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From the Writing Desk of: Ruth Williams


  1. My desk is a style I've been using since I bought my first IKEA corner desk circa 2006. A corner desk is simultaneously expansive and comfortingly bordered, tucked as it is between two walls. In a way, I suppose a corner desk sections off your writing space in a way that makes an office out of the corner of any old room, a bonus if you've lived in 1 bedroom apartments most of your adult life. Still, I often wonder what it says about me psychologically that I prefer to be "tucked in" while writing….?

  2. My laptop. I wish I was the kind of writer who kept an actual handwritten record of my writing (a practice that seems so artistic, so refined), but I've never really been that, having started my real writing habit as a teen in the early 90s, composing bad fiction on my family's Macintosh Classic. We kept our computer in the basement, a weird, dark space with fake wood paneling on the walls and orange shag carpet. A very 70s vibe. Now, I'm hooked on writing on a computer, potentially for life.

  3. If I'm writing or doing much of anything on my computer, you can be assured I'm playing music on these speakers—it's really a constant in my day. Usually, though, I'm not really listening; I'm more so using music to create a constant noise level that blots out other noises. As I write this, I'm streaming The Current, a Minneapolis-based NPR music station I discovered during the one ill-fated year I lived in the Twin Cities. They're playing "Violet" from Hole's Live Through This. Nice.

  4. There was a period in the early 2000s that feng shui (or some watered down version) entered my consciousness. I remember a friend gave me a book about it after a break-up so I could "cleanse" my space. With the ghost whisper of these principles in my mind, I sometimes wonder about the wisdom of putting my planner right next to my computer, taking up such a prominent space in my writing zone. A planner represents work, a portable "to do" list that I carry around with me; and yet, I couldn't really do without it. Even with all the digital tools out there, I still like having the paper version to flip through, mark up.

  5. I keep my pens, pencils, and scissors in a cup made by my sister Emily (her initials are on the bottom). Maybe she made this in high school art class? It's a kind of ugly brown color (I don't think she'd mind me saying so), but it has these interestingly textured parts on the outside that remind me of braille. What's odd is that I have no memory of her giving me this cup. I want to say she was going to throw it away and I rescued it and put it to use, but I have no idea. After so many years on this earth, I've accrued a host of objects whose origin stories I can no longer remember.

  6. I have another unknown origin pottery bowl on my desk which I sometimes run my fingers through when I'm feeling bored or creatively stuck. Again, I have no idea where or when I got this bowl, but it's full of small, sentimental baubles: lots of small shells and smooth stones I've picked up at various lakes, oceans, and rivers, a shell casing from some kind of gun, a marble, an English pound coin (I've never been—no idea where this came from), a Chinese 5 yuan coin (I've been to Beijing), a Korean 100 won coin (I lived in Seoul), a Taiwanese 10 cent coin (I've been to Taipei), white button, a small key (no idea what that opens), two guitar picks (I don't play), an 1995/1996 cat-shaped collar registration tag for my childhood cat, a plastic angel figurine from a busted baby jar snowglobe I made at a Lutheran church fair my friend took me to when I was a kid, and a small hand-painted envelope addressed to the "Easter Bunny 00000 New Zealand." This tiny envelope was given to me by an art student who I met at a party in college. She was explaining she liked to make miniature things and I asked her if she'd make me something. The letter inside reads "Mr. Easter, What color is your fur? What is your favorite continent? Please bring me some briks [sic] so I can build a doghouse. Love, Loel." Who was this cool girl? Where is she now? Why did she make this for me when she didn't know me and owed me nothing? I have no idea, but I cherish this envelope and love it and will love it until it disintegrates.

  7. Above my desk is a piece of Korean handmade paper upon which I've tacked all manner of random things, some of them useful: grading schema I use in my courses, deadlines for contests, a list of post-publication contests, the amount I owe in student loans as of 2/2018, a calendar of readings/events related to my first book, Flatlands. There's also a random mix of favorite poems from collections I've read in the last few years: "Annunciation Overheard from the Kitchen" by Mary Szybist, "The Deer Lesson" by Mary Ruefle, "Spirit Level" by Lisa Olstein, an excerpt from "Bon Pour Brueler" by Anne Boyer, and, the most recent addition, "Ovidian" by Kathleen Pierce. Lately, I've been re-reading this one most. I love the lines "Who moves among desires understands / stasis is the harder art." You can't predict what speaks to you most.

Not pictured:

  1. To the left of my desk is the door to my deck. This summer, I've been writing out there in the morning to escape the stuck feeling I sometimes get when I'm away from my school-year routine. I live in a carriage house, behind a larger house, which means I'm effectively living in the middle of a city block, set back from the street. Given how busy this neighborhood can be, it's amazing how quiet it feels at times, with just the birds and squirrels hanging out on the telephone wires feet away from my deck.

  2. A chair to the right of my desk with a stack of books which I've anally organized into two piles: library books and my own books. I often look at this stack and feel some anxiety that I'm not "getting enough done" even though there are no deadlines for this reading. Clearly, another feng shui principle broken. Why do I do this to myself?

  3. Also to the right of my desk, a big picture window that looks out on a magnolia tree. At various times of the year, this tree attracts copious amounts of birds and bees and flies and wasps. Occasionally, birds and insects fly directly into the window, smacking the glass. I like to think they're stupefied by desire.

Ruth Williams' book Flatlands is available now from Black Lawrence Press: Learn more at


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