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periscope

Workplace indiscrimination


Cable TV shows and freelance gurus offer endless cheery advice about interior design, décor, and something called “style,” for both home and office. They natter about color and space and line; some of them use feng shui to harmonize energy flow, or some such. This is Greek to me. If a room has a ceiling taller than I am and walls to keep out most of the weather, I’m satisfied.
Beyond that, my core design principle might fairly be called flung shui.

By “flung” I don’t mean cluttered or chaotic. As an editor I live by the credo “Less is more”—and by my own internal imperative toward spartan orderliness. But with a brain that functions verbally more than visually (and a job that doesn’t leave much daydreaming time), I’ve given my office design zero thought whatsoever. Stuff goes on whichever shelves have shelf space. The table goes along the wall that’s long enough. The chair sits where it won’t trip me. The file cabinet doesn’t look good in the corner; it just looks like a file cabinet. (But then even the corner doesn’t look good in the corner. It’s only there because somebody in the early days of Dana Science Center walled in a chunk of the original wide lobby for much-needed office space. Yes, Scope is run from a couple of squatters’ cubicles on the edge of a public thoroughfare. Still, it’s a prime civic-center location that I wouldn’t give up at any price—no, not even for pinch-pleated satin jacquard curtains with a blouson valance.) My office has a window and a door, which I do appreciate, but I’m oblivious to the dingy blond paneling, the cheapo track shelving, the papers and magazines stacked under the side table, the corkboard half behind the cabinet. It’s utterly charmless, but it’s simple, utilitarian, and all mine.

Most distinctively mine is the desk: it’s about four feet high. It not only eases my bad back, as I spend all day standing rather than sitting, but it also provides a fortuitous flung shui benefit by exposing so much floor space that the office appears large and airy. It’s also strongly suggestive
of an auto-parts or hardware store, where a harried manager behind a tall counter checks the inventory on a grimy old computer. “Whaddaya need, Mac?”

But my office is far from impersonal. All those TV decorators would be proud of the way I “lend character and interest to my space with accessories that celebrate my individual style,” or
whatever blatherage they’d parrot into the camera. My display of inspirational cartoons and clippings features a portrait of Edward Gorey, a historical map of England, and quotes like Robert Lowell’s “Age is the bilge/ We cannot shake from the mop.” And there are toys, including a large and leggy mosquito hand puppet (a souvenir of many a bird-watching vacation), a tiny handgun
in the form of a bulldog that emits a peevish little yap when you pull the trigger (good for shooing away petitioners of all sorts), and a squirt bottle with a small battery-powered fan mounted on the nozzle (for those days when the college’s aging HVAC system is as menopausal and crotchety as my own).

All in all, my working environment is agreeably supportive and efficient, never mind its stylelessness. E-mailing, interviewing, writing? I’m all set up. Filing? No problem. Walk-ins?
Step right up, whether you want an editorial consult or an after-market hubcap. —SR