my desk and beard and awareness of others

The desk in my bedroom is wobbly and black and, on the right-hand side, it’s got three little shelves of which I’ve made good use—but I’m kinda done with it.

            Conan O’Brien was talking in a recent episode of his podcast about how, when he was a young writer for Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons, he took a toxic kind of pride in the shoddiness of his situation. He would tell himself, in an august and tormented way, that his plan for the week was to stay awake for thirty hours, working on a script, and then he’d get a cold, and sleep for one hour, and then bundle up and start bleeding from his eyes as he got to work on yet another script.

            I kinda do this. Romanticizing the discomfort of my situation.

            So when I sit down to do some writing or recording at my desk, and I feel it wobbling beneath me as I work, there’s a part of me that really hates it but another part that’s like, “Ah. Yes. This is quaint.”

            I sometimes get this way about the fact that I’m eating ramen and garbanzo beans for so many consecutive nights. That I rush to get tipsy on $1 Tecate during Redbar’s early-bird happy hour between 5 and 6 p.m.

This doesn’t seem like a huge problem, but it’s something I should probably police in myself: this self-mythologizing, subjecting myself to senseless discomfort in the interest of crafting a narrative about how much I struggled in order to get to…where? And yeah, maybe that story of struggle will sound romantic when I finally “make it,” but what if I don’t get there? What if I fail? Then the story of struggle will only be a sore spot, a source of indignation, victimization.

            “I went above and beyond and I suffered and sweated and look where it got me. Nowhere.” And then I’ll become one of those people who tells other people to not even bother trying to accomplish shit because nothing will ever work out anyway.

My friend Steve Donoghue (who’s got a terrific bookish YouTube channel you should check out) was counseling me recently on a romantic issue and told me that the smartest step I could take toward securing this person’s affection would be to shave my “very, very, very long, bushy, tangled rabbinical beard” because, as he says, the beard is an affectation.

The sequence is easily followed: 1) your silly beard is by definition an affectation, 2) affectations are by definition pleas for approval made to strangers, 3) pleas for approval made to strangers are by definition pathetic, and 4) pathetic things are by definition to be shunned. So you should be brave and run the risk of sniggering from the hipster strangers at the hookah bar and shave off the silly beard post haste!

Steve, via email

            What it also calls to mind is this passage from Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing, that he and his editors apparently found so poignant that they pasted it on the back of the hardcover release. What’d happened is King’d always had this dream of owning a massive oak desk, some behemoth he could put in the middle of the room. Something that suggests power. And so he gets the oak table, if I remember correctly, and ends up hating it. Opts for something smaller, more practical, and he wraps up the anecdote by saying,

“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”

Stephen King, On Writing

            So I keep thinking, “Alright, once I’ve got $30 or $40 to spare I’m gonna walk three blocks down the road, gonna saunter into Goodwill, and I’m gonna buy a sturdy little desk.”

            But now there’re like layers of self-consciousness about, like, am I doing this for myself, or for some kind of narrative I’m telling myself about myself?

            Anyway. That’s where my head’s at. How are you?

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