It’s Weird What Radicalizes You: Messy Desk Edition

This little behind-the-scenes video of a weight-lifting Fox News reporter bragging about his messy desk (“He has the cluttered desk to prove how busy he is” . . . “Any reporter that has a neat desk isn’t a reporter”) made me instantly, weirdly furious.

Nothing against this objectively hardcore and impressive reporter and his fire-trap desk.

My inner ’90s feminist is just super tired of hearing good writing and reporting equated with being a slob / being an asshole / drinking your feelings / guy’s guydom.

I know and like and admire plenty of guys who fit this prototype. But it’s not the only way to do this job. In plenty of newsrooms I have been in, there was this kind of hard-nosed, martini-drinking, messy reporter who got shit done, but also plenty of fastidious, sunny, everything-in-moderation reporters who got shit done, and plenty of both kinds who did nothing at all.

Why the hell did this throwaway comment bother me so much? I think because that way of thinking about writing — and especially investigative reporting, a breathtakingly macho world — can stealthily make you think you don’t belong in such a job if you are, say, a tidy young girl dreaming of going into journalism, regardless of how good you may be at it.

I bristle when I hear about how a writer or reporter is supposed to look or behave. The concept that “real reporters” only come one way is insidious.

I was having lunch with a journalist friend the other day. She and I realized that for years we had believed that good writers were supposed to be hard-drinking, gruff, and messy. And so we had tried hard drinking, gruffness, and messiness out as part of trying to become writers.

From childhood, for instance, I cultivated bad handwriting, because I thought to be a real writer you couldn’t possibly have anything as dot-your-i’s-with-hearts prissy as good penmanship.

Mostly I’ve overcome this anxiety. Today, I have my thousands of contacts in neat Excel spreadsheets. I clean my desk compulsively. I believe that having everything in its place makes my life easier and my work better. And yet, I never will be able to hand-write a legible grocery list.


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2 responses to “It’s Weird What Radicalizes You: Messy Desk Edition

  1. robintinuviel

    Hey, happy to have stumbled across your blog! I think you hit the nail on the head in this post. I’m in grad school for philosophy at the moment and I run into the same type of thing. You’ve got to be pedantic, and really *enjoy* having marathon debates about obscure, abstract questions at parties. (Heaven forbid we talk about, you know, our lives). It also helps to be a tweed wearing, whisky swilling white dude with a Bergman affinity. Some days and some people are better than others, but there’s still a sort of mood in the air. Currently trying to drop the whole “playing philsopher” shit and just do the work that is important and interesting to me. Glad you’ve found your balance!

  2. Pingback: “You Don’t Finish a Book Without Closing a Door” |

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