When I realized I had to write about my workspace not once, but twice, this month, I didn’t panic. My clutter is beyond panic. I did, however, take two headache pills. Then I looked around and did a mental inventory of the place where I work.
My desk is piled high with projects. Against one wall are a scanner that doesn’t work, and nineteen article and story folders (I counted them) jammed into a standing file holder. Against the window wall are five book manuscripts in various stages of development, a yellow flower pot full of pencils and pens, some pull-out drawers holding large pink erasers, paper clips, business cards, a magnifying glass, a correction pen, a clipping tool for magazine articles, and several unopened packages of those tiny colorful post-its that can be used as book markers. The center of the desk is littered with all manner of manuscripts in progress, address books, a desk calendar, and a pile of bills, clippings, and magazines that should have been paid, filed, or read last week.
My computer, a color printer, a regular printer, and more file cabinets fill an adjacent wall. Floor to ceiling bookshelves cover two others. A large table covered with standing files and a comfortable chair block the closet, which can only be opened by brute force. A couple of rolling tables stand wherever I used them last. A copy machine perches atop a wide-drawered filing cabinet, filled with things I haven’t looked at for at least two years.
Marge Flathers and I both call our offices “the swamp.” I think it’s an appropriate tag, but I looked it up to make sure. A swamp is a place where an untold variety of plants prosper. Well, not prosper, exactly, but they do seem to keep growing — just like my piles of paper. Soil in a swamp drains slowly or not at all — just like my wastebasket, which never seems to remain emptied. A swamp is inundated by water — just like my office is inundated by papers. A swamp has things called hammocks, which are bits of dry land covered by vegetation — just as my desk, tables, and carts are covered by notebooks, loose papers, folders, and sticky pads. A swamp is sometimes referred to as a quagmire — a place where you can disappear and never be seen again.
People used to drain swamps, but that is considered a poor practice today. Swamps, after all, are habitats of unique plants and animals, rare flora and fauna. They are teeming with life. Wait a minute! Does that mean that MY swamp has value? Does it mean that amid (and under) the piles of ideas, unfinished stories, pages of research information, and rancid potato chips lurk unique and rare settings, characters, and plots?
I looked around my office again and saw possibilities. I have two weeks (the time until I write a blog again) to dig for gold, to separate the wheat from the chaff, to sharpen my pencils and get to work. Wish me luck. I’ll let you know how it goes!
-contributed by Marilyn Donahue