If I were to take a picture of my desk today it would be a scary sight. Actually, maybe I will do just that, to prove my point. I am usually one of those annoying people who have a completely clean desk. (My drawers, however, are another matter entirely.) My personal style tends to be neat-on-the-surface-but-messy-on-the-inside, which may be a metaphor for my whole life. I mean, even my house is like this. The front of the house is manicured and lovely, with perfect boxwoods by the front door, and tulips dutifully pushing their heads up from the sides of stone walls each spring. The back of the house? As I said, another matter. Let’s put it this way: the friend who helps with landscaping (why can’t I just bring myself to say: our landscape designer?) actively makes sure that people know that the way our backyard looks is Not Her Fault.
But I digress. My point is that my desk is teetering and threatening to fall over. I attribute this to a few things. First, I’m getting ready to leave on a big trip — big for me, at least. Some people I know hop on planes to Europe all the time. A friend who I saw in yoga class yesterday was leaving for London that night. I marveled at her ability to breathe five breaths in downward-facing dog even as she would be on a flight within hours. For me, a big trip means I need to clear my desk off before I leave. This is quickly becoming an impossibility. Yesterday, I made a “before leaving list”. I wrote it in big block letters, as if for a five-year-old. I drew small boxes next to each item on the list, so I could have the satisfaction of checking off each box as I went along. So far, one item has been checked off: pathetically, it involved sending a single email. The second reason my desk is a disaster is that my book is about to come out and this involves a motley assortment of daily tasks. A few weeks ago, I found myself riding the elevator to a high floor in the Conde Nast building in New York, delivering a shopping bag (Prada) full of family photos to Vogue, to illustrate an upcoming essay. Yesterday found me taking pictures of the inside of my house for a magazine that may or may not want to do a piece on me, and wanted to see the way I live. It can be strange, this writing business.
A week from today I will be on a plane to Rome. Michael, Jacob and I will spend a few days there, then fly to Prague, where we will meet our good friends and their kids. Our friends are Czech, and will no doubt show us a good Czech time. Then we’ll fly back to Rome, take a train to Naples, then a car to Positano, where for just shy of a week I will teach at a writers’ conference we’re starting — Sirenland, at the beautiful five-star hotel, Le Sirenuse. I say this as if I’m someone who travels easily. Who flies without fear. Who leaves home with no worries. Who settles into her seat with a perfect pashmina (does anyone still wear pashminas?) and a long, involving novel, say, Swann’s Way — which, in fact, I do have to re-read before I teach it at Wesleyan in May. But I cannot read anything more involving than Us Weekly on an airplane, and I don’t own a pashmina.