Where did you study? Was your desk a dining room or kitchen table? The couch? A separate room? Did you listen to music as you studied? Or did you tune out the noise of the household when you crammed for a test or wrote a report? Louise DeSalvo author of The Art of Slow Writing, a book about writing as a meditative, patient process, muses about her own study nook in this excerpt:
My parents valued education, so when I was young, the only time my parents didn’t bother me was when I was doing homework. My father made me a triangular desk that fit into a space at the top of the stairs. . .
Sitting at my desk while I was working, nobody told me what to do. My father was pleased with my industry rather than angry with me. My mother wanted me to study because, no matter how much she needed my help, she wanted me to do well in school. Sitting at my desk working helped me feel a sense of control in my chaotic household (188, 189).
Louise’s writing desk was triangular probably positioned in a corner. It strikes me that she may have faced the wall, not a window, a rather confining, even claustrophobic view.
As for me as a student at Elizabethtown High, when the noise downstairs around my spread at the dining room table overpowered my ability to concentrate, I’d flee upstairs to a study desk that looks like this, a bedside table with a brown goose-necked lamp. Mother had the table refinished years later and replaced my gooseneck lamp with this one: a faux milk-glass base with a lacy, fluted lampshade.
Here’s how I write about this “desk” as a flash of memory:
My books and notebooks are piled on the dining room table. I’m in ninth grade and when the house gets too noisy, I go upstairs to the bedroom I share with my sister Janice and study there. My study table is just a wooden bedside table. It’s tiny, with two of the four legs spaced closer together. There’s space for a little lamp on top and maybe a book or two on the shelf below – a piece of furniture not designed for serious study. There is no place to put my legs really, but I scrunch myself under the teeny table with my knees touching, a brown goose-necked lamp cocked so I can read, take notes on scored 3 x 5 index cards, or write in meticulous cursive in my notebook, one for each subject.
I consumed book chapters, algebraic formulas, and historical data. I also consumed apples, carrots, or oranges. Yes, as I studied, I nibbled. Like a dog worrying a bone, I ate apples to the core, sometimes discovering nothing but apple seeds in the palm of my hand along with the fibrous center hull, when I looked up from the page. Carrots were eaten down to the nubs. And oranges too. First, I sucked out some of the juice, then broke the orange into five or six sections, eating them one by one. Finally, I consumed the white inner rind too, one incisor-dig at a time, only the outer skin remaining.
Study – an all-consuming proposition . . .
Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.
~ Sir Francis Bacon “Of Studies”
Did you study at home, at the library? Did you have chaos or quiet? Maybe you had a photographic memory and didn’t have to study much.
Were you a nibbler too? Inquiring minds want to know.
Coming next: Purple Passages with a Pop of Pink, March 2015 edition
Marian — Facing a wall would have been extremely difficult for me. Long-legged, sitting with my knees scrunched together under a small table would have been equally unpleasant. I\’m fairly certain I wouldn\’t have been able to concentrate on my assignments in either case.
Because I only have one sibling, we had our own bedrooms. I usually studied sprawled out across my bed, with the shutters on the window wide open, letting the sunshine pour in. I didn\’t listen to music (too distracting), nor were we allowed to eat in our rooms (too messy). My two favorite subjects were English and science — no one had to coerce me into studying for those classes.
No wonder you\’re so smart! However, I do know your struggles from the My Gutsy Story contest. My guess is that you weren\’t challenged enough. You\’re soaring now above the eagles. Thanks for being the first out of the gate to comment this morning, Laurie.
Lovely lines–your nibbling.
All true, I have to confess!
While in school as a youth I didn\’t study. Nor did I do homework. I was a bully and had people do my homework. I distracted the class many times and was sent to the office. Yet some how on testing I aced them. On one occasion the teacher was so upset with me because I aced the test had me searched to se if I had answers written on my arms or papers in my pockets. It was so funny to me that it irritated her even more. A normal child would have been devastated, but I loved and needed the attention. I don\’t know how it happened that I would pass. To me it was all a game. I did so many wrong things that when I got saved I went back to apologize to my teachers for the agony I put them through. All but one teacher never intervened in my craziness nor could I aggravate her. And she\’s the one that I loved and respected. Though I never showed it. I love school and learning. Even today I continue to learn read and study. I study more now as an adult then when a child. Totally weird lol
God has transformed your life – what a testimony! From what I gather from your story, you were definitely not challenged enough either and so got into mischief. How noble of you to go back to your teachers and apologize. That rarely happens I can tell you. You always add spice to the comments here. Thank you, Gloria.
Love your orange devouring method and the current (I assume) photos to depict it! But wow does this bring back my deep desire as a child to have my very own desk for studying and homework. Great topic. I may write about it sometime. I never had my own desk until we moved to Florida at age 17, and mother let me pick out a simple corner desk we could afford for my new room there. I loved it. Our own children studied at the kitchen table for many many years. I now treasure the fact I have an \”office\” at home–part of a guest bedroom. But I can go in, close the door, focus, spread out my papers and do taxes, bill paying, and of course blogging.
Like you, I now have a real nook with an L-shaped desk, desk drawers and an ottoman for filing and spreading out and book shelves. And best of all, a window and French door close by that lets in light. We are blessed, Melodie – thank you for your anecdote.
I\’m not a nibbler…I\’m a drinker. Mostly hot chocolate and tea. When I\’m studying, I mumble loud to help me retain the info. So I have to make sure I\’m by myself or I\’ll drive everyone nuts! lol
Educators would say that you are an auditory learner and there\’s certainly nothing wrong with that; you are capitalizing on your strongest sense. Right now, I just noticed that I am mouthing the words I\’m typing to you. My tea cup is empty. Ha!
Fun to try and remember where I studied. What came first to mind, from your use of the word \”nook,\” was a small desk I was given as a child (ages 5-6). It was a tiny roll-top desk and I loved all the \”nooks and crannies\” in it. I have a clear memory of putting all my \”things\” away in it: papers, pencils, erasers, a ruler. But I have no memory of sitting at it or working. Not much homework at that age I imagine. We moved when I was 7 and I have no memory of studying at that address, but in later years, through high school, I can see me clearly at the dining room table, after dinner. I went to the East Orange Public Library a lot (they have a FB page), but remember only wandering the stacks and discovering books. Yes, discovering. Hmmm. You\’ve given me a nudge for another \”shimmering image.\” Thanks, Marian. Fun post.
I have used the expression \”shimmering image\” many times since you introduced this phrase to me at our writers\’ retreat. It\’s so much less intimidating than, let\’s say, the word essay or chapter. I hope you\’ll share your reflection on studying at your desk or the East Orange Library sometime. 😉
My dad was a farmer not a carpenter. He could fix machinery very well but was not as good at building things. But he built me a desk which I knew was not easy for him. It sat in the corner of my small bedroom where I studied and did my homework. I loved it and spent many hours at it. Later as an adult it became my sewing table where I sewed many things for my children and myself. My daughter has it in her home now. I snacked while I studied as well but It was probably some of mom´s homemade baking.
Obviously, your dad loved you and saw your potential. What an heirloom. I see this piece of handiwork passing down through more generations. Thanks for sharing, Darlene.
You do evoke great memories. Thanks!
Interesting post, Marian. My family moved so often I didn\’t have a special place to study. I attended nine schools in my twelve years of school. Then three colleges. I guess I studied at the dining room table or in my bedroom.
Well, your many moves and fuzzy memory about study space certainly hasn\’t kept you from writing success. Thanks for the comment, Anita!
I went to a boarding school and so studied in quiet libraries.
What a privilege, Fiona. I crave quietness too when I want to concentrate. Thanks!
We had no shortages of places to study because this house was built by my great grandfather for his family of 12 and with room for the in laws. My sister and I shared a room until high school, not that we had to but that we wanted to. We are next in age to each other surrounded by boys on either side. We shared a double bed and dresser and closet but we each had a small drop leaf desk given to us by our parents. Those were our own space. We did not always study there. If the weather was nice there was the porch, or the covered lawn swing. If I had a larger project to work on I used the kitchen table or the front room.
Education was important in our family. Both my parents were teachers–for my mother she was the first from her family to go to college. My father and 5 of his brothers were teachers. 3 of my brothers became teachers. I have a master\’s in Library Science. But my sister? She did great in school but knew all along she wanted to get married and have a family and live on a farm more than anything else, so she so she did just that.
I am getting to know you better through bits and pieces you share depending on the topic here. I can tell you had spacious study areas and loved books. Why else would you have a degree in Library Science. Ha! Thanks for commenting here, Athanasia.
I am what you call a procrastinator and even as a student I was the same , hence my chosen career as a hairdresser. I would spend most of my time dreaming in class ,and invariably found ,doing my homework on my friends back or lap , whatever was convenient.
One subject that was always on time was English Lit because I could dream and still write . In the summer I was found in a handmade treehouse , my dad made for me , and in the winter probably in the lounge ,while oddling David Cassidy in the Partridge family . I can hear my mum saying now \’How on earth can you do your homework listening to that rubbish Cherry \’
You are a natural at story-telling, Cherry. Dreaming is a part of writing, I think, because it taps into one\’s imagination. Thank you for telling your escapades here! Love this!
Oh this brought back a lot of memories. I studied at the dining room table after dishes were done. since my siblings made a lot of noise and there wasn\’t a suitable spot in the bedroom I couldn\’t study amidst the chaos. It would lead to squabbles and ultimately to me staying up late on a regular basis just so I could do all my home work. I wanted to do well (thankfully I did). but I think it led to the unfortunate habit of my being a night owl.even when I no longer need to be and most likely to my detriment. Habits are sometimes hard to break. Enjoyed your tale.
I missed this one earlier in the week! I think I just studied and did my homework in my room when I was growing up. If I needed a flat surface, I used the dining room/kitchen table. Now I work at my kitchen table–close to nibbles and coffee! 🙂
I think your kitchen inspires your writing. I just read Louise DeSalvo\’s Crazy in the Kitchen this week, and she insists that without cooking she absolutely couldn\’t write. And from her story, I agree. Actually, I would like to have a chef in my kitchen. Cooking, though I enjoy it, seems to interrupt my train(s) of thought.
You\’d like DeSalvo\’s writing. Perhaps you have read some of her books; she is best known for Vertigo.
I\’m not sure, Marian. I\’ll have to look for her later.
I mostly studied in my bedroom sitting on the bed with my books spead about me and a small flat box on my knee to rest for writing. These days I work on the sofa in the living room with a cushion on my lap and my iPad.
The bed or a sofa – two very comforting places to nest while the brain is engaged. Always happy to hear your thoughts, Marie!
I studied in my own bedroom and I\’d save test studying until the last day and cram. Somehow, I still work best under pressure. And I do my writing now with my books scattered across the dining room table. 🙂
Whatever works, I say when it comes to where and how. My brain shuts down under too much pressure, but many like you thrive with a time crunch. Thanks, Debby!
When my father died when I was 14, my mother and I moved to a new house. I set up a study corner on the floor at the end of the couch near a heating grate with my dog leaning into me on one side and my school books on the other. It worked well for me.
Now I sit at a bright spot (too bright for computer screens, some would say). Windows on three sides in this south facing room. Today the light bounces off the snow. Outside one window is a bird feeder with juncos, finches, chickadees, bluejays, and cardinals and an athletic red quirrel who\’s figured out how to take a flying leap onto the feeder. He tries many times before he lands it, so he teaches me perseverance.
You are a great student which makes you a great teacher as well. I love how light and wildlife animate your space!