This is my new [to me] writing desk. It’s not a kitchen table, not a corner of windowsill just big enough to fit my laptop, not the floor, not the couch in front of the TV. This desk is not where mail gets piled or groceries sorted or keys forgotten. This is where my journal and notebook and ergonomic keyboard live now. This is where I write.
I haven’t had a desk since college, and I really underestimated the impact of not having a dedicated place where my thoughts and writing belonged every day. Always needing to clear off a table and find an optimal place for every item on it (since I can’t just pile everything up somewhere else without my brain exploding all over it, which I would then have to clean up too) is an oft insurmountable obstacle. Although I’d also like to have a kitchen table dedicated primarily to eating at, I don’t think I’ve ever not eaten because my seating options were limited. And yet, I spent months at a time not writing because I needed somewhere to write.
One day last month when I was intending to start working on a new essay, I did all of these things before I noticed I wasn’t writing:
- Put silverware away
- Cleaned out silverware drawer because it smelled funny
- Scrubbed and resoaked a baking dish from last night’s dinner
- Made tea
- Changed clothes
- Moved a coat into a bin of winter clothes in the basement
- Took vitamins
- Put away a bag o’ miscellaneous stuff from work
- Rubbed pain cream on my feet
- Moisturized my hands
- Cleaned the kitchen table
- Cleaned the window sill to use as a desk
- Searched for some musicians to follow on Spotify
- Text messaged a friend
The only things on that list I actually set out to do were making tea, changing clothes, and taking vitamins. Now, I know just having a desk is not going to “fix” my problem. What it does do, though, is remove one tangible obstacle to sitting down and getting shit done.
Over the past few months I’ve been putting a lot of energy (not to mention therapy) into noticing the stories my mind tells me about what I need to do and why I need to do it. One of the prevailing writing stories has been that once the kitchen table is clear and everything has a perfect, permanent place, I’ll be able to write any time and the ideas will flow- forever! In this fairy tale, it doesn’t matter that I’m cleaning and rearranging instead of writing, because a perfectly organized home is actually the key to more and better writing. And I believed this, really and truly.
Day after day, I found myself struggling to find a new place for that coupon that maybe we’d use before it expired as long as it was always somewhere visible (like the kitchen table I was desperate to remove it from). Endlessly shifting pens and bills and keys and pocket knives around, consciously hoping that some arrangement would eventually feel right, but subconsciously wishing that they’d all just disappear. Now the proud owner of a writing desk, I still have the same nagging compulsion to straighten up, but it just doesn’t apply as oppressively to my writing as it did before. Now I have a place to do it, so all I need to do is… do it.
A couple months ago I printed out this classic Albert Einstein quote and taped it to my wall at work:
You can not solve a problem at the same level of consciousness with which it was created.
(There are several versions of this with slightly different wording, but the basic gist is the same.)
I’ve been looking at this sentence for months, knowing there was something in particular I needed to learn from it, but not sure exactly what. Today it clicked.
My biggest problems are created almost solely through my own thinking. I can only solve them by doing.
When my thoughts are the ones telling me “I can’t,” what I really can’t do is rely on them to help me create. Therefore, even when I think I don’t have anything to write, or I think I don’t have the optimal setup to write my most mind-blowing prose, I need to physically write some words on some paper anyway. They will most likely not be mind-blowing. They may not set a thrilling scene or even make much sense, but they are the foundation of a new internal story that tells me, plain and simple, “I write.”
I know I’ll probably always encounter mountains of resistance to writing, and my mind will still spin stories about why I can’t do it and what menial or mind-numbing task I absolutely need to do instead. When I notice what’s really going on, though, I can thank my mind for its suggestion, put down the broom or the cell phone or the spatula, sit down at my desk, and write.