A Farewell to My Desk

I fear this post places me firmly in the Land of Mawkish Sentimentality, a porous-bordered, perfumey territory rife with poodle fur, diamondcollared kittycats, waifs with giant brown eyes, and the pervasive music of Counting Crows. The very embodiment of the Tarot Fool, I proceed regardless.

When I leave Los Angeles this weekend I am going to leave my desk behind for whoever wants it. This is causing me a certain and entirely unexpected measure of anguish.

In 1984 I was living in Gainesville, Florida, and my first novel had just come out. I had a rather amazing job word-processing for the History & English Depts. at the University of Florida. I had broken up with the first woman I ever lived with and was living alone in a rented house.  I made about five bucks an hour, was getting lots of media attention, was getting rather epic amounts of female attentiion, was selling more copies of my first novel than many of the people whose manuscripts I typed and proofed would sell in their entire career, and was absolutely miserable. I wasn’t challenged and wasn’t getting anything written, and my completely stoopid ambition was to try to give a reading at the university and achieve some kind of legitimacy in their eyes. To be King Shit of Turd Moutain.

I’d met writer David Gerrold at a convention and we’d struck up a correspondence. He lived in Los Angeles, and I was trying to decide whether I should move to L.A. to be in the heart of the movie industry, or New York, to be in the heart of the publishing industry.  I wrote David and I wrote the poet Nancy Lambert in New York and asked them questions about living where they lived — cost of living, job opportunities, pay, blah blah. David, no slouch when it came to reading people, called me up and said, look, I think you’re drowning there. I’m coming out to Florida to visit Epcot in three weeks. I’ll bring you back to LA if you want.

I said sure and gave notice at my job the next day. Three weeks and three days later I was in Los Angeles, and I never looked back. I was 23 years old.

I had very little money but wasn’t especially worried; I typed 110 WPM and my grammar skills were ridiculous; I had a job after giving myself a week off. I slept on a mattress on the floor of a room I rented from David. I had all my books in a bookcase I’d made with my friend Kerry that went together like some kind of Jenga puzzle, something only people who did not live in earthquake country could have concocted.

Tight as money was, I used my first paycheck to get myself a desk.  It was a sturdy L-shaped desk that cost around $350, which was a decent amount to pay for a desk in 1984. But I knew I was going to practically live at this desk, and make a living at this desk, and I wanted something more than some Ikea cardboard monstrosity that would crumble to dust in months.

I loved my desk. Since moving to Los Angeles I have moved — let me count here — six times, and the desk has come with me. Last move I had to sacrifice the right-hand return on the desk because my new little office didn’t have room for it. I wasn’t happy about it but didn’t have much choice. I was ergonomic about the damned desk before I’d ever even heard the term. It was all about workflow.  I used to teach a seminar at UCLA Extension called “The Writing Life,” all about practical aspects of managing a writing career, not a whit about writing itself. I devoted an entire segment, called “Arm’s Reach,” to what should be on your desk, in the drawers, in the drawer file, etc.

KayPro 10

I loved my desk.  I still love it.  It’s beat to shit, scarred, chipped, stained, and still something that might survive a nuclear blast. I wrote — let me count here — eight? Yeah, eight novels on this desk. I wrote longhand, I wrote using WordStar on a KayPro 10, I wrote using WordPerfect 5.1 on IBM PS/2 clones, and on PCs I built myself and casemodded (one to look like a Holstein cow with matching mouse & keyboard; I still use the cow copyholder & tape dispenser I painted). I’m writing this at that desk using a backlit keyboard attached to my Acer Aspire 9800 “laptop” with a 20″ screen.

I did a lot of graphic design work for my own stuff on this desk, in the heady days when I had time for such luxuries, and the desktop is covered with ruler-straight lines from X-Acto knife cuts. I learned to DJ on it, too, using Traktor 1.5, I think it was, and a SoundBlaster 5.1 audio card that was The Shit right before pro-level audio cards entered the mainstream consumer market. I had no studio monitors and learned on headhpones, which is kind of unusual.

The desk is so harshed that it will just look horrible in my office in the new place.  It’s long been time to get a nice new desk, and one will be delivered to my new house the day after I move in. This is all necessary and good. I realize that the desk about which I’ve been waxing sentimental for several hundred words now is just a beatup assemblage of wood and veneer and glue and screws.  I know that. But I can’t help feeling like I’m taking a great old dog to the vet to be put down.

3 Replies to “A Farewell to My Desk”

  1. Wow. Taught the course on managing a writing career. Just wow.

    (The desk I’m sitting at is a steel Steelcase standard commercial job minus all drawers plus a homemade keyboard tray. I bought it for five bucks at the auction as the company I worked for went under when the Internet bubble burst in 2001. It’s pretty spartan but can be used as a tornado shelter should the need arise. I have no plans of parting with it.)

  2. Well, you know: “Those who can’t, teach. And those who can’t teach, teach gym.”

    I was a senior editor at an education portal when the dotcom bubble burst. I could have bought Herman Miller Aeron chairs for like $60. I cry to think about it. And I think a spartan desk is exactly right — you want to use the thing, not frame it. And five bucks? Hellyeh.

  3. You should leave it with someone who will give you visitation rights and send you photos & updates. 🙂

    I have a Smith Corona PWP 3850 that got me through college. As far as security and privacy go, a PWP is much better than a PC. It has no hard drive & no memory. You save everything on a disk. Once you remove that disk, there is no trace of your document left anywhere in the unit. I hear Quentin Tarantino used one of these to write Kill Bill and had to send it off for repairs a couple of times before Bill was done. I haven’t used mine in over 10 years. It’s just taking up space in my house & collecting dust. Still can’t bring myself to part with it just yet. Yeah, it’s hard to part with old things that were once a part of you. (I guess that’s why we have life support! 🙂 🙂

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