the ideal and the real

I have this fantasy picture in my head of what working at the office should be like. I guess it's an amalgam of several real faculty offices I've known -- none of them mine -- seasoned with a few fictional or film versions. Key elements include a window (preferably with trees or hipster urban cityscape outside), bookshelves, a large desk surface, a comfy reading chair, elegant lamps for light, edgy artwork/wall hangings. and a coffee pot. Such a fantasy office is of course located in a charming Gothic style academic building (but completely fitted with modern amenities), filled with genial colleagues, brilliant students, and an atmosphere of intellectual discovery.

The reality is something a bit different. My office (which actually I'm quite pleased with, having only moved into it a couple months ago) is small, windowless, and contains two metal bookshelves circa 1969. The 6 year old carpet is the newest thing in the office (I found papers in the filing cabinet dating back to 1977 and the metal desk was I think designed to act as a temporary shelter from nuclear attack) -- I know this because it had to be replaced when a fire broke out in that office because of the wiring on that side of the hall. You see, someone had plugged in a coffee pot. We were scolded by physical plant and told that the building really couldn't handle coffee pots along with computers (and how are you supposed to have an English department then?). So now there's a circuit breaker for that side of the hall -- but it's located in the men's room. (Again -- we're the English department -- we have more female faculty than any other department on campus -- and they put the circuit box by the urinals.) I have a couple of posters in my office that I really like and I'm hoping to add a few more. But the room's base look suggests the office of a bookeeper in a industrial tubing factory (thanks to the yellow walls and perforated ceiling tiles) and it's a challenge to disguise it as anything more rarefied.

The (not Gothic, not stylish. not historic) building smells of mold, rather than discovery, and every single person I spoke with on my last trip to campus was in the throes of depression. I know it could be a lot worse -- I'm very fortunate to not have to share an office. But it's so far from my mental picture of how working at my campus office could be pleasant and supportive rather than draining. It's not just the physical environment of course - - we're a commuter university, both in terms of our student population and our faculty. Most of us come in only on our teaching days and do our research from home. It's a tricky circular effect -- the building is bleak so few of us are there so then it seems gloomy and disheartening.

But in any case, the space is still mine to use as long as the state sees fit. To make sure I get to keep it during my leave semester, I have to show up every few days for a couple of hours and make sure that our office manager sees me visibly using my office. It's kind of grim but at least it's mine. And every day allows me opportunities for cultivating gratitude -- that I don't have to share it, and that I can close the door, now that I'm out of administration.