Writing Practice

Imitating Warland’s Table

Once again, I’m going to revisit one of my old writing assignments. I’m going to expand on the original task, which was limited to half a page in length, and I’m going to use it to write a follow-up sometime soon, because, well… things move on.

Anyway here’s the task, you be the judge of whether I did what I was supposed to:

Use Betsy Warland’s essay…

Warland, B. (2010). Breathing the page: Reading the act of writing, pp. 75–77. Toronto, Canada: Cormorant Books Inc.

… as an inspiration for writing about the place where you write. Focus on a specific piece of furniture and work to bring us the sense of detail and significance that you find here.

The Chaos of My Desk

I am aggravated by chaos. I like order and logical organization. No one would ever imagine the latter by observing my desk. Scattered across the surface, leaving just enough room to work, there’s a map to the highlights of my life:

An old broken mug, given to me by my wife, that bears the words, “I love you more than starry skies.” She wonders why I still keep it. I wonder why she wonders.

Small objects of art, created over the years by our youngest child. A yellow snake that climbs my monitor stand; a clay disk with a dinosaur carved into its surface… “It’s the fossil record daddy!”

A hand-carved wooden box, containing a magnifying lens and my favorite fountain pens.  My Sailor 1911L, my Edison Collier, and a few Platinums. There can never be just one.

More computing equipment than the average desk—I’m still a techie at heart… a hi-resolution external monitor (get one, your eyes will thank you for it), external hard disks, thumb drives, an iPad, an iPod… items the first owner of this desk could never have imagined.

An empty beer glass, waiting mournfully for its next refill… not too long now, I promise.

Two, pewter models of Kirk’s and Picard’s Starship Enterprise—always a Trekkie.

A small, carved tub with a loose lid in the shape of the head of a brown bear—Ursus arctos horribilis. Once upon a time, as a safari park ranger and behavioral zoologist, bears were my passion. Now the reserve I patrol from my desk is academia, and the tub holds paperclips and ink cartridges, where once it might have contained bullets.

I am very fond of my desk, a mock Edwardian mahogany partner desk, with its many drawers to the left, to the right, and above my knees; all keeping more history, more memories, safe in their cozy darkness.

Like the experiences embodied by the chaos scattered across its surface, it’s not what it is, but what it represents. It started life in my family about 20 or 30 years ago, when it was bought by my wife. It was already 60 or 70 years old even then, and was eventually shipped from the UK to Canada. When she moved onward and upward in her quest for ever greater space, it went to my stepson. for his brief flirtation with an undergraduate degree.

The battered edges of its past mar its good looks, like the scars of an old soldier. It has seen a few campaigns but remains dignified in its endurance. Every mark tells a story… the far left corner, where Fudge—our much beloved and now deceased chocolate-colored Labrador—chewed on the polished wood; the loose handle on the top drawer to my right, where our youngest child would use it to pull herself to her feet, when she was learning to walk; and the stained circle in the leather surface, where my wife’s Aunt Ann—now also long departed—rested a a hot cup of tea one Christmas.

But possibly the most important part is where it is. I sit on the outskirts of our family room, desk facing the sofas and chairs, the log fire and the heart of our family.

Deep in concentration, removed as it might appear from conversation, and activity. Let them believe I’m not paying attention, let them believe I don’t hear. I used to have a basement study. There were no distractions down there, but it was cold and lonely in the basement. Our children would come to talk to me occasionally, but it was too tidy; too peaceful; almost too ordered for my thoughts to make it to the page. No, my desk is much happier being up here amidst the chaos.


2 thoughts on “Writing Practice

  1. I must ask: did you tidy up before you took the photo? Because my desk is so much more messy than what you suggest is a cluttered desk! LOL

    When I worked outside the home, people thought I was the OCD type who claimed to be messy because one hair was out of place. My “public” work environment was always pristine.

    At home, however, I. Am. A. Mess.

    I’m interested in many things. Most of those things appear to be scattered around our home.


    1. I am SO anal-retentive about my desk-space 🙂 for me, this WAS chaos. But the one thing I am terrible about? Dust. Everything must be in its place… because if it gets moved, there is a layer of dust that gives away my OCD.


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