Tuesday (It is Tuesday, right?) Afternoon Office Blues

I'm up at the office today after a very productive weekend and an evening out at a baseball that reminded me just how little I care about baseball. What I'm really wondering though is why is it that as soon as I walk in my office, that list of things I had in mind to do here fly out the window? It's a problem, right, that I can't be productive in my office?

It's funny to me because I remember in grad school the continuing quest to get to a smaller office. I started out (and ended) my grad career in a well-cubicled bullpen office. At one point there were twenty or so of us crowded in, using two computers and nine desks. When they put the cubicles in, I remember the grad director telling me how they thought it would make us feel important. I tried to explain that I left cubicles to return to grad school, and that no one feels important with a cloth-covered cork half-wall. Try stopping the Mongul hordes with that, I wanted to say, but didn't. I needed their approval for travel funding, after all.

Once, I briefly got to share a small, closet like office in the back of the building with two other graduate students. There was elation: at long last, I would be able to work undistracted (and I am oh-so-easily distractable when I want to be - and in grad school, I almost always was up for distraction). But the office was taken away from us, a couple of months in, to give to the department's new hire in charge of the alumni newsletter. But I'd never really unpacked. That sort of reward never really lasted there - only adjuncts might have been at the wrong end of the rope like grad students.

Really, though, there was a lot of joy in the large office. Pranks to be played - like hanging someone's prize action figure by paper clips from the ceiling - and fun to be had - like bourbon smoothies from the back computer desk/ad hoc bar. You hear interesting things in a bunker office. People have breakdowns. Hell, people cause breakdowns. People have epiphanies. That level of interest almost never happens in your closet-like single office. Oh, I suppose the nun-next-door had a breakdown when I played music of a certain persuasion, but it wasn't the same as the great collapse of '02 where a good friend was driven right 'round the bend by that action figure incident I mentioned, finding the need to take it up with the grad director and refrain for two weeks worth of Thursday night drinks. And no one ever stops in to cheer here because they've just made the critical turn on what they've spent a term trying to wrap their head around.

The office - my office - is supposed to have some element of status to it. But I've got plywood shelves on the wall. I don't get to control my own thermostat (though they gave me a fake one to play with). I have to store stuff for the department in here - old journals, mostly, and copies of the Chronicle. Last summer I came in to discover that the school had decided to take some of my furniture and replace it with other stuff. It was also seen as a status move, but it was interesting that "new furniture" was a rather loose signifier - lots of wiggle room and no consulting the person whose status it was supposed to bolster (or at least reflect). What did I get? A new chair for visitors and a hand-me-down lateral filing cabinet that I didn't really have room for to begin with.

Still, I'm left with the problem that once I open the door, all the things I planned to do run off around the corner and down the stairs to parts unknown. If you see my things-to-do playing stickball or joining the circus or whatever, tell them I miss them. Tell them I can't get along with them. Tell them I'm sorry that I neglected them, and I'll try to be better.

Ah, screw it. Tell them to have fun and to send a postcard now and then. But no cryptic hints. Those would only drive me crazy.


4 Responses to “Tuesday (It is Tuesday, right?) Afternoon Office Blues”
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Dr. Crazy said...

I can only do administrative work in my office (or last-minute grading and prep when I've procrastinated past the point of being able to do it at home). Constant interruptions (even in summer) and no windows and the fact that my office typically looks like hooligans came in and ransacked the joint make it a totally inhospitable place to work. (That said, the whole "ransacked aesthetic" does help to keep people - students and colleagues alike - out of my office unless they are in dire need, as all except my kindred spirits of messiness are made uncomfortable with the piles of debris, whereas I really can ignore it and function for all but mentally challenging tasks.)

My point is, I say that if you're not productive at the office you should just go with that and not even bother trying to do work in there unless it's work that lends itself to that space. Work at home, work at a coffee shop, work at the library - that's one of the few perks of this profession - that we don't actually have to do all of our works at the office. Of course, it's also one of the drawbacks, but I'm trying to be a glass half-full sort of a person on this day of going through the book proofs (at home, and still in my pajamas):)

July 8, 2008 at 3:08 PM
ash said...

You are in fine form today, my friend. I would count this post as evidence of something great accomplished today. (Did you write it in your office, because then you could possibly even count it as a breakthrough.)

That closet office was the best! Remember that it actually was a former closet? And that the light switch was in the hall (so any joker walking past could flick it and leave us sitting in the dark)? Sigh...good times.

July 8, 2008 at 4:15 PM
Samantha said...

At my first post-grad job, I shared an office with something like 7 other women. There were no dividers or cubicles. We called it "the bus" because our desks were arranged in two long aisles.

As people quit (and boy, was there turnover at that place!), we got to move to the back in order of seniority. The back was desirable because one of the walls had windows - but no one could see you if you were in the back. I eventually got there. :)

Today, I work in a tomb. But it's just me in there, and I like it that way.

(Also, I have a hard time getting work done at home.)

July 9, 2008 at 9:39 AM
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

Really I was only using the office for minor things, having long ago realized getting real work done there was an exercise in futility. Mostly it had air conditioning, though just how useful that really is can be debated since my cheap institutional blinds keep getting ripped off by the gremlins.

Pretty much my office is good for printing, e-mail answering, and occasionally blogging. I also manage to eat an entire lunch there sometimes. And it seems to do a decent job of storing books and papers, though I'm waiting for the shelf to fall off the wall again.

July 10, 2008 at 5:39 PM