Sitting in Paradise

my desk“Sit in your cell as in paradise,” St. Romuald tells monks in his brief rule. My desk may be the closest thing I have to a monastic cell.

I loved it from the beginning, the ample size and solid feel of it, the sensuous curved corner that saves it from being stodgy or businesslike. In a concession to technology a discreet hole in the top allows power cords to pass through, but it is otherwise entirely organic. Waves and whorls in the grain of the cherry wood surface hint at a tree’s life story. Water stains tell of use, twenty years of a writer working (and eating and drinking) on this silky surface.

My ex-husband, an amateur woodworker, built it for me when I got tired of writing at the kitchen table. If I couldn’t have a room of my own in the apartment we shared, I wanted at least a desk of my own, and he designed it to my specifications: 66 inches wide and 32 inches deep with two drawers and built-in shelves. Since he was a self-taught furniture maker, he had to think through each step as he went, and the way he figured out to make the desk stand up was to build it into a corner, screwed to the walls to form two of its sides and give it stability.

Not long after the desk was finished, I put away the loosely autobiographical novel I’d written about navigating infertility as an expat in the Netherlands and started an adventure love story that I hoped might actually be publishable. When we divorced, I got to keep the desk and luckily the apartment of which it had become part and parcel. When my new sweetheart and I bought a house together eight years ago, I didn’t see how I could bring the desk with me, but he carefully detached it, marveling at the ingenuity of its construction, and brought it to the corner where I’m writing today at a window looking out on the garden.

In a marriage of the quotidian with the sublime, my laptop and to-do list sit surrounded by candles and icons, feathers and stones, succulents in a handmade ceramic vase. A turkey feather lies atop the letters my grandfather wrote home from World War II, the addresses he scrawled in pencil unfaded after seventy years though the once-white envelopes are ivory now. Behind them are two black-and-white photos of my parents when they were small, and on opposite ends of the desk are photos of me with my sisters and my sweetheart. A painted wooden owl reminds me of my writing teacher and the other beloved women who gathered for a ritual to celebrate my fiftieth birthday.

My desk, I see, has become a sort of altar. Like Joan Didion,”I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see, and what it means,” and this piece of furniture is a home for that thinking and meaning making. I sit here as in paradise.

What is your favorite spot for thinking? If you’re a writer, where do you like to write? Please reply in the comments!

Published by

Mary Camille Thomas

Mary Camille Thomas is a native of Santa Cruz, California who considers herself lucky to have returned after living internationally and on the road. She is a librarian by profession, and her poetry has appeared in The Moving Force Journal, Porter Gulch Review, and Sisters Singing. She is currently working on a novel called What Lies Buried and a collection of poems of the spirit.

6 thoughts on “Sitting in Paradise”

  1. Hi Mary,
    It is lovely to see some of your writing history through a picture of your beloved desk….I do think it is important where we write. Creating a sacred space of beauty and personal meaning is offering our muse a hearth of welcome and well-being. May she continue to feed you these lovely poems and writings.


  2. I like to write facing the roses. Now they have come up twice once in April and now in July. Red as firecrackers, soft blush orange as peaches. Oh to be in summer now and be able to write and share and dream and be afraid and reach out and out and out and then go in again to see what we are thinking. Love Jean


  3. Glad to see you are still getting use out of it – sweet piece of writing – the desk becoming an alter, how appropriate. It was truly a labor of love. But ‘amateur’, really?! (Jk). For myself. . . I’ve taken the habit of finding a comfortable coffee shop where ever I might be, whatever land, and stare into the screen of any portable computer/device (a portal into the ‘ethersphere’) available to me, and set about ‘playing chess with god’.


  4. Love your story and the picture. “Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.”    –Maya Angelou


  5. I liked “My desk may be the closest thing I have to a monastic cell”. So true…

    A testament of love– from and for your former husband, current sweetheart, the natural world, the objects on the desk, the cherrywood, the self/honor and intention to write, etc is sweet.

    I write wherever I am at the moment I’m inspired. When I lived in New Mexico, the natural world pulled me to it’s high desert regions where no matter the season, I could not stop myself from writing the beginning lines of a poem or story.

    Sometime in the Winter of 2002, I was hiking with two friends, Kim and Will, near Pagosa Springs, CO. Will had shared with me the day before about how much he missed his wife, who had been dead almost ten years. I could not stop thinking about his sadness and love for her.

    The next day, we decided to take a long walk. After the 30 minute drive to the trailhead, we began the two-hour hike. Will and Kim had espresso that morning so were revved up.
    The March snow was slightly crunchy and about 2ft high. The first lines of a poem were coming to me. I told Kim and Will to “walk ahead. My legs are shorter than yours”.
    The poem was coming in like a snowball gathering body and weight as it’s being rolled downhill. (a cliché, I know!)

    I stopped to look for a pen in my backpack. All I found was lipstick and a one page of notebook paper. I squatted in the snow, awkwardly placed the paper on my right thigh, removed the lipstick cover with my teeth and quickly began writing:

    “I follow footprints in the snow
    my mind steps into a field of memory…”

    The other lines came intermittently throughout the rest of the hike.

    So… I just created the piece of writing That you are now reading while relaxed on the sofa and looking out at the clouds, in Lake City MI where I must now get ready for a haircut before Governor Whitmer will (most likely) close the Salons again because the COVID 19 (+) cases continue to rise in Northern MI.

    May the blessings be…


    1. Karen, I love the image of you kneeling in the snow to write the first few lines of a poem in lipstick. And I’m with you. Solvitur ambulance (it is solved my walking) is one of my mottoes, and out on a walk is often when I catch a line for a poem.


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