Thursday, September 15, 2011
If you’ve ever seen time-lapse film of a flower opening and then closing and withering, then you know a bit, already, about the desk where I write. It, too, has its moments, in its inchoate phase, of tight budding, when all is slick, smooth and perfect. Everything is orderly, dusted and hidden in decorative boxes, just like flowers hide their petals inside a tough green carapace. The desk seems to encompass limitless space into which to expand.
Then, slowly (sometimes quickly) there is an opening out. Things unfurl—a spread-open book here, a folder there, a stack of mail, an opened letter, a yellow legal tablet with notes—petal by petal the full bloom of the writer’s life spreads its effulgence across my desk. For a brief moment, just like a flower at the height of its glory, everything functions beautifully, falls to hand as needed, can be located and used with ease.
Then, slowly (sometimes quickly), irrevocably, the withering sets in. The notes I wrote only minutes before have disappeared into a stack of bills. The stapler is having sexual congress with the printer cable. A film of dust has coated the entirety like congealing fat on cold dish water. The scene is more of wrack upon a beach than of an orderly creative space. Things have come full cycle. Time to trim the withered flower and return to the bud.
And so it goes, year after year after year.
My desk is a former dining room table that I bought at Salvation Army for $65. Apparently the children of its former owner got a little carried away, because one edge has craftily incised markings, like doodles scratched into the finish, one of which looks vaguely like a swastika and others that look like incipient initials. I imagine the giggles and furtive looks while this takes place under cover of adult conversation. And then the moment, perhaps with mouths filled with mashed potatoes or mac and cheese, when the vandals are discovered: the shame and the woe; all glee drunk down like a last, bitter dreg.
The table is solid Philippine mahogany and it took three men to carry it up the stairs to our second floor living room—one of whom declared that, if it ever needed to be extracted again, he would do it with a chainsaw. Broad and solid, the table is just perfect for my purposes. There’s room for my laptop, printer and external hard drive; no less than three decorative boxes holding a veritable stationery store of supplies; a square basket heaped to overflowing with things to be dealt with Later (that archetypal time which never seems to arrive); my camera, an antique blue and white Chinese pot holding pens and scissors and a small clock in the shape of King Tut; a stack of books, another of notebooks topped by my date book, yet another small stack of Tibetan handmade books holding quotes I’ve recorded over the years, of which you, the reader, now partake; a square green tile decorated with a woman wearing a huge crown, brought to me from Spain by my friend Reggie, on top of which sits either a glass of lemon water or a cup of coffee; a small lamp made from an antique Chinese vase, featuring warriors on horseback; and of course, the ubiquitous cables and cords that snake everywhere and disrupt everything, like the worms of ruin. This leaves no room at all for other essentials, like my French, English and Spanish dictionaries, Thesaurus, Tarot cards and books, and the User’s Guide to Microsoft Word, plus my cordless phone, all of which have taken over the window ledge to my left and create a happy home for spiders.
Into this well-supplied and fortified domain I make my way, every day, like an intrepid traveler, venturing forth into the realms of imagination with the goal of informing and entertaining you, my reader, whose welfare is always uppermost in my mind. I do this in spite of the vagaries of the terrain, which shifts every day like the territory of dream. Just yesterday, for instance, my husband proudly brought about 30 pounds of winter squash and pumpkins in from the garden and plunked them on the one bare spot I had managed to excavate on the end of my desk. At the other end, a couple of letters from former students of mine in the prison, whom I still mentor, have proved to be the last straw for the pile in the square basket and a minor avalanche of paper, some marked in red with AVENAL STATE PRISON and FOLSOM STATE PRISON, has ensued.
These last keep me mindful. Whatever else can be said or felt about this constant burgeoning on my desk, it happens because I have the freedom to allow it to do so. I am not stuck in solitary confinement, euphemistically called The Hole, without pen and paper, as my student Madniz has been, for months on end. If my desk is one of life’s trials, I have submitted myself to it of my own free will. Like the queen on my green Spanish tile, whose hands are thrown up as if to ward off a multitude of squiggles that menace her, all about, I am still queen of this little country of the mind, and here, but for a pile of pumpkins and a few spiders, I rein supreme.