Another Office Piece

I have several times written about the spaces I have occupied in my years of teaching. Most of them–“Sample Profile: Morrill 411,” “Sample Descriptive Essay: Filling Weir 209,” “Sample Illustrative Definition Essay: Official Averages,” and “Sample Comparison/Contrast Essay: Officially Better”–have been on one blog or another that I have maintained in support of my teaching and other activities. That one of them was published in a major journal–“Where Writes Me”–is something of a coup. Throughout them all, though, there is a concern with the space where I do my work, and not only my work as a classroom instructor. The work I do as an academic researcher, as a scholar of the humanities, also takes place in my assigned office spaces, shaping them and reflecting them. Where I work, then, is of some importance to me. With my relocation to yet another office space, then, it makes sense that I would write about the new space, taking an opportunity to reflect yet again on how where I work influences the work I do–and how the work I do influences where I work.

The space I currently occupy at Schreiner University in Kerrville, Texas, is AC Schreiner 207, a room in one of the older buildings on campus previously occupied by a member of the part-time history faculty. Early on in its history, the building was a dormitory, and the room, measuring a bit more than 9 feet by 13 with a smallish closet, shows that history. Reaching it requires entering the one door to the building–and there really is only one–climbing a flight of stairs, and walking all the way down a narrow hallway with creaky floors; my office is on the left. It is a corner office, with windows on two sides; I typically take advantage of the natural light I am afforded by the roughly northern and western facings of those windows, keeping the overhead fluorescent light off.

For the most part, it is a plain office, with neutral walls and grayish trim. The carpet is commercial grade in a red and brown mix common to the building–although I have an area rug left behind by a previous occupant. Several file cabinets were also left behind; two of them are used to form a table, while another stands more or less empty in the corner, propping up a cork board I probably ought to hang. Plain wheeled chairs, a small desk, a computer, and a tall bookcase that is not as full as I would really like it to be flesh out the furnishings, and a few additional stacks of books and journals more or less complete the decor.

Beside one window, though, there is a hummingbird painted on the wall, its rich hues contrasting sharply with the plain paint surrounding it. I have often wondered why it is there, who painted it and why. It seems in an odd place to have been a dorm-dweller’s decoration, and what I know of my immediate predecessor in this space does not suggest that it was his work, either. Too, it seems to be flying away from the window; the easy understanding of it as an emblem of escape is thwarted thereby, and I am not sure what to make of the image. I do not often look at it, though; the computer where I do my office work faces me away from that wall.

In some respects, my current office suffers against what I had before. The classes I teach are in the building where my older office was. As such, I have a bit longer a trip to get to my classroom than I used to–and it takes me outside, which can be good when the weather is good, but is far less so when the weather is not. Too, although there were fewer people with whom to associate in the older office, I had made progress in reaching out to them, and that progress has been undone by the relocation. Also, although I have swapped out the chairs that were initially in the office for others, even those I currently have are not as nice to sit in as what I had before, and since I spend a fair bit of time in my office chairs, their comfort is an important concern. More, because the office is in an older building, there are issues of accessibility associated with it, and since one of the things an academic office needs to do is facilitate interaction with students, the restricted accessibility is something of an issue.

At the same time, my current office offers some advantages over that I held previously. It is in the same building as the department in which I teach, putting me closer to colleagues and promoting collegiality–much to my pleasure. Too, the light is better, as is the climate control. And the space is larger, allowing freer motion and connoting more importance. I feel better in it than I did in Weir 209, despite the problems that associate with the current space; I feel more like a “real” academic than I did before.

But that brings me back to a point I have addressed before: the idea of space forming academic identity. There are senses in which I am less “real” an academic than I was in New York. There, I had a full-time job, and I was secure enough in my position (although erroneously, in the event) that I felt comfortable putting things on the walls and shelves that served to identify me as an academic–degrees and awards, membership certificates and the like. While I certainly interrogated them for their validity, questioning whether they showed me as confident or in need of comfort, the fact that they were there and that I was able to externalize some of my interiority carries some meaning, makes some difference. Such is not the case in my current space. I have less out and in the open now than I did then, in no small part because I am contingent faculty and I know I am such. I dare not let so much of myself out here as I have in other places, in part because I do not relish the thought of packing much up to leave (although I have still acquired more stuff for the office since I have taken the present space).

More of my reluctance to open into the current space, however, is that I would like not to be so badly hurt again. Being contingent as I am means that I am subject to non-renewal on an all-too-frequent basis. I know it is something in which I am not alone, and I am not claiming that I am somehow especially downtrodden. But I am saying that I am vulnerable already, and the exposure of self that comes in inhabiting a space more fully–showing more of me by what is on the walls and shelves–makes me more vulnerable. It displays what I value–and therefore where I am tender and can be harmed at a touch. It is not something I want to have happen again, as it has happened to me more than once before.

I have to wonder how my reluctance to open myself into the space I currently occupy has affected the work I do. I have to wonder if my remaining somewhat closed off in putting myself into the office has left me somewhat closed off from the wellspring of ideas with which I work. Or perhaps it has instead closed me off from the sources of power upon which I draw to do the work–which may sound like melodramatic claptrap or mumbo-jumbo, but I have attested that I draw comfort from having my things around me, reminding me that I have done and so suggesting that I can and will do again. I have to wonder, then, if I am further constrained into contingency, since a space that either prompts or reflects a reluctance to move into the work keeps me from doing the work that I would need to do to secure a continuing faculty position–if anything that I can do can do so.

Works Cited

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4 thoughts on “Another Office Piece

  1. Semi related. I need a window, or to get out when I work. I have an office with no windows, with my creative stuff in, but I can’t work in it long term without seeing the world outside.

    Personal mental space though, I have always been a closed book in every work environment. It makes work life easier. Mostly.

    Liked by 1 person

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