Re: Magnum Opus

Or, What is the Point of Writers' Desks?

by Mara Jebsen

Writers_desk2I once had a friend who owned a studio in the city. It was angular and modern and comprised of all of about 350 square feet. Nevertheless, my friend, author of over a dozen books, managed to squeeze no fewer than four desks and a kitchen table in the space. This gave him the pleasing illusion that he had five perspectives from which to compose the next magnum opus. In fact, he had none. Or, I should say, I never saw him write in that studio.

Another friend of mine, a poet in possession of a nice room in Brooklyn, tells me she just had to clear all of her walls and surfaces and jam her desk against a window. The window’s view she then obscured with a black curtain. She did not want to be distracted beauty. She’d been feeling blocked for a while, and knickknacks were posing a problem.

I helped another writer friend move, once. That involved an appraisal of the desk he’d had since childhood, which he felt was important to keep, on account of very special graffiti he’d scratched into it. Upon inspection, the desk revealed very little graffiti, and what was there didn’t say what he had thought it said.

I recognize all of this. Because of the peculiar wiring in my brain, it calls up a perversion of a Dr. Seuss rhyme. Like this:

Re: Magnum Opus

Will I write it in a train?
Will I write it in the rain?
Will I write it on a boat?
Will I write it with a goat?

Café’s are good. Though in Brooklyn, they are wont to be filled with children, some of which are too cute or too sticky or too rude and want to bump your computer. Babies, even quiet ones, are the worst, particularly for a writer with a sense of civic responsibility. For me, they are idea-kryptonite. I find myself worrying about them, with their erratic behaviors, and their general tendencies toward destruction.

There is another kind of café, however; one where babies are mostly verboten, but it presents another difficulty. Of anywhere in the country, I’ve heard that writers swarm about in thickest concentration in the borough of Brooklyn. If this is a fact, it lines up with my long-standing hunch that if I ran outside and threw two rocks, I’d hit two writers. They come in all shapes and sizes of course, but most likely I'd hit these guys: those who domitate the cafe nearest me–those bearded boys in plaid shirts who beetle their brows into an identical sea of macs. They are of indeterminate age and seem inured to the presence of women, or the idea of sex. I suspect, however, that they are all writing a screenplay about a bearded boy in a plaid shirt who is very, very sensitive, and in love with a least three women.

You can nestle in between their flannel shoulders and absorb the literary funk they emanate, but sometimes the feeling of being in a hall of warped mirrors is just too great. Then you must retreat.

A deadline, of course, is the cure to every ill. In light of it, babies, knickknacks, other writers and the weight of the totemic desk, all melt away together into an inconsequential mist.

I know I’m really in it when I’m on the middle of my floor, on my shins and forearms, ignoring a perfectly good desk and the jackhammers outside, perfecting a sort of painful corruption of the child-pose. To do this, you put your rear ridiculously in the air, and aim your face forward as though you’re going to launch into your laptop. I’m doing it right now.

It only hurts when I finally get up. I try not to get up. So. . .that’s my trick, and anyone’s welcome to it.