Strata: Pamela Ferdinand

As a journalist, Pamela Ferdinand has written for The Boston Globe Magazine, National Geographic News and The Washington Post. She recently co-authored a memoir, Three Wishes: A True Story of Good Friends, Crushing Heartbreak, and Astonishing Luck on Our Way to Love and Motherhood, with two other journalists, Carey Goldberg and Beth Jones. Her office is remarkably clean.

What does your desk—the bare desk itself—look like, and how did you acquire it?

My desk is a light birch veneer IKEA tabletop with brushed silver trestle legs. It’s about the farthest thing from my ideal, which would be an antique natural wood farm table with a wide top and lots of character. In fact, it’s pretty much anti-character. But my family and I moved last year to a rental home, and this desk was cheerful and cheap.

What’s on your desk?

My trustworthy Mac—a 13” MacBook Pro hooked up to a monitor that sits on a stand above it. I can easily unplug everything and grab it on the go. The monitor is 21” and has enough real estate to let me put two pages up simultaneously (one to write, one to read) but not too much because big screens make me dizzy. I also have a small SAD lamp to combat any winter morning blues and a regular white lamp with a green silk round shade. I keep the rest of the desk clear of clutter. A rolling file cabinet to my left contains papers, desk supplies, printer, and phone. So everything is almost with arm’s reach, but I don’t have to look at it—which helps clear and focus my increasingly addled mind.

What do you wish wasn’t on your desk?

Everything. I wish I could do it all by pen and paper! But I can’t. My handwriting has gotten progressively worse the longer I’ve typed.

Are there artifacts in your office that relate to your current project?

Yes. In the closet, there are boxes of diaries, letters, and photographs from the time period I wrote about. I keep stacks of old manuscripts in the closet. A collection of book galleys and a Polish edition of our memoir sit in a white IKEA bookcase to my left, which is tilted horizontally. I also keep out some love notes and recent Valentine’s Day cards from Mark, my significant other, and our daughter Emma, without whom the memoir wouldn’t exist.

Are there living things in your office (besides yourself)?

Two plants. And, more importantly, a 19-year-old, one-eyed cat, Clementine. Mark has terrible allergies so she is confined to my home office where she has a litter box, food, and water fountain in the closet. She also has a cozy bed with a blanket and heating pad. A Miami Herald colleague found her as a kitten in the parking lot of a Chinese restaurant. In the years since, Clementine lost her right eye to cancer, and she has kidney failure, but she’s hanging in there. And I’m hanging right in there with her.

What else surrounds you?

Until several months ago, not much. My office is on the second floor, and I have a set of wide, tall windows that face a quiet street, an empty lot, and a series of pastel-colored wooden frame houses. An elevated train track runs behind and above them; I heard the trains a lot the first day we moved in, but my brain adjusted, and I never notice them any more. The horizontal bookcase to my left contains boxes for letters, DVDs, books, as well as an iPod and speakers. To my right and behind me are a side table that I refinished, a space heater, a brown leather loveseat, and a small book cabinet with a television on top. I wanted to keep the room empty while I wrote the first drafts, and I didn’t know how long we’d be here, so it was a pretty spartan environment for a long time. Then Danielle Dale, a local interior designer who was building her portfolio, offered online to help several people fix up one room in their house. That was a no-brainer. I had a feeling I’d be spending a lot more time at my desk this year so I called her, and she quickly transformed the space into a warm, feminine office with little touches: pillows, a rug, picture ledge, window valance. She moved some furniture around and stole things like a mirror and lamp from other parts of the house. Now it feels like a completely different room.

What’s on the walls?

A black-and-white fabric board with photos of family and friends stuck between elastic ribbons. Mark’s Harvard University diploma from 2004; he took classes for 12 years for credit, intending to do a graduate degree. He would never hang it himself, but I’m incredibly proud of him, and it dates from around the time we met. (Sorry, hopeless romantic.) I also have several photos—two by Mark of landscapes in New Zealand and India; one of an elephant by photographer Jean-Claude Louis; and a black-and-white photo of a girl below a bird’s nest by a poet friend Trish Crapo. I also framed and hung a piece of notebook paper signed by the biologist E.O. Wilson, whom I admire for his genius and humility.

What have you lost in your office that you really wish you could find?

My reading glasses. No idea where they are. I’ve been too lazy to wear them, and by now I probably need a new prescription anyway.

What tools do you write with?

The Mac, reporter’s notepads, a digital recorder, my iPod. Does coffee count as a tool?

Is anyone allowed to come in and clean?

Yes. Especially with the cat here, I really appreciate a good vacuum, occasional steam clean, and dusting. I like it when the desk loses that dust grit and the air smells fresh.

T. Myers is a writer who likes the idea of cleaning, if not the reality.

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