Sunday, October 27, 2013

Let Me Tell you About Buying a Desk: A Fable of Procrastination

I should be doing graduate school work right now, but instead I'm sitting at my cheap wooden desk, in the second bedroom of The Treehouse, watching my cats fly (ungracefully, I hate to admit) across the bed to ninja punch each other through the confusing gauze of the mosquito net that so attracts and deceives them. One of them just ran full throttle whiskers first into the wall, after mistaking its unbending seriousness for the forgiving fluff of the net. First rule, cat: know your enemy.

When I moved in, the second bedroom in my house contained the aforementioned battle scene bed (large, comically uncomfortable, but still a free bed, family and friends, so those of you reading who are so inclined to come visit, focus on the adjective free instead of uncomfortable) and a rather useless handmade wardrobe with peculiar dimensions and doors that refuse to stay shut. I got it into my head that I would get a proper desk and chair for this room, to have a place to work on graduate school and writing. The blank white wall next to the window, to the left of the bed- that's where my desk and chair would go, and that, THAT would be where I would go to be Productive and Thoughtful and Academic. Maybe I was thinking of all those productivity tips about having a dedicated work space, maybe I was thinking about writing tips that tell you to have a dedicated creative space, maybe I just needed some damned something to do on a Sunday that stretched interminably from sun up to sun down filled with dust and palm trees and a backlog of work. Whatever it was, I was after a desk, and a chair, and a little spot in a room of one's own in which to write.

I purchased my desk for absolutely Too Much Money at D-Mart, which is, for all intents and purposes (I cannot type that phrase without hearing people saying, incorrectly, "intensive purposes", and wishing I could, in this moment, beckon  them over to read the words directly prior to that first parenthesis so that they can finally understand the error of their ways) a step up from a Dollar General, but let's not get carried away, not anywhere close to something like a Target. I knew that I would be able to find the perfect specimen of over-priced particle board there, and I was not mistaken. I also managed to find what I did not know at the time was the scratchiest chair imaginable, which is, at this moment, giving the back of my legs rug burn even though, I swear, I am not moving at all. The ability to inflict a pain predicated on friction, in the absence of movement, is indeed a talent and I must say that perhaps this chair was worth every penny, if only for being so resourceful in the ways in which it torments me. Maybe that will make up for the fact that, on the first day, I made the mistake of expecting the armrest to bear weight, and it responded, indignantly, by snapping in half and then ricocheting back and spanking the side of my hip. Dear reader, I was mortified to be spanked by my own office chair. Is this any way to treat someone who simply wants to sit on you? I think not. But I'm jumping ahead.

Off I went to D-Mart, where the woman at the entrance counter kindly relieved me of anything on my person larger than a pack of cards, and handed my belongings over to a most reassuring security system: they were casually deposited on the edge of a ledge out of sight, with a flimsy piece of numbered cardboard on top of it. I was given my own flimsy piece of numbered cardboard that- and here's the genius part- matched the number on my belongings. In this way, the microchips (which I am certain were embedded somewhere in the flimsy piece of numbered cardboard) could communicate with one another and it would be physically impossible for anyone to take my belongings if, say, the employee charged with guarding them was, say, oh, I don't know, not there at all a few minutes later and was, let's imagine, drinking bubble tea with a most fetching male employee who, I must say, was most likely more interesting than my cardboard topped belongings.

But this is about buying a desk.

I bought my desk- a very simple affair, being just a stationary rectangle squatting on top of a smaller, sliding rectangle to accommodate a keyboard (lol, desktop computers, what?) sitting on four utilitarian legs- without much fanfare, but then there was much confusion when it was discovered that this falang didn't have a car. What? No car? But... falang. Of course you have a car. I shrugged my sweaty shoulders, gave a helpless "Whatcanyado?" hand motion, and then made a walking motion so that the saleswoman could understand the depths of my non-falang-edness: I.had.walked. Why, I didn't even have a scooter?! I nodded emphatically and slurped the bubble tea I had purchased after seeing the entrance counter cardboard dispenser woman talking to the fetching male employee. It was delicious, and made me wonder if she had left my belongings more for the tea, or for the boy? These things can be hard to tease apart. Kind of like how it's hard to reconcile a falang with no car, or scooter, who does strange things like use her feet to get to D-Mart to buy a desk. I asked about delivery, but then there was the issue of there being no such thing as an address. No problem; after a year in Albania I am a seasoned veteran of living in the land that Google has not met. I was able to whip out my cartographer skills and draw, what I think, to be what is quite possibly the most accurate representation of the rural bits behind the temple (off that one street that has Joma 2 on it right before the water tower, no, before, yes, before, no... okay) that has ever been committed to the backside of a D-Mart circular that was, in a delightfully meta way, advertising furniture for sale.

Despite what I deemed to be superior map making illustrations, it was decided that no one had any idea where the hell to take my things. This is where I had reached the bottom of my delicious tea to wrangle with the sticky globs of rapidly drying tapioca bubbles. I was hungry, and the bubbles were not cutting it. I was hot. I was pondering the fact that I might never see the fruition of my goal to equip my second bedroom with a productivity corner, if the fruition of that goal was dependent upon the people around me looking skeptically at the map upside down. And, I have to admit, I was lazy and looking for a free ride. Literally. I wanted a free ride. So I told the saleswoman I would just sit on the ground of the warehouse until the truck came back, and I would then ride with the truck to my home. It was settled. I sat on the ground and chewed more tapioca.

The truck rolled up rattle trap and ready to go, and I hopped up in the cab with an ease that evoked laughter and surprise from the old man and a boy, who was in charge of sitting in the back of the truck and hugging my desk to his body to keep it (and maybe himself) from flying out. I'm studying Lao, but I'm sure you can understand that I don't yet have the vocabulary to say "I'm from Texas, y'all, I know how to hop up in the cab of a rattle trap truck" so I just left them to ponder the peculiarities of sweaty falang women who sneak rides and snap tapioca bubbles with their faces out of the open window to catch a breeze.

We made it to my dirt road with no problems (honestly, can I just say again, that map I drew was a dream, a pity it will never be used) and I was able to wow the men once more. See, the passenger side door didn't have a handle on the inside. As a person with a ridiculous amount of anxiety about being trapped in places, the first thing I do is scope out my "How to get the hell out of here" strategy (doubly so when riding in trucks with strangers, I might add). I had zoned in on that missing handle the moment I got in. As a result, when we pulled up to my house and the old man hopped out to run around and let me out, I was out and shutting the door behind me by the time he got there. This he found really hilarious, and gave me an "Oh, you!" finger wag. When I tossed a friendly "Sabaidee" to my neighbor, the old man erupted in peals of laughter. I really liked the old man. I smiled at him and let him into my house (this means I opened up a gate and we were inside something that is still outside) where he dropped my desk, the boy dropped the chair, and they left.

Then I dragged the desk and chair up the impossibly narrow staircase while all of my neighbors watched and laughed at the Antics of the Spunky Falang. When I made it up with the desk above my head and didn't fall, I made sure to take a few steps back down and give the thumbs up to my audience. They laughed some more. I really like my neighbors. In a sea of relative cultural isolation, their willingness to engage me is refreshing.

But this is about buying a desk.

Oh, wait, I already told you about buying the desk. I guess I'll just end by saying that this is the second time I have used it since I bought it, about a month ago. As it turns out, a room of one's own filled with cats, surrounded by the most active of the wall rats, and tricked out with a flimsy rectangle of a desk and a pins and needles chair with a broken armrest is not the most idyllic spot for creativity or productivity.

But sometimes, you just need to get out of your house, walk a very long way, and accomplish an arbitrarily decided upon task so that you can feel like you accomplished something on what would have otherwise been a long and dusty Sunday in the town in which you find yourself living. In a stunning double whammy of forward thinking resourcefulness, I must say that the task of buying the desk and the chair was, without a doubt, an example of the expert ways in which I can create things to do out of thin air when I really, really, really don't want to do something else. Thus, that manufactured chore to get out of doing something I didn't want to do has served me twice: once, in the doing of it, and twice, in the re-telling of it when I should have been doing graduate work.

This isn't really about buying a desk.


  1. Thanks for writing Cortney! Enjoyed reading this story, as do I all of your blog tales. I can see it all in my head like a memory I am pleased/blessed to have. That's what good writing does. It made me smile a lot and laugh several times, like when you carried the desk upstairs to your neighbors amusement and you gave the thumbs up encore. My favorite part was the truck ride and your nimble escape from the vehicle and the "Oh, you! finger wag." This made me lol.

    Keep writing! My unconventional heroine ;)

    1. Matt!! I've been meaning to reply to your e-mail. I don't feel like I deserved to receive it, it was so kind, but I appreciate that you sent it and it's a huge motivation and source of support. I thank you so very much for that :)