I left work early today, frustrated by my 5-year-old computer, which grunts and ticks as it works, too slowly, freezing up occasionally in the middle of something I’m doing. I have a brand new computer in my brand new office, but I can’t move there until the formaldehyde has offgassed, probably in September. Yesterday I had to move to a new, temporary office, and my files are in boxes or lined up on an otherwise empty bookshelf. I went looking for a handout and couldn’t find it. I must have boxed up that file folder. The stack of 101 papers on my desk looks formidable. My students comment on my crankiness. “I’m discombobulated,” I tell them. “Do you know there are 96 steps I have to take between my old office and my temporary one?” I counted the steps because I was bored, yesterday, making countless trips between offices with a single box as my vehicle of transport. No carts. They’re all being used for other moves. I carried plant pots (I have a lot of plants in my office) two at a time. I carried armfuls of books and folders. My coat rack and recycling box, and gifts that students have given me over the years. My poster of Irish writers, all male, of course. My new office, with its small window looking out on a brick wall, looked sparse and gray. I shifted stapler and tape dispenser and pen mug about on my desk till I found a configuration I liked. My computer, ticking and groaning at me, slowed and froze again. I tried to force quit, but that, as usual, wasn’t working.
I want to curse my lungs, with their damaged bronchial tubes. Why can’t I just move into the new building like everyone else? But every time I walk into the front door, I start coughing. The familiar chest tightening squeezes a band of warning around me. I end up outside again, in the sunshine and the foreshadow of heat, knowing I need to be careful.
I taught here for seven years in an office without windows, one the size of a closet, smaller than my not-expansive bathroom. Then I moved into the “luxury” office of the old building, with an extra eight square feet or so, and window that looked out onto bricks. If I craned my neck I could see a few leaves from the tree outside. Still, there was enough light there, between the seeping window and my plant light, for plants to grow, and I surrounded myself in green, getting a reputation for one who could save dying house plants. When my lungs clogged and sputtered three years ago, and I was forced by allergies to move into an office in Decker, my new office was huge, with a window looking out to the hills on the outskirts of town. I never got completely unpacked, though. I knew it was temporary, and several shelves of belongings from the previous occupant remained through my stay. It felt like a place to perch between long flights. I sat in my chair and stared out the window, absorbing a view I knew I would soon lose.
Now I’ve lost it, to a smaller office, with a smaller window, but still luxurious compared to my closet of the first seven years, and still better than the windowed office where I worked in the old building till two years ago. And the fact is, I have my own office. I can set my own temperature for my own little space. I can line up my books as I want, and ask for more bookshelves on the authority of being faculty. I can fill my world with plants, hang a plant light, if I need it, and lock the door to the world while I work. Even in my first office, I could arrange my space as I wanted to and close the door. It’s a pretty easy life. This temporary transitional office, and the discomfort of not knowing where things are, will pass, as everything does.
And if all else fails, I can leave my groaning, moaning, deathbed computer and come home to work.