Tag Archives: Lillian Hellman

The Office

We are disassembling an office, one that has been used as such in the same way for decades, but there is more to it than putting books in boxes and chairs in other rooms. It is not about the death of creative dreams; there is that, of course, a little, but most of the dreams that were designed to be dreamed in that room have been dreamt, and, truly, it is a time of dream transition. It is time to do other things in that space, and to do in other spaces the things that were done there, and to move on with differed, not diminished, lives.

But there is something about shutting down and clearing out an office – especially, particularly, a home office – that has not a little of the whiff of dying to it, and is very much like the deaccessioning of art, for a personal office is nothing if not a work of art.

Putting together an office is not, as comparisons go, like building up a shape using clay, or chipping a figure from within a block of stone, or putting paint to canvas. It is a different sort of artistic endeavor: one less planned (at least after the initial move-in phase) but no less intimate and revealing – a kind of installation art that, over the years, just keeps getting installed or installing itself, adding layers, subtracting space, telling more. In a way, an office is a sort of work of art in which art of a sort is made.

The corporate office – the one provided for a worker in a building that one has to leave home to get to – is a different animal. The chair is their chair, the desk it their desk, the carpets, the light fixtures, the color on the walls – all theirs, and not necessarily your taste, and not particularly conducive to you doing the best work you can do. That is why there are so many unavoidably unsatisfactory and incomplete attempts to “personalize” one’s office space: pinned-up photos and cartoons and fortune-cookie slips, desk borders – like the edges of a boxing ring – populated by stuffed animals and action figures, framed snapshots and a pale, gasping philodendron. All these: all attempts at remembering who you are in a location that does not encourage it – in fact, actively discourages it or any individuality.

But the home office … well, for starters, it does have the word “home” in its name, and that goes a long way to making you feel good about it from the get-go. Second, and directly following: It is in the home, thus making convenience a given, commuting a minor perambulation, lunchtime a refrigerator raid. In many cases, the occupant will have chosen the room, in the house or apartment, designated to be the office, and for a reason: sometimes because it is the only room available – that space in the basement, that second bedroom, that corner of the kitchen; sometimes because there is a certain “feel” to a space, a familiarity, a feng-shui thing, even an odd empathy, as if one “gets” this space and knows it and knows that this is the place where good work can be done and destinies could be met.

But more: Since the space is not “theirs” but yours, it can become what you want it to be  (while, in return, you become what it says you are), to look how you want it to look, and to behave in a manner that you determine. In other words, it is the you that contains you as much as it reflects you. And, if you are lucky, it will make you a better you, at least creatively. (Physically, those barbells will not get used enough to affect even one ab. Trust us.) You like that old, awful-colored rug? Drop it on the floor, anywhere. That mobile from your college days? Tack it to the ceiling. Want your cat there? Absolutely. Want it dark, with just a pool of light on your task? If that’s what you want. Loud music? If it helps, rock on. (If it distracts, go ahead, too. Distraction is incubation.) You have the freedom (within marital parameters) to make this office the best room for you, one you will find yourself drifting to even in nonwork hours. It can become your sanctum sanctorum, an arena, a cave, your room with a view, a womb. And as you work in it, and things expand to fill the spaces – as the cork board seems to have sprouted paper barnacles, as once neatly-lined-up books seem now to have been frozen in mid prison breakout, as your once-spacious desk appears to have been miniaturized and your once-ergonomic seating device has now the comfort of an Inquisition torture tool – it is here, and then, that the unconscious art has taken over: an unwitting, subversive expression of self – like automatic writing – and what the self is capable of, and capable of tolerating with the tunnel-vision goal of worthy accomplishment in mind.

And, then, to take it apart … and, where instinct and happenstance made a work of environmental and performance art, now focused intent is making it disappear, so that it can become … what? The next step. The new chapter. The second following the present breath. This needn’t be a sad moment. It could just be that what you did there you now feel better doing someplace else, or not at all. A space, dear to you, as dear as you are to yourself, which has – face it – lost its energy, even its raison d’etre, is getting a chance to be the next new you. What you do now doesn’t require what this space is now.

Things change. People change. Rooms change. Artists emerge from blue periods and become Cubists. Representationalists become Abstract Expressionists. Writers become editors. Art changes as the artist changes, and so does the workplace. Futures create memories. People get older, or wiser, or just different. And – to invert (and convolute) Lillian Hellman’s famous phrase to the HUAC witch hunters – sometimes we won’t or shouldn’t cut this year’s fashion to fit last year’s style.

We move on. So do our spaces. But, in a corner, in the way that that same old light glances through the window, by the familiar creak of that well-trod-on floorboard, in the dent in the wall that only you know the history of, there is continuity. And placeness. And comfort.


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