Benjamin Caro

The Perfect Workspace

And the myth of the insightful workshop

Gianluca Antonini

The babble of the fish tank trickles next to me. The desk is a dump of discards, a haphazard depository. Even my chair sticks out insolently from the desk.

There doesn’t need to be candlelight or the right soft angle of the sun (seems like light could be important to me, huh?), the right sound bed or the right tabletop. Did Newton or Da Vinci have the “perfect” spaces to allow their minds to come to inhuman insights? Or is that an embellishment that we’ve romanced out of them? There are reports on famous routines: Socrates’ four-hour sleeps, the 20 cups of coffee, even Franklin’s early-to-bed-early-to-rise. For these famous prescriptions, where does the legend end and the fiction begin?

I thought to clean my desk before sitting down to work so that my mind could allow for uninterrupted insight, but if I had, I suspect that all I would have accomplished is a cleaner desk, and less time for insight.

The Myth of the Insightful Space

I want to view these creators’ milieu as larger than my own life, as if their oil lamps and sepia-tinged existence granted them some ancient powers of insight. That would certainly excuse my mediocre level of contribution to the world. Though routines and spaces might help, I suspect their achievements came to them through the same means they come to the modern high-achievers we see often in the news today: through grit, discipline, and a frame of curiosity.

In fact, I bet their work came in spite of their surroundings, not because of them. It’s fun to imagine Galileo in a bronze-adorned studio with astrological designs swirling over the walls, but I imagine he might’ve worked under filthy conditions, dust and disease. But still, he worked.

Do I really have an excuse because my desk isn’t clean enough? Because there are too many fluorescent lights? I thought to clean my desk before sitting down to work so that my mind could allow for uninterrupted insight, but if I had, I suspect that all I would have accomplished is a cleaner desk, and less time for insight.

Who knows. I might’ve not written at all.

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