A Space of One’s Own, Part Two

Last week I started talking about our recent move to New Town, and the decision to turn one of the bedrooms into a study for myself. Today I’ll talk about the process of setting up that space, and the personal challenges I had to reconcile along the way.

Getting a new desk can be harder than you think, especially when feelings of unworthiness get involved.

It all started when Brandon’s mother kindly offered to buy us each a new desk. For the last several years, I’ve used whatever furniture happened to be in the offices assigned to me. The last time I had the opportunity to pick out a desk of my own was in high school, so this was an exciting occasion.

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The desk I had at home in high school looked something like this, as I was really into the serpentine lines of the 18th century at the time. The main thing I remember about it now was that it was heavy as hell and a royal pain to move. Image courtesy of https://www.loveantiques.com/antique-desks/victorian-(1837-1901)/painted-and-gilded-victorian-rococo-desk-28503

Initially, I had planned on going to Goodwill and taking what I could find there. I also considered taking one of the castoffs by the City Loft dumpster bins, as people throw out all the furniture all the time in a desperate attempt to clear out before moving. Either way, I was originally going to do what I’ve always done in just about any situation: take what’s available and adjust to it.

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You can’t beat free, right? Image courtesy of https://www.thirdshift3.com/2017/05/30/question-ever-taken-something-free-pile/

When Brandon’s mother offered to buy a desk for me, however, that changed the picture, not least because her proposed budget was far more than anything I’d ever allow myself. Now, instead of looking for whatever was available at the lowest cost and change my work habits to suit it, I was being asked to evaluate what kind of desk would work best for me.

It was a fabulous offer, but it wasn’t long before old, familiar feelings of unworthiness started cropping up. Between my Catholic upbringing (it was pretty perfunctory, mind you, but enough to instill the guilt), the example of my frugal New England relatives, particular my Depression-era grandparents, and the background intellectual noise that is Imposter Syndrome, I’ve long been dealing with a wicked guilt complex. Additionally, as a woman, the ether that is American pop culture has ingrained the idea that I should not be a bother to anyone, lest I be deemed, god forbid, high maintenance. In short, the idea of anyone spending any large amount of money is anathema to me, as I’ve convinced myself a thousand times over that I don’t deserve it. After all, I’ve managed to get work done without a fancy desk until now, and why buy something new if the one outside the dumpster is still serviceable? Surely my work isn’t important enough to warrant that kind of extravagance, and besides, isn’t there enough rampant consumerism as it is?

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Initially, I looked at desks like these because they were less costly and could be moved out of the way easily. Image courtesy of https://www.westelm.com/products/mid-century-mini-desk-acorn-h833/

Such were the thoughts going through my head as I started looking at desks. Even as I started getting excited about the ones I was looking at, I couldn’t help but feel guilty about it. Because in spite of my frugality, I prefer beautiful, well-made, fair-sourced objects, so instead of settling for plywood, I found myself looking at solid wood pieces, handcrafted pieces, in other words, expensive pieces. It was all still under budget, but I didn’t want to appear exploitative either. Oh, maybe I should just forget it altogether.

Fortunately, Brandon knows this self-sabotaging side of me well, so he talked me through it. When he noticed I veered toward smaller desks because they were less costly, he encouraged me to concentrate on my work habits rather than price. So what if you wrote the Magical and Real essay with no desk at all, he’d say? Wouldn’t you have rather had one and not have to balance the computer on your legs? So what if you’ve always managed with whatever was available? You now have the opportunity to create your own workspace, so what works best for you?

In other words, he reminded me that my work is important, that I am worthy, and that I should have a space that enables me to do that work as best as I can. And for me, that means getting off the couch and behind a good desk.

So I stopped thinking about cost, and instead began focusing on work habits. I thought about all the things that had frustrated me about working at the old apartment, and how a new desk could begin addressing those issues. And what I needed, I realized, was not a tiny desk that could easily be hidden away, but a large workspace, where I could spread out my books, notebooks, and computer all across one surface. I needed the space, in other words, for intellectual sprawl and exploration, a desk that would loudly proclaim: “this is a work area!” through its presence.

Which eventually led me to this desk:

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Image courtesy of: https://www.westelm.com/products/mid-century-desk-acorn-h209/

I wasn’t always into the midcentury look, but I’ve come to appreciate its elegant simplicity as I’ve gotten older. This desk, in particular, reminds me of a Shaker-style table I used in Shelburne, but more robust, and with drawers to boot. I also accepted that if I’m going to get a desk, I may as well get a high-quality one that I can use for decades. I also like the fact that it was fair-trade and sustainable because I want other people to benefit from the money spent on it.

When the desk finally arrived and was moved to my future study, I knew I’d made a good decision.

A little different from the Rococo-revival number I had in high school.

So much for the desk. Next week I’ll show you the study.

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