About women who read, for women who read.


By Manjula Martin


At every desk I’ve ever had I display the same, slowly rotating, assortment of tiny objects: an image, a photo, a scrap of something or a charm that helps lend meaning to the lost gazes I frequently send their way while I’m working.

For many years, while I was a full-time freelancer, these objects resided on top of a desk made from an old door. I painted it pink and stuck it atop two file drawer stacks and it was my instant office, commandeering one half of the living room of my one-bedroom apartment. I’ve lived in this apartment for 12 years; the pink door desk was the same desk at which I’d finished my college degree, at the tender age of 32, and it was the same desk at which I started most good things I’ve written since.

My sweetheart moved in a couple years ago, and the desk stayed, but it felt outsized, like it was taking up too much only-me space. It became a place to stack things, and the little charms and doo-dads and mementos became buried. The desk’s time had come. We put it on the curb. I don’t miss having it – I usually work at the kitchen table or on the couch, anyhow – but I did miss having a place to put my lil’ things, a dedicated space for the small mementos of so many afternoons spent gazing. Enter nightstand.

My nightstand is an old cigar holder that used to belong my great-grandfather, Del, who for much of his adult life sold ladies wear in Iowa City. I never met him, to my recollection. On top of the nightstand, there’s the usual: ear plugs, hand lotion, lamp. Plus there’s always an inhaler for my chronic/bad lungs. Below, of course, are the books – only a few, to keep my focus on what I’m actually reading.


Right now:

—Elena Ferrante’s Frantumaglia, already pockmarked with bathwater and marginalia.

Collected Poems by Marie Ponsot. Poems help me disconnect and get to sleep at night.

BLACK WAVE by Michelle Tea, which I have yet to crack but will, soon. 

The Waves, by the master, Virginia Woolf.

—Rabih Alemmadine’s The Angel of History, which I finished last week but feel like I need to be near to, that’s how damn good it is.

—Two notebooks: my journal/letters notebook, and my novel.


But the inside of the nightstand is more unusual. It’s coated in copper, and it’s the perfect place to keep cigars moist and/or house the assorted mementos that used to look over my desk. A mini museum, sleeping next to me.

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Selected charm inventory:

—Cigar box, containing: miscellaneous notes and Polaroids, a Taylor Swift guitar pick that was sort of a joke gift from someone, my pre-9/11-New-York snow globe (I lived there in the 90s), and a bank receipt from the day I launched Scratch magazine, which later closed and then became Scratch, the book. I was poor then, but not because of the magazine; I’m a bit less poor now, but not because of the book.

—Little ceramic sleeping cat, who reminds me of my #1 dream job: daydreamer/napper.

—A Holga photograph of my sweetheart, a self-portrait double-exposure he took about eight years ago during our days of young love. 

—My old jade necklace, which I never took off between the ages of about 13 to about 33.

—Torn page from Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady, transformed through collage by an old, dear friend, an artist who has never stopped making art or being dear, even though sometimes we go twelve months without managing to call each other.

—Rubber stamp, never used: MAYBE SOMEDAY. As a writer, as an editor, as a human, this phrase, this concept charms me. Its humble possibilities are soothing, and make an excellent suffix to the word “no.” No, not today, dears, but maybe someday. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow. Possibly even for the rest of our lives... insert in your own balm for raging ambition here. This object, all these objects I’ve imbued with meaning, say to me: Let’s keep hope alive, make it modest, and keep working—no matter where we are.


Manjula Martin is a writer based in San Francisco.

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