In reading Barack Obama’s new book, A Promised Land (Crown, 2020), I came across his description of his office in his home while he was on the way to the White House. His wife, Michelle, named it “the hole” because it was so disorderly. Periodically, Obama writes, he would be inspired to clean his office, put away the stacks of papers and books and pencils and pens, and restore a clean, orderly look. Then, three or four days later, as he worked and got out the materials he needed, it was back to being “the hole.”
I have my own hole, my office where I write and spend most of my time. It takes up the central room of the lowest floor of my split-level house. The room, starting at the foot of the stairs at the front (south side) of the house, extends more than thirty feet to the sliding glass doors that open out onto my patio on the shore of a large pond. The room is only about twelve feet wide with smaller rooms, a bathroom, and the utility room to the sides. In the northwest corner of the room, sitting on a brick hearth, is a gas stove that keeps me warm through the winter months.
The room is filled with office furniture a cabinet maker made for me many years ago, all constructed of pale tan maple wood. Down the center of the room is my u-shaped desk, some eleven feet long and eight and a half feet wide. The walls are covered with book shelves of the same maple.
The office is perpetually a “hole,” by Obama’s definition. The desk surface is littered with papers, books, writing pads, pencils and pens of every description. The west side of the u is taken up with my desktop computer, a screen nearly two feet wide, two printers, and a document scanner. The bottom of the u at the northern end of the desk is covered by a large slanted writing platform, also of tan maple, with my desk calendar on it. In the center of the east side of the u is another maple slanted writing platform.
Like Obama, I am occasionally inspired to clean my office and put everything away. The orderliness never lasts more than a day or two.
Writing is more important that tidiness.