“What we still don’t have is the proverbial clear desk. That “clear mind-clear desk” thing actually puts me into a state of panic.”
Thinking about making space- and how ‘making space’ does not mean ‘making emptiness.’ Also- the full Saga of the Sit-Stand Desk.
Here is the photo of Leela’s desk:
Transcript and notes:
Recorded 8 January 2024.
Hi, everyone. Thanks for tuning in.
I've been thinking a lot about this business of needing to make space. And I was talking to Bill, last week I think, about how so many of us are juggling so many balls in the air. And I'm going to be making a meditation, a recorded meditation for folks who are members of the institute to work with, that helps us understand- intrinsically, emotionally, in our bones, how to make space.
But this morning, I did something else that I wanted to talk about. Because I almost never do this. So some of you will remember the, the saga of the desk. About, Gosh, not quite three years ago now, I saw a thing about a sit stand desk that went all the way down to floor seated height or almost floor seated height, depending on how tall you are. And I was really excited about that, because I prefer to sit on the floor.
Desk chairs are not usually comfortable for me. Although, at one point a couple years ago, I did find a chair that was actually close enough to the right height that I could reasonably sit in it. And that's the chair I'm using. But I was really excited to find this desk, because all the way down to almost the floor and all the way up to standing height, which is a huge range.
And it's a it's a mechanical challenge. It's an engineering problem. But they had solved it. And they were doing it. And I was really excited about it. And it was some kind of you know, for standing desks, it was a reasonable price. I think I ordered it for like four or 500 bucks. And then I waited... and I waited, and I waited, and I waited....
And they were very friendly. All my support correspondence went to the gentleman I believe to be the CEO of the company. And they were very earnest. Some of the parts got stuck in the canal in the big boat for a while; and then they got stuck behind the big boat; or maybe they were always stuck behind the big boat. Anyway, it took a long time. And it kept getting put off.
And my partner started to laugh and tell me that what I had purchased was vaporware, that it didn't actually exist. And it went on and on and on. And I started to feel a little grumpy about it. And I started to feel a little disrespected by the fact that it just kept not showing up.
And they would say, Oh, it'll definitely ship this date. And then I would look for a shipping notice and it wasn't there. And I would have to message and be like, Where's the thing that you said you were going to ship? Over and over and over again.
And like, I was really quite inclined to be patient. There was a pandemic on, there were shipping problems. There was all kinds of stuff that reasonably interrupted their plan to get me my desk. But I still didn't have my desk.
And so I had ordered it to go in an office in an apartment that- literally, like before it came, I moved again. And I had to write to them and say, if you're going to ship my desk, don't ship it there anymore, because I'm not there. Because that, of course was my secondary nightmare that they would finally ship the thing without warning me and that they would ship it to the wrong address.
So I sent them the right address when I moved. And I said if you're going to ship it, at some point, ship it there. So I sent him the address in January. In March, they said it's gonna ship and I said, Okay, I've moved to a new space, can I get the bigger top? And they were like, well, we don't have that. It'll be another couple of weeks. I said, Okay. So then it was another couple of weeks.
And I was like, okay, so: ship the desk?
And they were like, well, we don't have the tops now. We finally have all the parts for the base, but we don't have the tops. And I was nervous that it wasn't going to come. And I kept seeing online that other people had gotten their desks.
And so finally I wrote to them and I said, Listen, just ship me the base. Because I don't know if this is true or not. But I had this feeling that part of the reason I hadn't gotten the desk, was because they had had to move all their production to the United States from overseas in order to make sure their parts were up to their standard.
One of the ongoing problems was that whatever parts they had were not to their standard. And so they had to have them remade and then have them re shipped and this whole thing. But I was starting to get the feeling that when they moved the production stateside, they had also doubled the price. Which American production is more expensive than overseas production in many cases.
So I understood why they had done that and they had not tried to charge me more money. Which is good, because that wouldn't have been a good idea. But I had the feeling that my order kept getting shuffled to the bottom of the pile, because everybody else was ordering at this higher price point. And I don't know if that's true or not.
Or maybe they had just decided that they had already annoyed me and I had proven to be patient. And so they were just, they didn't really care if they lost me as a customer, but they wanted to keep up with- I don't know. I couldn't figure out why people on the internet were getting shipped their desks and exclaiming over how wonderful it was to have a desk and I still hadn't, and it had been literal years.
So finally, I said just ship me the base, can you ship me the base? And they said, Yes, we can ship you the base. So they shipped me the base. And it arrived. And I didn't know if they were going to ship me the top later or not, but they didn't. And that was okay. Like I have a history of woodworking, I decided I would just build the top. And the instructions said that the top should be at least an inch thick.
Most material that's available to work with in that way is three quarters of an inch thick. It's nominal 1x, so it's called one inch thick, but it's actually physically three quarters of an inch thick. I didn't know if we were dealing with like screw lengths where the screws would go through if it was- anyway. So I spent a bunch of time looking for the right materials. And finally, I just kind of threw up my hands and got as close as I could with some nominal 1x maple.
And then I had to glue it up. And I didn't have the tools to glue it up. So then I had to wait until I could acquire the tools to glue it up. And then I glued it up. And then I needed to wait for the finish to arrive. And it was this whole thing, it was a whole thing. But I did finally manage to build the desk and get it into my office.
And this is extraordinary for me because as an intensive, I had been hyper focused on this desk forever. But also, usually by then I lose interest. And I just can't keep myself engaged with the project. But I got myself engaged with the project. And I kept myself engaged with the project. And that was also pretty extraordinary.
And then I was like okay, what now? How do- I What, what now? And so it took me a little while to adjust to having a desk because remember at this point, I have been doing my work on a nightstand with two boxes balanced on the top of it, since early 20- Since early 2020.
Since before that. Because before the apartment, I lived in one rented room. And that room was my everything. And so I had a recording area that had the nightstand and the boxes on top of it, my computer on top of that. And then I had a desk I had borrowed from the person I was renting the room from. And that was it. But the desk wasn't a desk desk, it was a like high stool, counter-y type thing-table. I had never had a real desk on the West Coast, and I moved here in 2017.
So it took me a minute to adjust my brain to the idea that now I have a desk. And then I did this thing where I optimized the desk for computer. Because I spend a lot of time on my computer. And part of the point of this desk was to get really good computer ergonomics because sitting with my knees jammed into the open part of, of a nightstand- which yes, that's how I had been working- was not really working. So I didn't, I didn't do that.
And so instead, I had to like adjust to having not only a chair that fit me, but it desk that fit me that I could put my knees under. I had to, you know- Jacqueline Gates talks about how we need to become the person that we are. That we need to allow ourselves to enter that, what she calls the leading lady role.
And I find that really interesting and really useful in moments like this. Because here I was with the desk I had been dreaming of. And I still found myself turned sideways, with the desk at my left, my feet propped up on a chair, and my laptop very un-ergonomically propped on my thighs and my legs. I was working in my lap. Even though there was a desk right there that adjusted to the perfect height.
So this idea of figuring out how to become, enters my world in all kinds of different ways. This being one of them. And my desk had just become another place to store my computer. But this morning I got up and I made a different choice. This morning I got up and I put my computer to the side and I put the box that I've had it propped on, that's a whole other story, to the side.
I cleared my desk of the computer things. I put my Sketchpad in the middle, I put my tablet to my left, and my desk felt different. I had managed to make space. So I'm going to take a picture of this, but I'm also going to explain it to you. Now you're going to look at this picture, and go, how is that making space? My goodness!
Starting from the left, I have my bluetooth keyboard turned sideways, not in a position for using, just kind of stored there. A stack of blue papers of various weights and shades, about the size of standard post it notes. An open packet of watercolor pencils with several pencils taken out. My tablet, my water bottle, my tea mug, an empty jar of pickles. An empty plate where my breakfast was. The stylus for my tablet.
A sketch pad right in the middle- a sketch pad with a very unsophisticated sketch of a piece of Raclette cheese. Four of those watercolor pencils, two magic markers, one fine tip permanent marker. The package from which some of those markers came. My e-ink tablet. And a notebook propped up against the phone, that has some notes, the first words of which are "slow down." And then like this scattered pile of chaos off to the right. So what we still don't have is the proverbial clear desk.
That "clear mind-clear desk" thing actually puts me into a state of panic. So when I talk about making space, when I talk about intensives needing space, I don't mean that we necessarily need a pindrop, clear, spit shined open area. We don't. We probably don't at all, but we certainly don't, right this minute.
What I needed this morning, was not to be confronted by 65 million windows and all of the demands of my inbox. I can get my email on my tablet, but it's work. I don't have my primary chat apps on my tablet, it's a place to be creative. This notebook that I'm sketching in, I've devoted to this 30 days of drawing thing that I've stumbled into with the illustrator who illustrated Samin Nosrat's "Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat" on substack.
We're just drawing things. And this week, the theme is delight. And today was food that delights us, hence the raclette. And I'm realizing that it changed the pace of my brain to take my computer out of its place of pride, out of the center of everything. I'm not saying I don't want my computer. I'm not saying I don't want my computer, I do. I'm not saying I don't need my computer, I do. I'm not saying I shouldn't attend to it or pay attention to it.
But this morning, after sleeping for three hours, and being up for four, and then sleeping again for two, maybe three, what I needed was to wake up, be in the company of good people, make a 10 minute sketch, eat my breakfast, and feel like there was space for all of that.
This desk is five feet by two feet. There's plenty of space on my desk. As long as I don't let the computer take over the entire operation. I haven't. I'll soon be talking about how to pick one thing. I think that's week three. I haven't looked at my clickup list yet today. But I will soon be talking about how to pick one thing.
But today was not a pick one thing sort of day. It was a breakfast and pickles and colored pencils and magic markers and watching one person hold a drawing live- like a drawing co working space live- while simultaneously doing a different person's assignment in which both people focused on the idea of pleasure.
Effy Wild drew card today, and the question they were asking is "what gives you pleasure?" Which I have to tell you, y'all who have known me a long time, that's my question. And then Wendy over here being like delight, draw something that delights you. My breakfast, and the cats. But I couldn't hold all of that and the concrete sequential space of my computer at the same time.
So I'm glad I took the computer off-focus, just for a minute. I put it- I have a little metal wire thing next to my desk. That's where it lives. I have a way I have a method I have a place for the computer to be that's not on the desk, and that it won't get stepped on. And that's really critical to when we're doing this little reshuffling thing.
Like I said before with the little squares in the puzzle that move around, and you got to get them in the right order. But you only have one open space. When we're doing this reshuffling thing, we have to have places that feel good for the pieces we're taking out. You don't just want to take them out and lose them. You take them out and put them in a little box or a little bin or the lid of a jar. Put them in a basket.
You put them in one of those vertical file folders that you think is completely useless. You know, those, those things that are meant to hold four or five manila folders on your desk upright? You put them in that. Put your tablet in one, put your computer in one.
Give them a home, give them a place to be that's not in front of you, that's not open, that's not demanding your attention. Because we got to get away from this PDA, we've got to get away from the demand so that we can get away from the resistance to the demand so we can make a choice, that's an open hearted choice. So we can slow down. So it can be on purpose. So we can follow that gut knowledge that as intensives we have so powerfully in our lives.
Sometimes I don't even realize what I'm centering until I de-center it. Sometimes I don't even realize what's been demanding all of my attention until I stop attending to it.
This time last year, I had two things in my life that were demanding an enormous amount of time and attention and energy and focus. And I had freely given those things to those things. But it had shifted at some point from a free gift to a demand. And it had shifted, at some point, from being freely received, to being irately expected.
And it took me a long time to realize that. And it took me a long time to decide that I couldn't do that. That it was different, materially different.
And so now I find myself in the echo, a year later. Looking over my shoulder for that demand and looking for everything else where that demand could be, and instead choosing where I really give myself.
Thanks for tuning in. Talk soon.