I’m counting—one, two, three,—spinning in my chair to make sure about the number. Yes, three desks (used to be four) have taken residence in our small third bedroom. Other rooms confirm this apparent fetish as more places are pressed into desk service of some kind or another. Of course, we never intended to have so many, and admittedly, some of them are tables, only occasionally used for desk duties. But, come on!
There is the possibility of a deep psychological aberration—a blocked memory due to something bizarre, like having a desk fall on me when I was two years old—or the neighborhood kids tying me on the top of one in someone’s back yard, just so they could do all sorts of
nasty things to me—or maybe a desk-dream I had in kindergarten, when
all we got were those stupid little rugs. Hey, sounds crazy, but who knows?
Another look around the room. Maybe the real reason is because
I’m the proverbial pack rat who married a pack rat wife who had a
pack rat kid, and together we’ve accumulated a house full of things
that look better off the floor than on it. So desks and shelves seem
the most logical solution. Let’s see—the computer and phone on
one; printer, CD’s, clock on another; books, paper and mail at another,
study books and writing area on the last—you get the idea. They’re
simply fancy get-it-off-the-floor furniture. You sit and work at some,
stand and wait at others, open and shut at the rest. Some are strictly
for high piles of delicately balanced, get-to-it-later stuff. We’re getting
closer here: it’s a cultural thing—the clutter tradition alive and well
in the all-American family.
Whatever the reason, and it can’t be all that important, I will confess a
measurable love affair with one type of four legged creature that’s been in my
life for over thirty years, the venerable escritoire (es kri twar´) or writing desk.
Of course, it hasn’t been the same piece of furniture moved from place to
place through the years. It’s taken many different forms, but each has provided
the necessary endearments of privacy, personality and power to warrant
a valued friendship.
Teen life, circa 1962, offered a world of simplicity, especially
in a small town like Paso Robles, California. These were the proverbial
wonder years, even though shadowed by divorce, sibling warfare,
immaturity, and lack of direction. Getting my own bedroom at 15
answered that greatest need in life—sanctuary. Sitting down at
a well worn desk to explore the worlds of model building, drawing,
letter writing and, yes, even homework, answered another need—
expression. Creativity demands a measure of privacy, an amount
of setting and mood which is perfectly fulfilled when seated at even
the simplest desk.
As this first escritoire provided a landscape for invention, I began
the journey by devising a secret compartment to keep those
diary-like personals in. Was it the false back in the pigeonhole
or the extra slot under the drawer? I can’t remember. Scrupulously
detailed model cars were parked on the desk’s shelf under a small
fluorescent tube I had somehow mounted. A plastic baseball, painted
black with a makeshift fuse protruding, advertised my personal car club,
The Bomb Builders. Issues of Hot Rod and CarCraft graced the work
area as neighborhood kids admired my latest piece of art.
An angelic inamorata inspired my Junior year, and all creative juices
flowed from ball-point to binder paper. Face to face bumbling and
mumbling was countered by the power of the pen. I was transported
to a new world, a world of words. A wealth of heart thoughts, a well of
feelings could actually be expressed in a torrent of ink. And it all transpired
at that little beat up desk. Sure, creativity could have found a
way without it—or could it?
The familiarity, privacy and readiness of a personal desk provides
unique inspiration. Are you going to find the kitchen table as personal?
Will your solitude always be assured in a favorite easy chair
that’s in the flight line between the couch, T.V. and refrigerator?
Let’s face it, nothing is as compatible, nothing is as familiar
as that used and bruised, back room thought harbor
called an escritoire.
My favorite desk forgotten and others unimportant,
the next few years chronicled an uninspired wandering.
But 1973 marked the beginning of a new journey. The
prodigal had come home to a renewed joy in private
spaces, and the collection of flat tops and roll tops began.
Newly married and relocated, our first small house
presented the challenge of space exploration—where
do we put this and cram that? A small alcove in the
slightly larger bedroom was just wide enough for a 39″ wide,
do-it-yourself roll top. Unfortunately, quality was not on the parts
list of this pine creation. It would and still does sway in the wind.
Any excited writing strokes make the top shelf books do the hula,
and the roll top slats, which always jammed, were tossed years
ago after the supplied duct tape disintegrated.
But another quality has endured in spite of its poor construction
and strength—the grace of perspective. Standing against the odds,
persevering against entropy and neglect, my little wounded soldier
still provides a haven of rest and isolation, a quiet retreat from the
world, a long time friend whose drawers are filled with over twenty
years of mementos and history. It keeps me in touch of who I am
and where I’ve been.
Our second house had a third bedroom, which immediately became
the first of many catch-all, do-all rooms. The bookshelves kept getting
longer and higher, almost circling the room. I needed space, lots of
space, for studying and writing, so the answer was the door desk.
This invention was suggested by an experienced user, and in no
time my little roll top was replaced by the king of flat tops, the fifty
pound solid core door! Of course, it was customized to
meet my specifications of efficiency and style. An angled slot was
sawn in one side to facilitate my need to be surrounded by
books and writing material. I could slide my chair into this perfectly
shaped niche and easily set up and reach a dozen open reference books.
This was a researcher’s paradise—a pre-computer era answer
to Quick Find [and now, Google]. People had to be impressed: I certainly was.
But it didn’t have what my beat up roll top had, drawers!
Without drawers, memories aren’t at your fingertips.
It just wasn’t as friendly.
We resurrected the roll top after our next move. It seemed happy
to play its original part again. Witnessing long study sessions,
creative anniversary card design, letters written and received,
smiles and tears, my escritoire patiently worked
Now in our fourth home, a few lessons are worth sharing.
First, a good desk is essential to keeping you creative and
sane, provided you keep the following rules. 1) Never pay bills,
keep financial records or anything that smells of money at
this very special place. 2) Always make sure there is a door
between your desk and the rest of the world. Privacy is wonderful.
3) Have only the best reading material within reach. Newspapers
and junk mail belong at the business end of the house. 4) Think
twice about distractions. A telephone and stereo are better off, off.
Another lesson worth learning is this: a magnificent and expensive
piece of furniture doesn’t guarantee complete satisfaction. Even
a homemade cinderblock and pine masterpiece will do nicely
(just put some drawers in it). Success depends upon nothing
more than enjoying the right environment. Rich or poor, any desk
A final lesson comes to mind. Computers are great, but can they
hand write a letter, provide the smell of a leather bound book or
grant some well-deserved silence? They take up too much room, and
they definitely aren’t personal. Unfortunately, computers and
other high tech necessities are robbing us, and especially our
children, of opportunities to touch the past and listen to the present.
Life is more than today’s news and tomorrow’s paycheck. It must
include the luxury of an old fashioned place of refuge, contemplation
and creativity called the escritoire.