About a year ago, I posted these pictures of my home writing space on Instagram. These photos were a part of my virtual “save me from my isolation!” post on social media in the weeks before my defense.
When I’m in intense work mode, my desk is some sort of combination of these images. Stacks of books related to the current project, marked-up and printed drafts, to-do lists and ideas on sticky notes, and my favorite erasable Muji pens, which let me revise edits without making the page into an illegible mess.
I always write on the computer, but I am still fond of reading and editing drafts on the printed page. I’ve been known to arrange pages of chapters and conference papers on the floor in order to visually rethink the organization of my argument. So, my “desk” is a moveable space.
I keep comfort objects nearby when I write, too. Like the blankets that you see strewn over the chair above. And mugs of coffee or tea are often within reach. I’ve always romanticized the taste and feel of a hot mug of caffeinated (but not always) liquid that keeps my writerly self motivated. Having to refill my tea kettle also gives me a good reason to get up and take a quick break during longer sessions.
The desk itself is Ikea, but, like all good things, I bought it used from someone through Craigslist. Which is also how I purchased my most amazing Herman Miller Aeron chair. I used to sit on a spindle back Windsor chair when I wrote. And then my back and shoulders started aching so badly that I wanted to throw that Windsor chair into the nearest furnace. I found the Aeron on Craigslist one day, and have never looked back.
But, after the dissertation, this writing desk and I went through a bit of a divorce. I needed some breathing room. To rediscover myself. To start up new projects in a new space. I attempted writing in my on-campus office, but this was never very fruitful. Department distractions inevitably pop up and I’m not the best at avoiding those. More and more, I found myself at coffee shops. I love the hum of conversation in these places. The surrounding buzz helps me to stay focused. My favorite kind of work-shop is an open, airy space with lots of tables, which lets me slip off to the margins and bury my nose in books, notes … and the computer screen. As long as I have enough room to spread out my various liquids and writing materials, I’m good to go.
As it turns out, though, my writing desk and I are back on the mend. I mainly use my laptop for writing now. So my dormant desktop poses as a black, reflective background where I sometimes catch (and laugh at) myself staring pensively into space as I attempt to cobble together something brilliant.
And I’m happy to be back, because there are things that I love about this desk. Like the window that illuminates my work space, for instance. Only about a third of it is visible in the picture below, so you can imagine how much natural light it lets in, which is a huge mental lift for me. Having a window that I can stare out of every once in a while also allows me to occasionally indulge in my favorite activity (people-watching) while working.
There’s also the beautiful cactus that my partner bought me for my birthday last year. And the gold buddha that I bought for him while we were living in Aix-en-Provence (which I might have re-appropriated for myself). This little enlightened figure has such a peaceful expression and relaxed pose, which I find particularly helpful in moments of writing distress. Clearly, I invite lots of peaceful, zen objects into my workspace. Like the candle burning by the laptop (a maybe not-so-peaceful hazard?) or, occasionally, my essential oil diffuser.
Apart from the cactus, there are some other gifted items on my desk, including the Pixar-style lamp that my mom bought for me at a thrift store. And a Ph.D. name tag that my close friend offered as a “congratulations on the new position!”. And the book on the far right, The New Wine Rules by Jon Bonné, that my hip friend from Berkeley gave me as a thank you gift after a recent visit to Nashville. I’m realizing that my desk is made up of an amalgam of seasonal offerings from loved ones. And all of a sudden, it’s starting to feel like an even more supportive, uplifting space.
Before I started writing this post, I had told myself that my desk was looking slightly more organized than it had a year ago…but it looks like I’ve kept up the same old habits of surrounding myself with small literary shrines of piled books (though, it is perhaps more tidy and vanilla than some others’ desks…). Right now, you can see my Hobonichi planner on display, which I’m using to do some reverse day planning. This is a suggestion that I got from another book on my desk, Write No Matter What: Advice for Academics by Joli Jensen. Underneath Jensen’s book is another book on writing (don’t judge, we all #procrastiread). My colleague and I have decided to partner up and commit to write/edit/send off a journal article in 12 weeks, and Wendy Laura Belcher’s, you guessed it, Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks will be our guide. (I’ll let you know if I find this process to be a particular success.)
Maybe one day I will have a “writing room of my own.” But for now, I’ll enjoy getting reacquainted with the airy corner of my living room where buddha, books, and bestowed items keep me in good company.