Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Year of My Desk

When I was quite young I coveted my older brother's desk.  Partly, I'm sure, it was because he had one and I didn't.  But I was an industrious child, constantly building something, and I recognized, while I couldn't read or write, that the desk was a very personal place of industry: a private shrine to self-generated creation. When I saw my brother working with pen or pencil to a notebook at his desk, I knew that something was being built, something significantly more enduring than the block towers that were made with the knowledge that they would soon be knocked down, and more secretive than the bright Lego buildings that I displayed in my room.

 My first desk was made of particle board and a gray laminate.  It had two drawers, was extremely heavy, and I used it with pride.  In college and then in graduate school I also had particle board and laminate desks, which were sturdy, but never satisfying.  My brother (and Dad) worked at heavy hardwood tables.  The pattern of the wood grain felt more honest.  The surface of my Dad's, a mid-century-modern behemoth weighing roughly a ton, was flawless and smooth, while my brother's, which I liked more, was deeply grained, stained, scratched, stamped, and hand-engraved by sharp pen nibs.  It had the patina of use and it was fascinating as an artifact: a nearly decipherable Rosetta stone to my brother's homework, creativity, and mind. 

When I moved to Boston in 2009, for over a year I had no desk.  When I felt the need, I worked sitting on an ottoman at a barely-held-together and abandoned coffee table which I had rescued from
a dark and musty portion of the basement.  It was perfect, because it was free, but otherwise I hated it.  I went with my housemates to IKEA a couple times over that year, but I was only interested in one kind of desk: wood, and most of what I found at IKEA was the same laminate I grew up with.  I wandered Crate & Barrel and Pompanoosic Mills, staring longingly at the desks of exotic tropical woods and battered reclaimed materials, like the one made from the wood of telephone poles .  The following year, when I had a little more money, I at last bought a cheap, but serviceable and honest hardwood desk from the Mill Store(s).

At Staples, I bought an assortment of desk-organizers, and for a while managed it in a Spartan fashion, carefully cleaning it and maintaining a clear plane of wood.  But inevitably, as a flat surface in my room, it became a landing pad for all manner of things. Even when the rest of my room is clean and clear, whether the mark of a genius, madman, or just a mix of business and laziness, my desk always has some degree of clutter signifying some of the things going on in my life.  I began taking pictures with my camera (which since my first decent smartphone-with-camera gets little use and usually sits on my desk), as it occurred to me and without cleaning or alteration, at the rate of roughly one every month.

I'm writing now from my brother's desk, which since my Mom took over his room as an office a couple years ago, has been in my room.  Now it's the home to an assortment of whale-bone and stone Inuit sculptures popular in Canada and when my parents were married in 1970, the family menorah (a piece by Ken Pick), and as long as I'm in Amherst, a few of my things (the book is an omnibus of the last two of the Long Price Quartet, which I highly recommend).   When I get back to Boston, I'll take the year's final picture of my desk.  I still long for a fancier desk, and I'm torn between it's current flawless au naturel state and lack of finish, and something more warm and worn, but it's still a biography of my life, from the times when it, and in fact my mind, were in too much turmoil to build and be industrious, to those days when its chaotic curation seemed the perfect setting to start a poem or finish an essay.

My final desk shot of the year will have to wait till I get back to Boston, but here, at nearly the very end of the year, are some shots of my desk and work area over the course of 2012, as well as my brother's desk (or is it mine now?). . .

one of my favorite sections of my brother's desk; you can't fake these stains.

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