The most amazing thing about this desk is that it is in a shed in my backyard. Last year, I worked three jobs (plus some freelance manuscript reviews) to save up the money to have this thing built and wired, and then my boyfriend finished the inside (insulation, sheetrock, everything) with leftover hardwood flooring we were given by a neighbor, windows and doors salvaged from the Restore, and bright purple and white paint. He and I both work from home, and the main house is pretty small, so getting this space of my own has been very important for us both! It’s still new, which is why it is so tidy. Eventually, I’ll have the walls full of stuff and stacks of books all over.
My Mac is on a riser so my laptop screen is in line with my second screen. I use a lot of images in my writing, and so I often have an image up on one screen and the word doc on the other. I also use the second screen so that I can collage text from one or more sources into a new document.
I’ve got a couple of yellow post-it notes on my laptop that are serving as my to-do list until I get a filing cabinet for the end of the desk—then the printer/scanner will move out of the way and I’ll put my small whiteboard, which has an ever-changing checklist, up on the wall below the corkboards.
When I move the printer, this spot will become the spot for a cup of pens and a pile of notebooks and miscellaneous papers.
My desks, trashcan, and recycling containers are all from that one store that sells stuff in boxes with hex wrenches. You know the one. I was afraid they would look too antiseptic in the space, but now I love how they feel airy and light.
My chair is new, but it’s supposed to look old. I often sit cross-legged on my chairs, so I needed one without arms. On the back is a shawl/wrap that I crocheted out of wool and alpaca a lifetime ago. The shed is wired, but there’s no heat or AC. I’ve got a space heater and the wrap for chilly mornings.
I am energized by works of art and the natural world both, and so I have a symbol of each in my windowsill, looking over my work. First, is a small wooden Ganesha—the patron of arts and sciences, the god of beginnings, and the remover of obstacles. Next, is a green glass vase that belonged to my grandmother full of philodendron arms that seem able to thrive no matter what.
On the corkboards, I’ve posted a few current inspirations. On the left board is a postcard from Valparaiso, Chile, of one of Pablo Neruda’s writing chairs looking out over the ocean and city, a tarot card sent to me by a writing colleague, and a print of one of the photographs in my forthcoming collection. On the right board is a postcard of a woman and a typewriter that another writing colleague sent me from a past AWP when I couldn’t attend, a birthday card from one of my closest friends (including hearts cut out by her daughter), and a postcard of an albatross that I got as a reward for supporting a poet’s fundraising campaign. Altogether, the current inspirations are reminding me that I’m part of a community of writers, past, present, and maybe even future, because while the peace and quiet can be conducive to getting work done, the isolation of my faraway country house can be a burden on my mental health.
Next to my monitor is a pile of books that I’m going to use in two upcoming workshops on revision and writing about place—including the Cascadia issue of Manoa, Mark Doty’s Art of the Description, and The Fullness of Everything. I don’t usually permit my books to be tented up like that one on top, but I was about to scan it, and was trying to relax the spine a little so it wouldn’t crack.
On top of the scanner/printer are books that I’m using to put together a reading list of fragmented and lyric essay/memoirs (among them, Beth Ann Fennelly’s Heating and Cooling, Erica Trabold’s Five Plots, Lily Hoang’s A Bestiary, and Abigail Thomas’s Safekeeping), some of which inspired my own and others I found after I started. What you can’t see are the three 6½ foot tall bookshelves that line the other two walls. This office shed is the first space I’ve had where I’ve had room to keep all my books accessible and organized. I love being able to turn my chair around and grab what I need.
Next to the door is a Rayo & Honey banner, which reminds me where to start. This is writing and life advice, both. It helps me to get the proverbial pen moving, even if I can’t think of anything to write and it helps me to remember to do just one thing first, whenever my persistent and debilitating anxiety shows up.
I’ve had this chair mat for half a dozen years and at least as many moves. Most of the moves were to places with carpet, or no desk, and yet I kept it. Who moves all over the country with a chair mat for an office that doesn’t exist yet? Me. While it would be an exaggeration to say that I designed the office around the chair mat, it would be disingenuous to pretend that I wasn’t picturing it in there from day one. It feels like it’s right where it goes now, like I do when I sit down at this desk to write.
A jar of marbles (several of which I’ve found in the yard)
Office-only fleece-lined slippers
My reading chair, foot pouf, and several very soft textiles to nestle into while reading
Thermos and Write Like a Motherfucker mug
Several mementos from my travels, including a small plate purportedly made of the same Rajasthan marble as the Taj Mahal, a papier-mâché dolphin, several wind-up toys, a clay study of a nude woman, and three plush vultures
Chelsea Biondolillo is a prose writer living just outside Portland, Oregon, and the author of two chapbooks, Ologies and #Lovesong. Her debut full-length collection, The Skinned Bird, comprises lyric, fragmented essays—full of geological, ornithological and photographic interventions, with landscapes, loss, and longing. It is available from KERNPUNKT Press or your favorite independent bookstore via IndieBound.