The Student Voices Desk Series II: Bringing Order out of Chaos, Whitney Campbell

I found my desk at an antique store in Texas, but I believe it was manufactured recently because there were three others there identical to it. (Also, it was stamped with a “Made in Philippines” factory label.)  It’s wooden, with four legs that end in claw feet, like a vintage freestanding bathtub, and a short chest of drawers and pigeonholes extending up from the back section of the table surface — a style apparently known as a bureau à gradin.

The chest part is connected to the desk along its length, so I drilled a hole through one of the lower drawers to hide several unsightly computer cords.  Not counting this non-functional drawer, there are a total of twenty-five compartments, all dedicated to a category of item.  While the two larger drawers hold headphones, calculators, and writing implements, each of the little drawers contains smaller supplies: paperclips, thumbtacks, Krazy Glue bottles, digital camera memory cards, stickers, stamps, extra buttons.

On the top of the bureau, there’s a ledge that supports a pair of speakers, a lamp, an image-a-day museum calendar, and a bookend of an eagle with the date “1776” at the base, the year of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.  Most of this stuff resides in particular spots, but I have a couple of plastic toy sharks —  one blue, one grey —  that always seem to appear in different places.  One moment they’ll be by the speakers, a day later in separate drawers, and another mixed in with the markers, as if they’re involved in an endless, desk-bound game of shark chase.

Without the desk, this jumble of junk would be piled into a heap in the corner of the room. But the current arrangement lets me organize these dissimilar objects, so that it somehow makes sense to store a calculator next to a needle and thread.  In the same way, I like listening to music, doing arts and crafts, and snapping photos in addition to learning about biology, technology, education, and politics.

To balance these activities, I try to combine my interests by seeking interdisciplinary models and methods.  For example, by reading photomicrography experiments, I can learn about new applications for digital cameras while studying the findings of the research itself.  Or I can try to relate social interactions to evolution and gene selection by applying the theories of sociobiology to observed behaviors.  The desk similarly gives a cohesive structure to a collection of unrelated entities, although in a physical way.  Just as a well-designed interdisciplinary theory can bring together disparate ideas, my well-designed wooden desk brings together disparate objects.

Now if only that Filipino factory made backpacks…

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