A clean desk. Light wood, birch, presumably. Matte varnish, not a scratch. The only items are a bonsai tree in an dark green earthenware pot, a Mac, a notebook, a stack of clean post-it notes and a Montblanc pen that looks like you could easily swap it for a small car. A hand places a plain white cup with the remains of a formerly hot espresso on the immaculate surface of the desk - hand and desk both belong to Harrison. Harrison is man in his thirties, works on Wall Street, sports glasses and a 24/7 poker face. Sometime today he will have achieve an important career goal by arranging a deal between two rapidly growing companies in the sportswear sector.
A cluttered desk. Not the good sort of cluttered. Tissues, food crumbs and the occasional cigarette butt. A book about the mesozoic period. Broken pencils galore. Graph paper, a small plastic jar of glitter spilled over a burger that, for this obvious reason, has not been finished, and library books bound in cloth filthy from too many casually dirty, greasy fingers. Paper, paper, more paper. A small picture of Galileo Galilei in a seashell frame. Several dead bugs. This desk belongs to Rufus. Rufus is an archeology student with dark and very curly hair, and a loud laugh. He loves the subject but not the academic means. Today he will fail an exam for the third and last time.
A dark, heavy desk. Several tax office letters. Letters from someone called Gwendoline Rutgers. Neat stacks of notepads, a little china vase with pens, a yawning cat on a burgundy leather desk pad. A tiny bit of dust and last weeks' Financial Times. A hardcover copy of a Sherlock Holmes collection, and three zoo tickets. This desk belongs to Arthur. Arthur is a retired stock broker, a serious man who replaced taking care of national finances with managing the desperately unstable financial situation of his daughter and her husband, two entrepreneurs, which oscillates from 'okay' to 'absolute catastrophe'.
And then there's my desk. It's plain and black with pseudo victorian legs, slightly scratched and fairly empty - objects with decorative purposes have failed to stand their ground with my cat as their opponent, who throws around everything he can reach when he feels like waking me up at night. A clay pot that used to contain some fancy mustard and now holds pens, several tin boxes that carried chocolates and biscuits now filled with pencils, brushes, nibs, inks and colour tubes. A notebook, a sketchbook. A box of Kleenex. That's it.
And then there's your desk. And you probably don't see adventure behind it, either.
Why? Because the first three desks were storytelling. They can be desks in movies, or desks in books. Books and movies have a beginning and an end. Everything they let you see is found within a framework of events, visuals, music and characters - characters you grow to love, characters you loathe, characters who are nothing like the people you know and those who are just exactly like them. You see Rufus' desk and you know that this desk is going to tell you something. Rufus is going to do something, to make decisions, to feel certain ways, to move ahead, to be part of a somewhat rounded story.
You and me? We don't know if our stories are rounded. For us, our desks are just desks. Plain desk, practical desks, aesthetisized desks, beautiful and alluring even, but always only just desks. They are not part of a narrative. We know that we have approximately one and a half hours to get to know Harrison and watch him develop, but we don't know if tomorrow something exciting will happen to us and change our lives, or how many bland hours, days and years we've got ahead before we will die in a freak accident, unexpectedly and unglamourously. Or if neither happens, and we will live normal, balanced lives, sometimes happy and sometimes not. Cinematography seeps into our consciousness. We see a skyline, streets lights, and we're excited for life, excited for what lies ahead and humbled by the presence of millions of fellow humans who all live their little stories. We feel like part of something big. Almost like we're in a movie. And why? Because we recognise the establishing shot - the first frame of innumerable scenes throughout the history of cinema: city lights, the eternal promise of the 20th century.
I sometimes catch myself feeling a bit sad about the fact that my own experience of life will never reach movie life level, simply because I am no work of fiction and therefore subject to a boring kind of chaos. It seems like life has long ago started imitating art. But plenty of these people in movies are just living the lives of normal people. Only the fact that we watch them on a screen makes their walk to school, their job interview, their neighbourhood, their desks seem special, different from me and what I am surrounded by. Rufus could be any archaeology student at my university. Harrison could be absolutely any accountant. Shouldn't I take it from there and decide that, yes, life is, in fact, just like a movie? And my life is, too?
[check this out, it's just in the spirit of what I'm talking about: click.]