Sunday, August 27, 2017

office

It's been faculty orientation week at my university, so my colleagues and I are meeting up after a long summer of working in places other than our campus, and this conversation keeps happening:

pretty much every colleague: Hey, how are you?
me: !!! I have a new office !!!
pretty much every colleague: um, okay...that's nice

After the third or fourth time someone gave me the side eye, I realized my excitement about having a new office might be slightly over the top. Why is that?

It's a little bit relief. Last year, my first year as a postdoctoral teaching fellow, I was using the office of a colleague who was on sabbatical, and I was perpetually stressed out about being responsible for the musical instruments, digital camera equipment, and files stored there.

It's a little bit convenience. Things related to my work that have been taking up space in my apartment are now in my office, you know, the place where work happens.

Really, though, it's mostly feeling valued. I've been teaching since 2005, at a variety of universities with a variety of job titles, assigned to a variety of shared office spaces. Because these offices have been shared with other graduate or adjunct instructors, the indentured servants of higher ed in the American twenty-first century, they've usually been spaces that no one else wanted--windowless, basement, interior rooms--filled with furniture no one else wanted. Some have been only big enough for a single desk, shared by 4 or 6 or 10 people who had to work out a rota for use. Some have been big enough for lots of desks, shared by 2 or 3 people each, with no walls to help tune out distraction. These rooms becomes the departmental storage areas, too, for back issues of print journals that no one ever reads, for surplus textbooks that are out of date, for student papers that others leave behind when they move on to the next job. Most graduate and adjunct instructors leave very little in these spaces, carrying everything we need into and out of the building each day, like turtles with our offices on our backs, pausing briefly in our communal space.

These overcrowded spaces furnished with cast-offs and full of the detritus of the department are a reflection of the value universities have for the graduate teaching assistants and adjunct instructors who teach many of the courses on the schedule. Like the meager paychecks they get, it's a reminder that they are at the end of the line when it comes to resource allocation.

So, after twelve years of working in this field, after twelve years of making do with scratch-and-dent, after twelve years of negotiating shared space with near-strangers, after twelve years of carrying my office on my back,  I have a space that is mine. I've moved up slightly in the line. And it feels ridiculously good.

It's tiny, but it's a window. 

The rocking chair and coat tree are mine, other furniture came with. 

Check out that diploma on the wall. 


I mean, it would be nice if the university valued me enough to pay an actual living wage, but for now I'll take the office and celebrate it. Stop by for a cup of tea and celebrate with me.