In Praise of Writers’ Desks

This month concludes what has now become half a year that our family has been in the process of searching for, purchasing, and now moving into a house of our own after years spent throwing money at the garbage bin that is the housing rental market. We started in January of this year, when my parents and I started trolling through listings of pre-selling subdivisions, condominiums, and foreclosed homes by banks and lending institutions. By the end of this month we would have already settled into our new home.

Photo from Lit Hub.

This journey that we undertook of finding the right location, housing type, and bidding for reasonable prices is a lengthy narrative in its own, but that’s not what I wanted to talk about here. Our moving into our own house means that we now have not only the space but also the sense of ownership to actually decorate and design the house to our liking. In the years that we’ve been renting at various locations around the city, we never really felt the inspiration to turn the space into more like home primarily because we knew we were likely going to leave it behind in a couple of years (on average we stayed in one rental property for about four to five years).

Now, in our new space, I am getting an entire home office space all to myself, as opposed to being in the corner of a shared bedroom or in a living room where everything is constantly shifting. And I’ve of late been in a daze going through Pinterest boards one after the other, window shopping at IKEA and other local furniture stores, in search for the two cornerstones of my future office: a nice, book bookshelf and the perfect writing table.

There is something very personal and revealing about one’s workspace. This I learned through the writing spaces of many of the writers I revere. Hemingway, during the latter half of his career, bought a house in Cuba which he called the Finca Vigia. There, upon a large, magisterial table in a spacious, high-ceilinged room walled with his books, the legendary prose writer conceived some of his greatest work, including For Whom The Bell Tolls, and The Old Man And The Sea, which would go on to win Hemingway the Nobel Prize.

Glenn Diaz’s writing desk (from his website).

It’s a big, robust table for someone who likes to project himself as a big, robust man, and whose characters often meet the tragic fate of being unable to become so. The writing desk is also a testament to Hemingway’s dedication to the craft. There is no billiards table in this office. The man comes here for one thing only: to commune with – and at times create – literature.

Though I’m uncertain if this really is – or continues to be – his writing desk, the Filipino author (of The Quiet Ones) Glenn Diaz features an unassuming desk on his website, piled with books and various papers, with a classic Macbook Air perched right in the middle of the action. It’s a workspace reminiscent of a college boy’s dorm room, and I can imagine he must have felt the same while he was penning his Palanca award-winning exploration into the call center agent’s troubled psyche, while holding fellowships in Bangalore, Jakarta, and Adelaide.

One last personal space I want to intrude upon is the great Haruki Murakami’s musical wonderland of an office, which he features on his website. His office is less of a statement than Hemingway’s, being humbler and narrower, at least as far as one can tell from the photo. The wall shown has a shelf full not with books but with vinyl records, as the man is famous for being a huge music junkie (his novels are often titled after songs, most famously his bittersweet opus, Norwegian Wood).

The office of Haruki Murakami (from his website).

His writing is done (apparently) on an iMac, which sits in one corner of the desk, along with various trinkets and personal effects that Murakami has collected. His website gives us a generous glimpse into these: a coffee mug featuring the Swiss cross, purchased as a souvenir during his travels; a Knopf paperweight gifted to him by Sonny Mehta; a bobblehead figurine of Yasuhiro “Ryan” Ogawa of the Yakult Swallows.

As we are still in the process of moving between houses, I haven’t started working on my new office space just yet, but I’m already restless to begin. What kind of writing table should I put in this new space? Where do the books go? Do I put up my K-Pop posters, or do I get posters of some of my favorite films of all time? Ah, choices, choices

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