AT MY DESK
The apartment kitchen my desk is in has not been fixed up in seventy-five years. The wood that surrounds the windowpanes is splintered and soft, and one of the panes is cracked. The blue-flowered valence that someone once made to cheer the place is yellowed and dirty. Still. I like what I can see of the green ash out back. I like the view. You can tell from the marks on the linoleum that my desk is where a little table used to be. I like kitchens, always have. They make me feel as if someone else besides me is looking out for things.
I’ve got a calendar from the Minnesota Freshwater Society tacked to the middle of the window. It’s August, and the picture is one of a swallowtail butterfly hovering over milkweed. It’s a calendar designed for weather geeks, so the square for each day tells when you can expect the sun to rise and set, temperature averages and records, and the phases of the moon. Every year I vow to pay more attention to when the monarchs migrate, or when the ice melts on the Mississippi River; every year I fail. Time slips by. I vow to write more, too, and I put stickers on the calendar marking each hour I do so — I suggest that my students do the same — and in the past few years, I’ve failed to write as much as I thought I could. I’ve turned my attention toward my child, my students, my husband. Last night I lay awake half the night wondering whether my daughter in her bed down the hall was sleeping soundly or in a fever dream. I barely dared to move. Morning came, and I didn’t want to leave the bed to write.
On my desk is a Kermit the Frog mug. He’s wearing his Muppet News reporter’s hat and trench coat; he holds a mic. My parents gave it to me for Christmas when I was seven, and gave my sister — gifted trickster and joke-teller, she of the electric personality and rubber face and thousand voices — a mug of Fozzie Bear. I wonder, Did I want to be a writer then? If so, did they know, or just suspect? I’ve kept pens in that mug ever since I was allowed to have them. I consider putting the mug somewhere else all the time, or even getting rid of it — sentimental objects in my work space irritate me — but it’s always sat there. Wait: now that I think of it, Kermit is not a writer. Why did I think he was? Really, Jim Henson said, Kermit is the voice of conscience.
The day’s lid opens on the neighborhood; the calendar records what I should see but not necessarily what’s there; the former tenants’ curtain disintegrates. The child grows every night as she sleeps; the child begins to stir. The best reason I can think of to be writing is that time passes.
Several great short pieces by writers about the places where they write can be found on the blog for a magazine I greatly admire, Orion. Visit Orion’s blog here.