Saturday, March 22, 2008

On Shared Spaces

Today's the first official day of Spring. Yes, we still have a bit of snow here in Montana. But, now there's more sun on any given day than we've seen for the past five months previous. Now that I'm out hiking trails again, I've been thinking about the tiny indoor spaces I've called home this past two years.

1. Language Arts 127. My T.A. office. A 10' x 10' room (I'm bad with eyeballing measurements, but I'm pretty sure this is accurate within two feet) shared with three other T.A.s. Picture this: Fuchsia rug, one computer taking up much the surface area from one of three desks in the office, one mammoth (all wood!) filing cabinet, and a bookcase underneath a mirror. Our home. There we are M-F, playing hypothetical musical chairs for two-ish desks for the four of us.

This arrangement makes planning a necessity. Luckily, our teaching schedules vary just enough to make double occupancy the only threat at any one time. This does make student conferences a little sticky. We've each faced our fair share of confused glances from students looking for their instructor, sure they've got the right office. "Yes, come right in, s/he should be back shortly" we've rehearsed.

I'll admit it. My cleaning obsession can be a burden. I've subjected my office mates to unknown bouts of bookcase rearrangement. I've classified books (to my defense, many of them composition textbook hand-me-downs from previous office tenants) according to size, topic, and/or author. I inundated 98% of the top shelf for my poetry books temporarily. I even have been know to rearrange the plethora of coffee mugs according to open space availability.

Composition Portfolio Time is my favorite time of the year in the office. On the last day of our class, all four of us drag in approximately 24 1" binders showcasing the work of our students. We plop them down on the desks, silently pleading with them not to cascade across the desk when we turn our backs. Then, we grade--

2. CutBank literary magazine office. Ah, my second-second home. Eerily similar to aforementioned room, this 12' x 15' office features no rug, two desks, and an office computer beside boxes & shelves of incoming submissions, outgoing correspondences and CutBank issues from 1970s to present. A stunning second-story studio space, this quirky space lets us editors convene in style as we read, read and read some more.

I love the smell emanating from the just-opened boxes of our latest print issue. I'm a sucker for office supplies, the written word, and color paper stock. Yes, I also like Sharpies too much to keep my hands off the scrap paper. I create and adhere temporary labels to anything in that office with a box around it, if the managing editor hasn't beat me to it.

Reading CutBank submissions reminds me of what good company we find ourselves in. Sure, there are a fair share of poems that would flabbergast any editor, and sure, some of the well-published writers might be considered "competition", but I'm reassured when writers out there choose to keep sending their work to lit mags. They read lit mags. They live in interesting towns. Some have gone through MFA programs. Some even edit other lit mags. I like this. For every long-winded cover letter (see previous post), I'll find another from a writer similar to myself, just graduating from an MFA program, hoping to see his or her work published. I know I'll miss this "insiders look" at the Graduate Student Literary Enterprise experience. For now, I'll remember not to knock over the chair as I walk into the office.

The Didn't-Make-the-List List:

English Dept. Office HQ, our haven for all things teaching: mailbox, copier, printer & supply closet.

University Center, all things lunch: UC Market & food court

or, Food For Thought, the restaurant that supports all post-teaching debriefs from your hosts.

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