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MIT student blogger Lydia K. '14, MEng '16

My Desk and the Things That Live There by Lydia K. '14, MEng '16

The things and fish on and around my desk and the stories behind them.

My sophomore fall I took an STS (science, technology, and society) writing class with Sherry Turkle, STS.043 (Technology and Self: Science, Technology and Memoir). The main takeaway, which I am going to play with here, was that our memories can be more accessible when we write around the objects attached to them. Here are the things on and around my desk and also me, some of the people I care about, and this past year.


Figure 1: My desk and some of the trinkets on it. When I started college most of these were from home. Now most of them are more recent.

Bottom left:

  • A cat figurine from my grandmother, I think bought in Moscow.
  • A frog I traced with green marker at a kids’ arts and crafts space with my little brother, Max, in Brookgreen Gardens last Thanksgiving break.
  • The pet rock Max made me when he was tiny. Most of the colors have rubbed off.
  • A green paper crane from Irina O. ‘15, my roommate and lifelong close friend. We had lost contact for about a decade and by complete coincidence both wound up in Random Hall. I didn’t even recognize her when we re-met during her REX. We live in a 5-room, which means we have separate rooms that are connected by a door. She just painted her room purple.
  • A red pipe cleaner Cory R. ‘14 tied into a heart around my wrist when we first started dating.
  • My to-do list for today, in between my laptop and my tea, written in fancy inky ballpoint pen.

Bottom right:

  • A horse-drawn pencil sharpener, also from Max.
  • Paint I got on my desk while painting my room at the start of my sophomore fall. This was around the time Cory found me and I was determined to stay single (because I’m definitely capable of feeding myself (once every two days) and my fish (poor fish) and surviving on my own (nope), and that phase definitely lasted longer than a week (maybe two weeks)).
  • A small melted candle (which I would never ever light indoors). At the end of last semester I finally caved and bought a bunch of the tiny scented candles at Shaw’s. The big one behind it was a present to me from me for my 21st birthday. Its lid broke during the move from Random to MacGregor and back. Cory and I shared a single in the highrise looking out over Brigg’s Field and Simmons, in the same entry as Ceri R. ‘16, because Random was closed for the summer. Some things got broken, some things got mixed together, and some things haven’t been separated yet, like the tiny black drawers with most of our pencils, pens, and markers, and almost all my legos, which are still chilling with Cory’s legos in his room on Destiny.
  • A tiny zebra Ami G. ‘14 brought back for me from her internship at CERN.
  • A green cylinder with staples and paper clips and thumbtacks, bought the summer before I came to MIT, probably during a 2 am trip to buy college things with my dad, possibly the trip when I forgot what a blinking red light means.


Figure 2: Tea and more trinkets.

Bottom right and top:

  • Two giant mugs of tea. Cory R. ‘14 got me the snowflakes mug for Christmas either last year or the year before that. The cow mug is also from him, and is sitting on top of what will hopefully soon grow into my answer to problem 2-3a of the new 6.046/18.410 (algorithms) problem set.
  • Behind them are three boxes of tea we just bought. For a few months I had an obsession with Yogi tea; now I really like Twinings. I bought Lady Grey and Ceylon Orange Pekoe myself; Cory bought me purple Darjeeling as a gift.
  • A fishtank containing Hephaestus, our magical red beta fish, named after the Greek god of tooling. We thought he was dying of dropsy (fish organ failure) but against all odds and online diagnoses he survived (an almost perfect metaphor for tooling at MIT). Cory and I bought him two summers ago. He has a tiny leaf hammock.
  • A giant spider, Spooky, a gift from Cory last Halloween. He lurks menacingly and keeps Hephaestus company. He is currently guarding a Rubik’s cube I bought over IAP. I got jealous of Max’s cube and bought the same one. I solved it on my own without looking anything up, but I haven’t learned any faster algorithms. Max kicks my butt: he can solve it superfast.

Bottom left:

  • A turtle Mika B. ‘14 brought me back from a family trip to Jamaica.
  • A wooden toy from Max, which he gifted me at the same time as the pencil sharpener and which I may or may not be playing with as I type this.
  • A pig from a trip to the Badlands in South Dakota when I was little.
  • The speakers my dad and I picked out the summer before I left for MIT. We bought a bunch from Best Buy, compared them at home, and returned the ones we didn’t like. The best ones wound up being the cheapest. The leftmost speaker emits a bright blue light when it’s on, so it’s covered by a taped down eraser. At some point I bought cheap erasers in bulk on Amazon. They’ve been serving various purposes. The latest is a makeshift Towers of Hanoi puzzle for problem 2-2 on that same 6.046 problem set.

Figure 3: The corkboards above my desk.

  • A concentration completion form. My concentration, like my minor, is in writing. I’ve been getting a lot of emails reminding me to turn it in but I don’t need to because I am not graduating. This IAP I got into the MEng program (yay!) and bought myself some more time. I will hopefully be graduating in a year or two with both degrees.
  • A post-it note with recommendations for yoga teachers at Prana Power Yoga (a 6-minute walk from Random Hall) and The Breathing Room (a 10-minute walk), from the lovely person behind the desk at The Breathing Room. I’ve been doing yoga with my mom since I was 11. This IAP I went home and we practiced almost every day at Yoga in State College, where my mom is getting trained as a yoga teacher. I’m hoping to get trained as a yoga teacher, too, either over the summer or as a project for a gap semester.
  • An expired one-week pass to Prana Power Yoga hanging from my desk lamp, which is another green thing we bought the summer before I came to MIT.
  • Two floor tickets to see Broken Bells on March 5th, one for me and one for Cory, which I won in a lottery put on by the class of 2014’s Class Council. My mom and I have been winning a lot of lotteries lately: she won an iPad and I won $50, $25, and now these tickets. I hope our luck keeps up and spreads to all the other parts of our lives and the lives of the people we love. The Class Council is giving away tickets to a lot of concerts in Boston this semester: Datsik, Jay-Z, Arctic Monkeys, Flogging Molly, Kings of Leon, Imagine Dragons, Glitch Mob, Ellie Goulding, Miley Cyrus, Cage the Elephant (featuring The Foals), Avicii, and the Tokyo Police Club. Wow. The concert is like an early birthday present, especially since it is going to be the evening after two exams. Cory is very good at fun and concerts and standard early-20s partying and I am excited to learn his ways.
  • A marked up syllabus for 5.60/7.10/20.111, thermodynamics. They’re the same class for the first half of the semester and then they split into 5.60 (thermodynamics) and 7.10/20.111 (physical chemistry). I’m not sure which syllabus this is but I don’t have to worry about that until April.
  • A page of notes I found in my desk, written on header paper from the campus printers, which no longer print header pages. The notes are from the plane ride either to or from Israel, either last summer or the summer before. We spent a lot of weeks in Israel while my grandfather was being treated for skin cancer. It’s the most beautiful place, and it’s so far away it’s hard to believe that it exists in the same life I am in now. It holds some of my happiest and saddest memories, which right now are largely the same, and it contains a different me. I don’t know if I could ever go back.
  • A paper on DNA replication I need to read and write about by Thursday for 7.58, molecular biology. 7.58 (the graduate version) meets with 7.28 (the undergraduate version); the only difference is that in 7.58 the papers are required and in 7.28 they are extra credit. I am mixing up the end of my undergraduate requirements and my Master’s. This one is for my Master’s.
  • The syllabus for 18.304, discrete math seminar. All of the lectures are taught by students, three lectures per student. I am taking it to satisfy the communication-intensive requirement for my math major, to get more exposure to proofs and real math in a safe environment, and to practice public speaking before it becomes important.
  • An envelope with an “Important Tax Document.”

Figure 4: Another corkboard, to the left of my desk. This one is larger. It holds my jewelry and more papers. It used to hold more small trinkets, but I never put them back after moving back to Random last semester. They’re currently in my desk drawer. Almost all the jewelry is gifts from my grandparents from their travels before my grandfather died.

  • A note Ami G. ‘14 left outside my room last semester. It still makes me have a better day, every day.
  • Another “Important Tax Document.”
  • A glass necklace from one of my closest friends from high school, Liz Z.
  • A collection of articles with life advice on communication and survival in the workplace from 6.UAT last semester. The first article is “Stuff You Didn’t Learn In Engineering School.” 6.UAT is a soft skills class on public speaking and other things that are necessary for true adulthood. I wish I’d taken it way sooner. Actually, I wish I’d been born with it.

Figure 5: A frog Max painted for me before I left for college, when he was 8 and I was 18, and probably my favorite thing out of all the non-living things in my room. We’ve had frogs as pets since I was tiny.

Figure 6: The view to the right of my desk.

  • A lamp, to keep Hephaestus’s life interesting when I’m up at night. It’s much better lighting than the overhead light that came with my ceiling: somehow it is both more bright and less glaring. It has a mini lamp friend under my loft. They’re doubling as space for wet clothes because I just did laundry.
  • Non-institute furniture shelves my friend Paula J. ‘13 gave me a few semesters ago because she didn’t want them anymore.
  • A printer, which isn’t necessary because there’s a communal printer in the basement, but is very useful when that printer isn’t working or is adding artistic expressions of its almost-human existence black stripes to everything.
  • On top of the pile of papers to the right of my printer are two CDs. One is a mix CD, a Christmas present from another lifelong friend, Masha. Her family joined my family in Florida this winter break. We hadn’t seen each other in almost a decade. The other CD I bought from a beautiful lady singing beautifully on the T the day I got back from Pennsylvania at the start of the semester. She made the trip wonderful and happy for me instead of sad.
  • A stack of textbooks I am trying to resell on the Internet.
  • My yoga mat, hockey skates, figure skates, and rollerblades in the corner under the window. My mom and I have been figure skating together since I was small, starting in the winters in Chicago when I was in elementary school.

Figure 7: The view from outside. My room is at the end of a hallway that includes the most commonly used junction between the two buildings that make up Random Hall. If my door is open I get to see everyone that passes by, and this is what they see from the other side.

  • A giant turtle on my loft, which I’ve had for as long as I can remember. My parents brought it up from Pennsylvania three summers ago when we flew to Israel from Boston. We originally bought one for family friends and then we bought a duplicate for us.
  • A non-institute loft that Ami G. ‘14 gave me when she moved to a new room. I don’t remember who built it. I think she wanted a different loft, so she took this one apart and I put it back together with Cory the August before last. It’s doubling as more space for wet laundry. You can see more laundry drying on the floor, and a pile of clothes from the drier that I need to put away.
  • Under the green curtain the left window is jammed open. I taped the blind down over the gap and it is more or less airtight. The windows look out over an alleyway, so my room is quiet. The other side of the building looks out over Massachusetts Avenue, the much bigger street that passes MIT, turns into the Harvard bridge, and continues into Boston.
  • The fake wood backing to a shelving unit I brought to MIT freshman year. It kept collapsing and finally broke because I didn’t install the backing. I threw away the shelf but I nailed the wood backing to the wall as a reminder to be less lazy creative when assembling furniture.
  • The license plate from the truck my dad bought to teach me how to drive stick shift. He resold it and I took the license plate.
  • A green rug I bought at Shaw’s freshman year.
  • A mural of cows flying over mountains and the silhouette of campus from the brass rat. I’ve painted a lot of cows, winged and not winged, hidden and not hidden throughout the dorm. I will blog about them soon.

And I think I might go paint one now. Have a wonderful Tuesday.  :)

Here are some more desks and study spaces to visit: