In the wilderness with my head stuck outside a tent, a headlamp on, an hour before dawn in a valley surrounded by mountain peaks. In the bathroom late at night with only the scratch of my pen keeping me company. In the garden, wrestling with my great nemesis, the common weed (well that and my unrealistic need for perfection). At my laptop with its bright light guiding me forward, early morning, every morning when I'd rather be asleep like everyone else in the quiet world.
Ideas can't wait for a proper time and place even as I wish they would. Like all writers, I've written in many places, have notebooks and several scraps of paper I have misplaced. When I'm lucky enough to find these scratches of ideas again, I find a character who refuses to leave me alone, an ending with no beginning, a beginning with no middle, a question that can only be answered in story. Yes, I write in all these places and others too, but my favourite place is sitting here at my desk. It was specially designed and built for me and when I sit at it, I feel the love that went into making it, I marvel at the craftsmanship and I push myself not to disappoint. At this desk I suffer uncertainty, humility, terror, frustration, hopelessness and joy. The former happens frequently, the later not so much.
I used to write at a beautiful antique desk I found in a small shop in Rome. I walked past it several times over several days before I went in and bought it. We still have it, but it was never meant for the computer age and the long hours spent staring at a screen wishing somehow the right words would appear, hopefully in perfectly formed sentences. Then one day I got an email. My step son-in-law, Arnel was doing an assignment for his furniture-making program. He'd heard me complain of stiff shoulders and an achy neck long enough and wondered if he could build me a desk.
So we started on the road to designing a desk. Along the way, my mom got sick. I couldn't give Arnel much advice. Then my mom died and I really didn't care about having a desk. I could barely think, let alone write. It seemed so frivolous to spend so much time in the imaginary world when my real world was, real and heartbreaking and overwhelming. Arnel kept at it. Even though his emails went unanswered. One of the last conversations I had with him before my mom died was to say I couldn't think about the design right now, I trusted him to go with whatever he wanted to do.
Here is the gist of one of the emails Arnel sent me regarding the design of the desk. His poetic words not mine:
Reflecting on the old design centered around carving and shaping (a direction I'd like to explore in my work), and I want to incorporate some of this in the rails and legs. But, I really thought about you, who I see as you, what has influenced you, and I always think about the diversity in the places you have come from, lived, travelled and been. You are constantly on the move, on the go. Then I thought, and I am not sure why, but your being born in Egypt has always been the one thing that has struck me. So I looked at it. The arch in the legs and rail was inspired by the flow of curves in Egyptian art - long, subtle and blended. I think of rivers and grasses. I find a tie to nature, with a stylized, elegant look. I can achieve an aesthetic and functionality that I think will satisfy you, I think will complement your decor, but stand on its own as a piece, satisfy my craving to carve and shape and my schools technical requirement for a mark. I will expose selective joinery as well, to add some character and designate the piece as handcrafted, but keep it hidden like a hieroglyph. And thank you again for the opportunity to make the table, I think it filled a lot of things in life that I needed to do.
When I told Arnel about this blog idea, here was his response.
Very cool blog idea - where you write - I definitely thought of your workspace while I was designing and constructing. A woodworker's bench is much the same - a place for tools, functionality, expression, inspiration, a place to create.
His very best was what he delivered last summer. My desk, complete with my name and his etched into the wood at the back, a mark that we have been here, have actually lived and breathed and brought this desk to life (him more than me). It has curved and tapered legs and is made of beautiful cherry wood so clear you can see the ripple of the grain. It has dovetail joints, a floating top and all sorts of woodworking cuts and seams I will never know the names of. But what I love most is that it fits me, it doesn't hurt to sit here hour upon hour. I especially love the small drawers. They hold all my scraps of paper, the stories I have found again.
Arnel's completed project
The desk hard at work
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