I was once the taker of the desk.
I didn’t think about that on my first day. I just sat down at the desk they directed me to, sat down and crossed my legs to stop them from shaking. They weren’t shaking because I thought I was in the wrong place; I knew it was right, knew that I couldn’t be anything else other than a writer. I didn’t fear they’d find out that I was a phony, or that I was just faking it until I made it–I wasn’t. I wanted it, wanted it deep in my bones, and that made me afraid that I might lose something. I was shaking because I was afraid to find that being a writer wasn’t everything I’d set my hopes on, that it was going to turn out to be a disappointment, like a burnt latte on a rainy day. I was also scared they wouldn’t like me. I was wrong about all of that.
You’re the taker of my desk, and I was once both figuratively and literally in your chair. When I arrived, I did not think about those who had sat at that beautiful desk before me, with her velvet-lined drawers and her over-the-sidewalk view. I did not think she was beautiful at all, only that she gave me a place to take the chance I was given. I did not know then that the actual girl whose desk I’d taken (there are three desks in the production room, but I guess you know that by now) would come back for her senior year, would take another desk, would write me sticky-pad notes that I’d find in the drawers months after she’d left. I simply took her spot that day, and I think she’d agree that ever since then, it’s been mine. It’s hers, and mine, and yours now, too.
It gave me a lot, that desk, probably more than I can understand just now. You should know that I don’t mind handing it over to you–I’ll go a lot of places, I just know it, because now that I’ve gotten a taste of this writing water, I live on it. But no place will ever be the first place again: the first place to pay me to write; the first place to put my words on its pages; the first place to claim me as their own. I started email after email with the line, “I am a writer at Alabama Alumni Magazine…,” sometimes losing the weight of the statement–the fact that it was what I’d dreamt of–amidst the discomfort of pinching deadlines (or the adrenaline of deadlines made). But as I prepare to clean out the desk, I understand the magic of the whole thing full well. It’s one line on my resume, this gig. It will get moved further and further down, maybe one day disappearing off the thing. But it will always be the first place.
I guess I should also give you some advice. Here’s what I’ve got: Always take a notepad into the boss’s office. Don’t delete any emails. Make a lot of to-do lists. Bring a jar of peanut butter and keep it in your desk–protein is essential to the writing process. One day, your boss will call you in to talk about something you’ve done wrong. After you two discuss what you could do to fix it, she’ll offer up something that will change everything: “Everyone makes mistakes.” Before you leave, learn to believe that. Another day, you’ll wander into her office, and you’ll begin to pour out some dreams you have. She’ll listen, nodding, telling stories of her own dreams. She’ll offer up something that will change everything: “I believe in you.” Before you leave, learn to believe that, too.
If you let this place be your first, it will be. The desk doesn’t expect anything. Instead, it stands steady, waiting for you. Right now, this is probably just a job you landed, extra money for coffee or chewing gum or whatever kids these days are buying. But buy into the idea that it’s something more; if you want to be a writer, be one, why don’t you?
I was once the taker of the desk. I was afraid, then, of lots of things; I’m afraid now, of different things, but I remember that all unknown things become known once we walk into them. The desk is a reminder of that to me now. That’s why I can leave it for you, so that you may come to know it and I may go to know other things.
I arrived on shaky knees. It was a job, a desk, a story. They were just my coworkers, she was just my boss, and I was just a dreamer who’d landed her first writing gig.
I leave on shaky knees, a dreamer of a writer who’s tasted the water. I leave taking them with me, calling them friends.
And I leave the desk to you.
Do good work,
Friday, July 12th, marks my last day at Alabama Alumni Magazine as a student writer. Instead of just saying goodbye, I wanted to leave something for someone who will come after me. Read more about this writing gig here, here, and here.