[A] distance runner on the Sul Ross track team named Jim Kitchen was fond of chugging up Hancock Hill when he was a student. This was 1979, and Kitchen was twenty. One of his campus jobs involved culling outdated dorm furniture. One day, an idea struck him. “I had made trails up that hill, cut cactus and made paths, and I was running it three or four times a week,” he says. “I thought, ‘It’d be really cool to have a desk up there.’ ” Kitchen picked out a desk, a heavy, stout thing, from the surplus pile and tried moving it by himself. He didn’t get very far before cajoling two friends to help him lug it to the top of the hill. “We did it at night,” Kitchen says. “I thought I’d get in trouble for stealing a desk. I never told anybody and told those guys, ‘You gotta be real quiet about this.’ ”
He stashed a notebook in the desk’s drawer so he could track his run times. He’d also, on occasion, feel compelled to jot down his thoughts on those pages. He showed the track team the desk, and they began visiting. Slowly, through word of mouth, others found it too. More people started writing in the desk’s journal. The first notebook ran out of blank pages. Then a second one and a third. “Whenever they’d get filled up, we’d take them away and put a new one in there,” Kitchen says. “It really surprised me, the things that were written—pretty moving stuff. This was all before the internet. We weren’t socially connected like we are now. But people were making a connection to nature and to each other in those notebooks. It became something pretty special.”
Sitting at my desk I’m surrounded by gadgets and gizmos and a ridiculous assortment of notebooks, pens, cords, drawing instruments, post-its, tabs, binders, clips, a label maker, a couple of different cutting devices, pouches, backpacks, satchel bags, folders, plug adapters, storage containers, tablet stands, stamps, paperweights, erasers, letters, envelopes, dividers, portable keyboards, cameras, external USB drives, eReaders, iPods, markers, headphones, tape, and a few talismanic knick-knacks that have come to help me feel at home: a Chewbacca Pez dispenser, a rock I used as a visual in a youth ministry talk (it says “SERVE”), an Evangecube. Stuff.
I have tools that I love. I bought my iPad and iPad Mini refurbished and long after their initial release to save money and because I knew exactly how I’d use them: primarily as word processing machines, secondarily as web browsers, and thirdly as video and music players. I added a Bluetooth keyboard and an Anker tablet stand, and I was all set for work at home and on the road. A tablet weighs less than a laptop computer. I like being able to easily sync across Apple devices, and portability is a must.
The more I’ve used digital tools the more I’ve come to trust, love and adore pencil and paper. I don’t think I need to buy another notebook for several decades–I have that many in reserve. We have an overflow of pencils and pens, too. My Moleskine (large) serves as my journal, I have an 18 month Moleskine planner that is my primary calendar but also as a place to deposit to-dos, memories, and doodles, and I have an older Ecosystem notebook that I fully customized with tabs for goals, ideas, my reading record, quotes, lists, scraps, artwork, stuff my kids have made, fortune cookie sayings, cartoons, pictures, and movie ticket stubs. If you hung around with me at Institute or at FirstLight, there might be a picture of you in that notebook. Maybe.
I’m particular about pens and pencils. I switch often between a wooden #2 pencil and a Uni-ball Vision Elite ink pen; I also employ a black Sharpie for art work and letter writing. We have so many varieties of Post-It Notes, ranging in all sizes, cuts, and colors, that I keep one stack handy in my primary desk drawer and use them liberally until they are gone. Then I reload. I use Post-Its as bookmarks, reminders, additions to my day planner, and signs I can easily post around the house (or other random places).
I used to hate writing stuff out by hand. I thought my handwriting was difficult to read and unattractive. But now I see it for what it is: the unique scratch I can put on paper, irreplicable, and the most basic form of art I’ll leave behind. One of the things I’ve come to love about handwritten notes from friends and family is that even before I read the return address or the signature I know who it is from just by the marks they’ve made, the block letters or the looping cursive. If you want a letter from me just ask. I might even include a doodle.
I’ve also started to collect a lot of stuff for drawing and sketching, inking and painting. My new hobby has also given me reasons to use stuff I already had–mainly Sharpies. But surprisingly, I have a lot of other pens and markers I’ve accumulated through the years that I now make it a point to use.
My go-to applications are Google Drive and Evernote. I’m strongly considering a move away from Google Drive, and as many other Google hubs as possible, because I have privacy concerns. I keep track of my primary to-dos, especially tasks that I’ve routinized, using Wunderlist. I’ve thought about migrating to another to-do app, too, but for different reasons. Wunderlist operates slowly sometimes, and I’d like a smoother interface. I’ve yet to dedicate a few hours to making the switch. I have plenty of data to transfer. My to-do list keeps me on track daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually.
Over the years I’ve cobbled together a really comfortable desktop computing setup. I have a Mac that I bought refurbished, I designated an older computer monitor as a secondary desktop, I bought a monitor stand to elevate that screen, I have a perfect charging station to keep my tablets upright that also preserves space to charge my phone, watch, and camera, and I have a nice little sound system for playing music at home. Everything hooks together easily, and stays compact in my work area. I still have room to lay out my books.
As for knick-knacks, I’ve named a few above. My desk area has small American flags, a Dallas Cowboys star logo patch, a small African sculpture of a thinking man that was given to me by the Conards, a #1 Dad Trophy my daughter gave me for Father’s Day, a pencil drawing of Jesus by Greg Cissell, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker ornaments my mom had placed on a birthday cake for me a few years ago, a Bob Feller autographed baseball, art created by Susan DeLong that features Numbers 6:24-26, a couple of challenge coins I’ve been given in the past year, plenty of my kids’ artwork, and a ton of LEGO builds. My diplomas are on the wall, as is a piece of art depicting the Holy Spirit’s descent at Pentecost.
My desk has a WACO coaster that my mother-in-law gave to me, which is usually underneath a Klean Kanteen that Molly gave to me, and whatever coffee mug I happen to be drinking from that day (Einstein, Barclay College, Duke Divinity School, Philosophy News, UBC Students, one from our wedding set, a blue one from a set my mom gave me, Perkins School of Theology, a mug with D’s artwork on it, an FUMC Waco mug, or one of two mugs Molly and I have exchanged on a holiday). My mouse pad says my name. My mom had it made for me a long time ago, and I still use it.
The other assortment surrounding me: books, books, books. There are standard reference works within reach, stuff I aspire to read soon a little further away, and an active stack I’m churning through on my windowsill. Also within reach: five Audobon Society Field Guides: Rocks and Minerals, Birds, Wildflowers, Trees, and Night Sky.
Lately, when I hit the road and go mobile, I throw a few books into my Heritage Leather Bonhoeffer briefcase (thanks to Molly, who gave it to me, and David A., who made it) along with a tablet, tablet stand, one mechanical pencil, one notebook, a keyboard, headphones, and a coffee mug and go to work. Starbucks is about four miles away. I buy a short coffee, drink it black, sometimes ask for water, and try to find a seat.
Right now I’m at my desk at home, which I scored at a rummage sale in Fort Worth. My friend Ryan Thornton helped me get it home, and a former employer allowed me to store it for about a year, since it was too big to fit in my house. There are books nearby that have been gifts and some I picked up from minister friends who were handing off books to another generation.
The things are nice. The memories and the people associated with most all of my things are much nicer.