Sunday, May 1, 2011


Every time I look up over the top of my computer, I am greeted by the dull countenance of my most combative foe. In the words of the high priestess Britney Spears, oops I did it again! Just now. Looked up. Caught in the glare of me. It can be frightening.

That’s what I get for setting up shop on a small wooden vanity with a large mirror. My ugliness is not so readily apparent at first glance. I’m not saying compare me to Brad Pitt (okay, then, compare me to Brad Pitt, I dare you!) but I can make my way through life without causing passersby to cower in fear. Like most people, I keep my ugliness well hidden. That way I don’t get insulted, or slapped, or arrested.

After all, ugliness that is strictly physical will get insulted by unkind people. Ugliness that is behavioral will get slapped by offended people. Ugliness that is criminal will get arrested by official people.

Able to avoid most of that unpleasantness, I manage a garden-variety ugliness that is only witnessed by those closest to me (oh, how lucky they are!) or by me when I look in the mirror.

The latter used to be a rare occasion. Once I passed through the morning lavatory routine, I rarely had occasion to look at myself in a mirror again. A brush of hair and tooth and I was ready to roll.

Now my writing station has been set up in an extra bedroom, the computer sitting atop the aforementioned wooden vanity. It is a family heirloom, with seven drawers and a soft brown finish. Originally from my grandmother’s house, it has been passed around our home for many years, from kid to kid, depending on who needed a little extra storage.

It is not the world’s perfect desk, though. It is about the right height, but is woefully shallow and spare of top space, making it suitable only for the laptop, two small speakers, a cool beverage on one of grandma’s knit coasters, and room for a sheet of paper or open book (should I be plagiarizing). The knee hole (I actually had to look up the name for the area between the drawers where the knees go—the knee hole!) is narrow, accommodating my legs but only barely. The arms of the desk chair preclude it from ever being pushed inside and out of the way.

The mirror, though, is the biggest problem. I always figured famous writers look up to contemplate their prose, with a view through a large picture window toward a lake, or a spring meadow, or a winter forest. Something that expands the mind. Looking up and seeing what at first appears to be a grumpy goblin seems to limit my mind and stifle my creative process. And that is why famous writers don’t mount mirrors above their writing area.

Ah, so that’s why fame eludes me! For a moment I thought it might be the quality of the writing.

Despite the fact that I sometimes startle myself, having a place to write does help me get the writing done. Right now, in fact! Whilst tapping away at the keyboard (never looking down as a good typist should) I watch as the words flow effortlessly onto the screen. In a perfect world I won’t forget to save the document every once in a while. If I have to look something up online (such as “knee hole”) it is only a mouse click away. The ugliness only presents itself if I pause for too long.

A brief pause in typing gives me a chance to reflect on what I have just written, and to consider what comes next. Any longer, though, and my head rolls up and my eyes look forward—into my own eyes about eighteen inches away. Goblin! Oh wait, it’s just me again.

No wonder I think about myself so much when I write. The furniture piece is called a vanity, after all, and thus comes with a mirror attached for all the reasons a person might sit at a vanity. Therein lies my problem. I’m not sitting there to use a vanity, I’m sitting there to write. And every time I look up, I look back at myself and am clearly not writing.

Oh, the vanity. In more ways than one.

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