The Promise of a New Desk

Photo by coco tafoya on Unsplash

Yesterday was a big one. I saw a livestream performance by Andrea Gibson, went to see an adapted Oscar Wilde play (which happened to be a friend’s directorial debut), built a desk with my best friend Ray, and launched my writing website to the public.

All of those things culminated in a day that was very Cate — poetry, theatre, my best friend, my writing identity, even Oscar Wilde — but I want to talk about the desk.

It’s gorgeous. It’s a funky little mid-century modern moment, deep forest green with distressed gold accents. And I have no space for it right now.

I live in a roughly 200 sq. ft. efficiency apartment. It’s really just a bedroom with a fridge, microwave, and tiny bathroom. I often call it “small but mighty.” Six windows let in plenty of light, copious built-in shelves provide plenty of storage, and the architecture of a century-old farmhouse give it plenty of character. This little unit, “mi palacito,” has been a sacred nest for me for the last two years.

That said, I’m ready for an upgrade.

When a piece broke off my loft bed, I immediately bought a new bed frame and the desk. I’ll be moving out of here in a few months, but I’m not sleeping in a death trap for another second. The bed frame didn’t need to be a big deal — who knows how long I’ll hold onto it after I move (it’s a twin) — but the desk…that was a significant purchase.

My upcoming thirtieth birthday, rapidly approaching graduation date, and binge watching Queer Eye have made me realize that I need to start thinking about my possessions in the long-term. I’ve been a teenager who had no real agency when it came to my living space. I’ve been a reckless twenty-something who damaged or lost every cheap piece of furniture I owned.

What does this new chapter in my life hold? How do I want to present and express myself as a mature adult? What do I value enough to invest in? What are the cornerstones around which I’ll build not only my living space, but my future?

All these questions floated in my mind while I scrolled through Google searches for the perfect desk. When I found this beautiful piece, I knew that was it. I snatched it up even though my tiny space can’t comfortably hold so much furniture. It was impulsive, perhaps, but necessary.

I’ve acted impulsively before — making a half-baked movie, directing a rock opera, getting married — all of which resulted in an implosion of failure and heartbreak equal and opposite to my explosive passion. I learned my lesson tenfold: betting on yourself doesn’t always pay.

So, while Ray and I fought with screwdrivers and weird little hardware pieces putting this desk together, Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack bouncing in the background, I thought about all those times I failed. I wondered if it was too soon for me to put myself out there publicly as a fiction writer. I wondered if I should nitpick my website just a little more — maybe I missed something, maybe it isn’t perfect. I winced at the memory of the deep humiliation I’ve suffered. I thought about all those times I proudly proclaimed, “This is who I am!” only to lose it all, only to face the people who said, “I told you so,” and have to admit that they were right. I wasn’t ready. It was a stupid idea.

But as we twisted each little screw and aligned each little piece, I knew that this was different — the desk and the website. Our humbling experiences remind us that we can’t walk into any new situation expecting to be an expert. We’re adults now. We follow the instructions. We don’t skips steps one through five and expect a magnificent product. We build from the ground up.

I realized I’ve been building up to this moment for years: a short story here, a lesson there, a college degree that holds it all together. Even the failures and humiliation I experienced are integral to securing the finished piece. I have a plan now, my own weird little instruction manual, and I’m following it.

Conditions may not be perfect (I’ve still gotta get rid of the old loft bed to make room for my desk, for example), but when is anything perfect? Sure, there’s a risk that I’ll fall on my face again, but that’s true of anything worthwhile, isn’t it? Besides that, the only thing I know for certain about myself is that I’m born to write. If I don’t follow that bliss, I’m not being who I’m meant to be.

“Success” is a spectrum. I don’t have to be the next Neil Gaiman or Tomi Adeyemi to experience it. In many ways, I already have. I’ve won scholarships for my writing, made the Dean’s List with my academic performance, and have a group of devoted friends who want to see me take this thing as far as I can. Soon, I’ll have earned a college degree purely through writing. If you ask me, there’s no better time to claim my calling. Even though my whole life has been building to this, it’s just the beginning.

Currently, the desk sits nestled beneath my rickety loft bed. In a day or two, I’ll dismantle the old thing and toss it. It served me well, but it’s time for a change. And the desk will be the perfect writing spot.

I just published my first sci-fi/fantasy/horror news roundup. Read here or subscribe.

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Catherine Anne Howell

Catherine Anne Howell

Writer, podcaster, and creator exploring psyche, meaning, and self.