Toughing it out in New York City when first moving there in the 2008—"I was able to set up an intricate couch-surfing map that stretched across three boroughs"—Ocean Vuong eventually found stable digs, and a desk:
My friend took me to my room on the second floor. When I opened the door, I was immediately plunged into a thick musty odor. It was the scent of air trapped for too long. My friend walked over and opened the window, which had a picturesque view of the red brickwork on the side of the next building. Of course, I didn't mind any of this. After all—I wasn't actually living in luxury at my previous residences, which, for two and a half weeks, included a stint in Penn Station (but we'll save that for another essay). Then, I saw it: an old wooden thing in the corner with only three and a half legs. A desk, lit with a small square of evening light falling through the window: a blank sheet of paper burning on its surface. "Can I keep that?" I asked, pointing at the sad-looking yet invaluable artifact. "If you want," my friend shrugged, "I don't see why not. It'd be a pain to move it anyways." I walked over and touched it, ran my fingers across the surface, the dust, the bolts, the cracks and seams and knots in the wood, I opened the drawers, I sat down and placed my hands and elbows on the table, testing the height for writing. It was fake oak—laminated to look natural, but it was perfect. Perfect not because of its quality (or lack thereof) but because it was mine. My first desk. It didn't occur to me until then that having a desk of my own, something I did not have even in Connecticut, somehow legitimized my identity as a writer. It was a badge, a label, a dedication. And, having no publication and barely any respectable poems, the desk was also an anchor, the promise of possibilities, that good work would be done, and it would be done right here.