Yesterday I walked into my office and found everything gone. I was not robbed or anything like that. My university is going through a reorganization which partially involves relocation to offices which place the colleges and departments in geographic proximity to each other. I knew that this day was coming and had been frantically boxing and cleaning to prepare for it. Unfortunately, there had been some problems in communication and I had thought my office was to be gutted today, not yesterday.
The space is not really mine. I know that. Even most of the items in there belong to the university not to me: printers, phones, computers, desks shelves, chairs, etc. I'd known that I'd be moving out soon. As people became increasingly frantic about their stuff moving out, I wasn't. I laughed at their silliness. The University was going to continue to provide people with offices. Why did it matter where mine was?
Then I walked in the door of my empty office.
I still think that if I'd known the move was happening yesterday instead of today, it might have gone better. I spent the rest of the day in a state of shock. I still don't know if I've recovered. It was all just . . . gone. My stuff is in storage while another office is being prepared for me. I can ask the secretary for a key any time I need access to my boxes. It's okay, really.
But while the office was not really my space, it is more my space than anything else. It was probably the only place in town where I could really feel safe and comfortable. My house is my wife's space, and is governed by her rules. Before I got married I felt like I could pretty freely leave papers, office supplies, clothes, toys, etc. anywhere I wanted. I am productive in a mess and could not have made it through graduate school if I hadn't been able to live in one. My wife isn't comfortable in a mess, and usually that's fine. Home isn't a place where I try to be productive. When I do bring work home, I feel constantly worried that I might make a mess, leave something out or accidentally break something. I cannot feel the level of safety there that I can in a real office.
I have a public area where I walk my dogs. To a large extent I feel like that space is mine. It is where I do most of my Bible reading and prayer. It is quiet, natural, and free. Still, I have no say over that space. I might set myself up on a boulder and do my reading, but I always have to keep one eye on the dogs in case someone else comes by. Then I call the dogs over, leash them up, and move on. We are often disturbed here from our play and reverie. I cannot feel secure there.
All the other spaces I inhabit are very much shared. Stores, streets, parks, church, and libraries are places where people are constantly passing through. There is no privacy. There is no liberty. These are public places.
My office is my space
While during "office hours" people are encouraged to drop by, the rest of the day it is perfectly acceptable to shut the door and even to lock it. I can be messy. I can be free. If something breaks, I throw it away. If something is misplaced, it is still where I placed it, so I can generally find it quickly. Here the rules are my rules and can vary with my whim. This is the room I walk into after teaching, take off my tie and breathe peacefully. It is safe and quiet and free.
In my office I can create. I can write blogs, articles, poems and lesson plans uninterrupted. I keep things there that help me create. The creative process is not just about reading an article and writing an article. Sometimes it involves coloring a picture in between or looking up images, or putting up Facebook statuses or taking off my shirt. I know that sounds weird, but I've done better research in the past two years than in the rest of my life and I think I know how it works for me.
I know that it is not my space. I know that it belongs to the university, and ultimately to the state. That's why I felt like it was funny when people were so upset about having to move. We need a space for our work, but it doesn't have to be THAT space. When it suddenly disappeared, however, it no longer felt so funny.
But I'm spoiled.
I am well aware of the fact that many people do not have a space. For many people, their creative and intellectual pursuits must be done in public. While I wait for a new office, I will be one of them and it shouldn't be so bad. I guess we'll see how it goes for the next couple weeks. I'll give you a hint though. If you see a lot on this blog, it is probably not going well. Blogs are an intermediary level of production for me. They represent unfinished intellectual products and are not really something that "counts" for work. Generally, they mean I'm not getting more important things done.
Hopefully, I can do some work without having a space.