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Writing Across the Curriculum

 

Holloway Hall

Surprisingly, I Love My Office
Karen Rayne
English

The hallway outside my office smells like dead mice. About three weeks ago the Registrar’s office, one floor up, was fumigated, and the mice went into the crawlspaces and walls to decompose. I told my students coming for writing conferences to follow the smell of dead mice and they’d find me, in the basement, waiting for them.

I love my office. That’s probably at least in part because I don’t belong to the hierarchy of the tenure-track faculty, who seem to believe that their value in the department is reflected in their office space. Professors have individual offices; when space comes available, the bargaining and hustling begins for those offices that are bigger, that have windows, that are tucked back in private corners. S/He who has the best office wins.

I share my office with two congenial colleagues who, like me, are full time non-tenure track faculty members—“Adjuncts,” “Overloads,” or, simply, “FTNTT.” We are in one of the four basements in the building that houses the administration of the University, the only basement that still is, as far as I can tell, a certified nuclear shelter. I like to tell my students that, in case of nuclear attack, I will survive, and that if they happen to be meeting with me at the time, we will be responsible for repopulating the earth or, at least, the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

There are no windows in the basement. We are not located on a thruway, unless you count the path from the elevator to the snack and soda machines around the corner. We are, essentially, alone down here. We can close our venetian blinds and be completely cut off from the outside world.

When students come to my office, often after a confusing trek through various parts of the building, they are often shocked that I’m in an actual basement. I don’t know what they thought a basement would be, but apparently two doors away from the “Mechanics Room” was not part of their vision.

I have made my part of the office my own. I have a desk, two bookcases, crates and file drawers, and enough wall space to hang my posters of New York City and the Dalai Lama. Family photos and tributes to my favorite (dead) singers, along with my moose bobble head and other assorted tsatskes make this space homey. The purple beaded curtain that acts as a Les Nessman-ish border for my cubicle often delights, but more often entraps, students who enter for the first time.

There’s an oriental rug to give the asphalt tile floor a touch of warmth and class. Three of the four visible clocks in the office belong to me. My favorite is the pink one that hangs below the “official” school clock that is tied in to the campus clock system. (Yes, we have a campus clock system.) There is a sign between them that reads “HOLLOWAY HALL TIME” with an upward arrow and “ACTUAL TIME” with a downward arrow. This helps everyone when the official clock reads 7:23 and the actual time is 2:40.

While we may know what time it is, and while I in particular appreciate having a homey space to work in, my office mates and I are both pitied and envied by our tenure-track colleagues, who either feel that the office location is a sign of the department’s lack of respect for us or that we are so far out of the thick of things that we escape the rat race three floors up. We all know that we are valued members of the English faculty, but the rat-race reference is probably true, and is just one of many reasons I love my office. The smell of rotting mice is starting to fade, too.

 

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