Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Roll Top Desk as Metaphor

Wednesday nights my spouse teaches late--the perfect time to write, right?  I thought I might write last night, but I was feeling uninspired, tired, grouchy.  I thought I'd listen to some recent NPR shows that covered the nuclear false alarm in Hawaii--I'm still working on the poem that imagines a blast site far away and the preparations that we would take on the southeast coast of Florida to protect against wind-borne radiation.   It needs something, but I used up my last idea yesterday morning.

I'm not sure how I came to decide to clean off the roll top desk.  I have an antique-ish roll top desk that came from my grandmother's house.  It's not practical for modern writing tasks, and it has a very narrow space for a chair.  So it tends to be a catch-all flat surface--all those pieces of paper that come into the house that need to be kept for a time or shredded or filed away, and when I don't have time to do it, I put it down on the desk.

Like much of my house, it also gathers dust.  So much dust.

Last night I discovered yet more hurricane damage.  The desk sits under a window, and that window had been shuttered during Hurricane Irma.  I assumed no water could get in, but over the past month, I've discovered otherwise.  The envelopes at the top of the desk looked rained on, for example, but I rarely use envelopes anymore, so I didn't discover this fact until mid-December.

As I sorted through piles last night, I realized that water had gotten into one of the piles.  It was dry on top, so I didn't think to look through the pile.  In my defense, there was lot to do in the days after the hurricane, and no power with which to see.

Now the surface of the desk has a few ripples.  I am feeling such guilt about that.  I get this beautiful furniture from my grandmother's estate, and I can't properly care for it. 

I also feel this sense of powerlessness--I can't keep anything safe.  I realize that safety has always been an illusion to a certain extent.

Last night was one of those times that I just felt despair:  like a failure at the basic tasks of adulthood (someone must do the dusting!) while also resentful that I felt like a failure at tasks that seem more like drudgery than something essential.  I also felt overwhelmed at all the wreckage that surrounds me still and the road back to "normal"-ish life seems so long.

And there's that knowledge that my post-hurricane life is so much easier than that faced by people to the south of me--so why am I blubbering like a big old baby?

Let me return to the roll top desk.  Let me think about the desk as a metaphor.  It's got some ripples in it, but it's still perfectly usable.  I don't like using it the way I've been using it, but it's not too late to change that.  I am in the process of rethinking this front bedroom which serves as my writing corner, the guest room, the overflow storage room--that's a good process, and I need to be gentle with myself while doing it.

The desk has some hurricane damage, but that gives it character.  In time, perhaps it won't even be noticeable.  I suspect the desk also has some damage from children, some damage from humid Southern summers in an age before air conditioning.  It can take the damage and still be its essential desk self.

It's been a good desk.  One reason why I wanted it so much is that I wrote my first decent short story at that desk, back in 1987.  It will continue to be a good desk.

No comments: