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A sign of the apocalypse

Topics/tags: Autobiographical, illustrated

Anyone who has seen my office on Noyce 3rd [1] knows that, even at its best, it is a mess [2]. Not only am I a pack rat [3], but I also like to accumulate new things. And so my office is filled with books, supplies, papers, artworks, tchotchkes, and more. A few of the campus marketers have said that they like it because it has texture. I’ve been known to tell my students that

I keep it like this so that you feel comfortable; if your dorm room doesn’t look this way, you probably have a friends whose room does.

Sometimes I give an alternate explanation.

It’s an art project reflecting on the power of entropy; I keep making piles and then I leave them where they fall.

What does it usually look like? Here’s a picture from the end of spring semester.

an office filled with indescribable chaos

Do you see what they mean by texture?

And doesn’t that seem like a good opportunity for a game of I Spy? I spy a mug from the University of Chicago Divinity School Coffee Shop. I spy a napkin ring painted like a fish. I spy one of the dozens of photocopied pictures of me that someone put up all over the building [4,5]. I spy the cap that my Tutorial students wore to Convocation.

Spring was also a bit worse than normal because I had less time to pick things up [6]. On the other hand, there are usually a few more papers on the floor. I may have done some straightening at the end of the semester as I looked for final exams that had gotten mixed in with other things.

Oh. Never mind. That’s after a day of straightening. Here’s what it really looked like at the end of spring semester, immediately after graduation.

an office filled with even more indescribable chaos

In most summers, I try to make a little headway on the office. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I fail. However, this year was special. Because I’m on sabbatical this year, I need to vacate my office for my leave replacement [7]. I will admit that vacate sounds extreme. I believe the idea was that I was to make it habitable for my leave replacement and that I had to leave one shelf clear for books, one drawer for office supplies, and one file drawer for, well, files. I was also allowed to make up to ten boxes to transport to my new office [8].

And so I went to work on what . I worked on removing things from my office. I worked on organizing my lab [9]. I worked on removing things from my lab. It felt very much like a Sisyphean task. Most tellingly, it felt like each time I made forward progress, something else fell and made the room feel even worse.

But I kept trying. I chose books and supplies to box up. I recycled a lot of paper. I sent a bunch of old student work to the shredder [10]. I got rid of a bunch of books [11]. I tried to get rid of even more [14]. I expect to make another pass through my books during sabbatical. I promised myself that I will either catalog each book still in my lab or discard it. The ones in my office will have to wait for another year.

After way too many hours, I think I accomplished what I was asked to do. Here’s what my office looks like now.

the office from before, now moderately neat

Since folks have already asked: No, that image has not been Photoshopped [16]. And yes, it’s really a picture of my office.

Of course, it’s not currently my office, since the College has assigned it to someone else. But it’s the room that was my office. And, well, it’s essentially my office, since I own the books, the artwork, the desk, and such. More importantly, I’ll be back there next year [18].

I wasn’t sure it could be done. I’m pretty sure the Dean’s office didn’t think it could be done. But my office is ready for someone new. Or perhaps it’s just a sign of the apocalypse.

The real question: Can I keep it straight when I return? [17].

Next up: My home office, the garage, my lab, my storage area in the basement, the workshop, and more. Maybe not; that sounds like more than I can handle, even in a year of sabbatical. Still, I should be able to make some progress on each of those areas.

Postscript: I had originally tagged this as a short musing. But it grew. That may not be surprising; the mess in my office grows, too.

Postscript: You can expect a few more musings on related topics. I expect that I’ll discuss my new office, the tchotchkes I saw fit to move to my new office, and perhaps even some of the books I moved to that office. I may even continue to include photos. Stay tuned.

Postscript: This musing is in honor of David James Sherman, who had to share an office with me through most of graduate school.

[1] Or even my former office on Noyce 2nd.

[2] Some might even call it a pigsty.

[3] Hoarder.

[4] No, it was not me.

[5] Whoops. That one’s only in the next picture.

[6] It stays better when I have a weekly meeting with a student who acts as my organization assistant. But both they and I were too busy this year.

[7] That policy is new at Grinnell, and not universally applied. One of my junior colleagues is also on leave and is keeping their office. Since we needed a space for our visitor, I volunteered to give mine up.

[8] More on that topic tomorrow.

[9] Even messier than my office.

[10] I even got rid of all of the CSC 151 end-of-semester quizzes and surveys that I had hoped to use for a research project.

[11] Some are still in the CS Commons, if you want to take a look. There are many old CS texts, some statistics texts, some bioinformatics texts, and a variety of other books, too [12]. Here’s a picture of about 1/4 of the ones I got rid of.

A room with a large glass window with metal shelves in front of the window.  On the shelves are about eight books.

That giant Coke cooler? Something else I acquired. At least I donated it to the department immediately after acquiring it. It’s even proven of use in some years.

[12] I don’t know why I ended up with two copies of Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist, but I did, and decided to get rid of one.

[14] That is, I offered them to colleagues. Some, colleagues took. Others, they didn’t take and I decided I couldn’t part with them unless I knew they had a good home [15].

[15] Sorry Micki.

[16] Every noun can be verbed. I’ve seen this quotation attributed to Paul Krugman, Alan Perlis, and George Bernard Shaw [17].

[17] Which makes it particularly funny that The Irish Times attributed it to Some American.

[18] Unless I get asked to vacate the office completely so that a new tenure-line faculty member can occupy it.

Version 1.0 released 2019-07-02.

Version 1.0.2 of 2019-07-03.