A neighbor greeted us this weekend with, “Hot enough for ya??” and I felt a twinge of embarrassment for hearing the phrase uttered so unironically. To be fair, though, it was hot enough for me.)

Tomorrow I begin a drawing class. I’m doing it both to distract myself from this inevitable descent into darkness, and because I’m in a social and creative rut. There is a distinct lack of activity in my life, and prolonged idleness, I have found, is not the best creative fuel. So I am going to put myself in a room with strangers for a couple hours a week and relearn how to draw, in hopes the experience sparks something new. Strangely, though I have always been an avid doodler, and in the past entertained the idea of being a graphic designer or illustrator, I’ve only taken one actual drawing class. It was in high school, and while there was a kind of peace in dutifully filling my sketchbook, I didn’t enjoy the class much. Now, perhaps, is an opportunity to try again, with fresh eyes and without the pressure of being graded.

Next week I also start an ASL class, though my reasons for taking it are less clear, beyond sheer curiosity and a more-than-passing interest in language. It’s been nine years since I sat down in a classroom setting, and I’ve never taken a class that wasn’t for credit of some kind, so I don’t know what to expect. Do I still know how to be a student? Will I be the youngest person in the room? The oldest? Do I still have the patience and the drive to learn new things in a structured setting? Should I eat dinner at home first? (Food considerations are always the most important.)

I’m entering into a lot of unknowns, but there are much scarier, riskier things I could be doing to add interest to my life. For now I’m just splashing around in the kiddie pool, getting out of my stagnant routine for a bit. With any luck, these classes will help drive me to create and learn further, and this will only be the beginning of a series of new experiences. And if I’m really lucky, I’ll be able to forget that we are slowly but surely being consumed by the cold, gray void of winter.

For a few hours a week, anyway. I just want to forget…for a few hours a week…please…