Monday, October 18, 2010


On moving to the country to become a subsistence farmer - well, half-time subsistence farmer, half-time subsistence writer - E.B. White says, "It seemed to me that I should have a desk, even though I had no real need for  a desk. I was afraid that if I had no desk in my room my life would seem too haphazard."
"The desk looked incomplete when I got it set up, so I found a wire basket and put that on it, and threw a few things in it. This basket, however, gave me a lot of trouble for the first couple of weeks. I had always had two baskets in New York. One said IN, and other OUT. At intervals a distribution boy would sneak into the room, deposit something in IN, remove the contents of OUT. Here, with only one basket, my problem was to decide whether it was IN or OUT, a decision a person of some character could have made promptly and reasonably but which I fooled around with for days - tentative, hesitant, trying first one idea then another, first a day when it would be IN, then a day when it would be OUT, then, somewhat desperately, trying to combine the best features of both and using it as a catch-all for migratory papers no matter which way they were headed. This last proved disastrous. I found a supposedly out-going letter buried for a week under some broadsides from the local movie house.

"The basket is now IN. I discovered by test that fully ninety per cent of whatever was on my desk at any given moment were IN things. Only ten per cent were OUT things - almost too few to warrant a special container. This, in general, must be true of other people's lives too. It is the reason lives get so cluttered up - so many things (except money) filtering in, so few things (except strength) draining out. The phenomenon is difficult for me to understand and has not been explained, to my knowledge, by physicians: how it is that, with a continuous interchange of goods or 'things' between people, everybody can have more coming in than going out."

"Incoming Basket," by E.B. White, August 1938. Republished in One Man's Meat, pp. 9-10.

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