A Natural History of…my desk?
I just cleaned out my desk drawer…
Do my ears deceive me, or did I just hear the distinctive sound of four or five readers removing this website from their bookmarks? Hey, hey, put me back, I’m not finished. I assure you, this blog isn’t mutating into a catalog of my sock drawer and a list of my lunches from the past six weeks.
Anyway, as I was saying, I just cleaned out my desk drawer, and I came to the conclusion that there is a LOT of weird stuff in there: a deck of cards (yes, I play solitaire sans-computer), an eraser shaped like a dinosaur that I’ve had since I was six, about twelve colors of paperclips, and a pre-inked stamp of the word “FILE” from my father’s office at an insurance company when I was three.
Less nostalgically, I found a caramel well past its prime, and a tin of stretchy goop that smells like an alien species of slime mold (“All Natural” at that…and I think it has grown six or seven more strains of nature since I bought it.) I’m debating whether to throw the latter away, swab it, or send it to the NIH for further study.
I’ve more or less always owned a desk, and the formidable blob of clutter that calls it home has mutated over the years to reflect my interests. I think that’s the case with everyone’s workspace, really. When’s the last time you went spelunking in your pencil holder, desk drawer, or filing cabinet?
A few writers I know generally avoid aforementioned activity, as it generally involves the discovery of three or four new species of carnivorous mushroom and a frantic call to the coast guard to get them out before they’re eaten by said species. Authors’ filing cabinets can be dangerous places.
Back on topic, I survived my spelunking adventure, and have sequestered the extraterrestrial tin of goop to my closet until such a time that I feel like doing something about it. Now I’m staring at a desk covered in four or five colors of sticky notes, filled with reminders, lists, math equations, lines of code, story ideas, and phone numbers for people I have long forgotten the identities of.
You have to understand, I was convinced from a very early age that children were born as children, and adults as adults. Being two, I was the greatest living expert on everything, and I could always trust my brilliant scientific theories, without bothering with little things like asking Mom.
My mother actually had to FORCE me to go play. I wanted to have office hours. I wanted to do grown up work. Darn it, I wanted to be an adult, and no conniving, bossy elder was going to prevent me from breaking the mold that the evil adults had come up with, for the express purpose of keeping children as children so they could boss them around and make them do all their menial work.
These are, of course, the same adults that hid in the bushes and scanned cars to collect the toll for driving on roads, since every road except the FREEway, you had to pay for.
So, my desk at that age was cluttered with pages, no, tomes of brilliant writings from the world’s greatest living genius. I was so smart back then, even I cannot read those awe-inspiring products of raw genius, as they are written in a language unknown to any mere mortal.
This is about the time that I got the pre-inked stamp from my father’s insurance office, which had the awesome power of making whatever it was stamped on official (or so I thought). I still have some pages which are stamped four or five times with FILE in big blue letters. Nowadays, I use the stamp for company reports (and, on occasion, surveys for speech class) that I have already read and processed.
I also had a little dispenser of flashy yellow “Sign Here” flags, which I rarely used. Actually, I still have them.
As my young fascination with being a doctor increased with age, my desk clutter changed from unintelligible writings to detailed patient reports about all of my hundreds of imaginary friends and their various ailments – sore tails, colds, broken bones, the whole gamut. From the time I was around 4 until age 12, my filing cabinet was stuffed with years of these “medical records,” usually written on square yellow forms that my father had brought home one day: “Quote Notes”. Though originally intended for recording insurance quotes, I found the forms to be ideal for keeping track of all my patients.
My office drawer now included a menagerie of office supplies I had found when I was six. We had moved into my great-grandfather’s old house, and I was thrilled to acquire some new goodies: a metal letter opener, an inkpad, a rubber stamp bearing my last name, and old library date stamp that only went up to 1991.
I remember the fun of running my own little doctor office, complete with an old phone my mother had given me. In addition to my medical practice, I also ran the JCM Mall, the largest business in all of Bunnyville (yes, my imagination was heavily centered around forest creatures, predominantly rabbits.) I had stacks of cardboard “JCM $avings ¢ards”, several maps of the multi-story mall, lists of all the stores, check registers and spreadsheets (paper form, remember those?), employee records. I really went all out.
I really should’ve guessed I’d become an entrepreneur.
Varying times throughout JCM Mall’s history, I did manage to procure a computer in some form. The first was an old green-on-black screen computer someone gave me back when I was seven. Retrospect, I’m fairly sure it was a Commodore 64. All I knew back then was that it had Scrabble on it, and it lasted two weeks before giving up the ghost.
The second computer I had was a Brother/Canon desktop word processor that my mother had used for years (it had always been off-limits to me). It had a keyboard (no mouse), a floppy drive, and a black-and-white bubble jet printer. I remember using that thing up until I was 10 years old. I LOVED the little library of clip art it had. Not to mention, I became very familiar with the ALT key.
Once that died, I was permitted to use the family desktop computer on occasion, but that wasn’t in my office, so I defaulted to making my OWN laptop computers. They were simple models, consisting of a single piece of cardstock, folded in half. I’d draw the keyboard in, and then the monitor, complete with several applications open.
I really should’ve guessed I’d become a programmer, too.
As the years went by, and my imaginary world became harder and harder to connect to, I began taking some of my real-world projects more seriously. I still dabbled in the realm of JCM Mall and Medical Center on occasion, but now my imagination had become redirected into various art and writing projects. Anyhow, I was now in middle school, and academia became more of a focus.
I still spent most of my time at the pock-marked green desk I had called my own since age 6, where I did my school work. That is, up until I broke my right wrist while sock-skating. That’ll really mess up a guy’s ability to write by hand (I was right handed). For the first time, I began typing up all my school papers on the computer that I now had near-full access to, as Mom now had a laptop to call her own.
My wrist healed, but that Sony VAIO, and its desk, became my home base. My little green desk sat in the corner, somewhat neglected, until we realized that it was taking up space more than anything, and let it go to a new home. I kind of miss it, with its top full of colorful scribbles, its drawers that always stuck unless they were coaxed just right, and the unmistakable smell of about 600 layers of old paint.
Then, Mom’s laptop died, and wanting to avoid the $800 repair bill we got quoted for, she got a new one. I got the dead model, which was soon resurrected by our computer geek neighbor, who took one afternoon to install a $5 part. That was the last time we ever took anything to the aforementioned computer shop. I oscillated between my room, with that Windows 98 Toshiba Satellite Pro, and the den with the Windows XP desktop. I had more or less taken over that huge desk in the den, which was now covered with printed pages and scribbled notes regarding my old website, KidMagine.com, and the imaginary newspaper I published on it.
We did have an old computer desk on wheels, which eventually became mine. Once we moved to Washington, it resumed computer duties (the massive desk, being made of particleboard, fell apart), and I got a beautiful hardwood school desk, with a slanted top that opened up to reveal a huge storage space.
That desk got me through the rest of middle school, and into the first year of high school. The top remained mostly neat, but the inside was still piled with stationary (including about four decks of blank Quote Notes I had never gotten around to filing away), pencils, erasers, and some small animal figurines that would, on occasion, narrate my textbooks. Yes, I still dwelt heavily in imagination, albeit with considerably fewer intangible companions.
Once we moved from Yakima, that school desk, with it’s carved, bowed legs, no longer fit in my room, and we moved the more compact main computer desk, including computer, into my room. It only figured, since I was the one who used it 99% of the time, and I was now a full-blown high schooler.
A year (and another move) later, I had gotten yet another desk – the one I would start MousePaw Games at. Now my desk was cluttered higher than ever with textbooks, school reports, various lines of code scribbled on scraps of paper, and technical manuals. My imaginary world was all but forgotten by this point. KidMagine.com had been shut down to make time for my new business.My medical practice had shut its doors and vanished into a puff of childhood. I was an adult now.
Today, I sit at yet another desk, this one much larger than any I’ve ever managed to fit into my room. I don’t need to tell you what it’s piled high with, because you can scroll up and re-read paragraph seven. But finding that FILE stamp, those animal erasers that used to narrate my middle school textbooks, the letter opener, the ink pad and library stamp…wow.
In many ways, the dream of that three year old came true. I get to run a company, create new things, and do lots and lots of paperwork. My desk is shared by an overfilled in/out box, a PowerMac I bought at a yard sale, and my little silicon companion, my laptop.
Funny how many memories get brought back by the contents of a desk drawer.
So, what’s in yours?