Thursday, September 3, 2009

I'm Probably Losing My Mind

This is my desk. It’s where I spend forty to fifty hours of my week, staring at the walls of a six-by-eight box. I’ve been thinking about time a lot lately. That, um, that apparently seems to come with the territory when I’m reading Weschler’s True to Life. Yeah. You’re gonna be tired about hearing about that book. Either that or you’re going to decide you want to read it. I’d suggest the latter. Anyway, I figured I’d take a picture of my desk. Then I thought it would be funny to take another picture with the original picture as the desktop of my laptop. I wanted to go for one of those hall of mirrors infinite regression sort of things. But the thing is, I realized after taking the second that it didn’t work. My laptop was in a slightly different place. Other things had moved around on the desk. The interior image wasn’t the same as the outer image. So I did what any sane person would do in the situation. I put the second picture on to my laptop as my wallpaper. The idea of having my desk as my wallpaper amused me and for the rest of the day whenever I walked back to my desk and saw that desktop just sitting there it amused me to no end. Yeah. I’m that easily amused. Then I had a brilliant plan. Every morning when I got to the office and fired up my laptop I’d take another picture and set that as my desktop. I’d do it for a week, a month, a year. Perhaps do it for an entire career. Recorded in those ever tinier images would be the big and small changes of a working life. Admittedly, the idea is almost depressing. I mean, I could call it a record of a working life. I could also call it an infinite countdown of life wasted, eight hours at a time, staring at the same wall. But, then, what’s on the wall? Mementos of the things I do outside of work. I work to have the resources to go and do things, then bring the memories of those things back with me. As reminders. The Peacemakers poster on the upper right came from the show at Joe’s on Weed Street back in May. I pulled that Seneca poster off the wall of Irish Times on my way out the door when they swung through in July. I grabbed the Jessi Lynn poster off the wall of the High Noon Saloon in Madison, Wisconsin last Thursday. She thought the whole idea was kind of funny and promptly signed it for me. There are also items there that remind me of life before. When I first got the job I happened to have the Flight of the Conchords CD in my car. It came with a poster. My desk needed some color and it fit the bill. There’s my Western Illinois Nalgene bottle and my Sullivan Taylor coffee mug. The bottle is obviously a college thing, but Sullivan Taylor is, too. It was this awesome coffee shop in downtown Macomb. I’d grab coffees over there during work. During the holiday season they made the best egg nog lattes. My buddy and I were briefly in the men’s group from my first church out there. It met at this ungodly hour of the morning every Tuesday. Afterwards we’d go to Sullivan Taylor and have a coffee klatch before class started for the day. And, yes, we called it a coffee klatch. The thing that I realized, though, is that no matter how many pictures I take and put as the wallpaper on my laptop there is one image that will never be represented. That’s the one where I am sitting at that real desk where the real posters are hanging from the real pegboard, drinking coffee from that Sullivan Taylor coffee mug. So those images are always pulling back, back, back in to reality. Then today I read this:
“It’s incredible how deeply imprinted we are with these damn rectangles,” Hockney commented as we looked at one of those early Grand Canyon collages on its cardboard panel. “Everything in our culture seems to reinforce the instinct to see rectagularly—books, streets, buildings, rooms, windows.”
And here I am, taking a series of pictures of a laptop sitting in front of posters above drawers and below cabinets. And all of those rectangles are sitting inside of a larger space called a cubicle. Or, for short, a cube. More than that, I’m attempting to display the passage of time in rectangles of ever-decreasing size on a rectangle inside a cube.* It’s like an ironic version of cubism. Still, for eight hours a day it’s my reality. And, in a weird way, it works, at least in my mind. Mostly because I, more than anyone, get that there is that other layer, the one where I’m actually sitting at that desk and actually working (yes, I do manage to do some of that when I’m not attempting to create the dumbest art form ever). And that, again, was where the words of David Hockney hit me.
“Cubism, I realized during those few days,” Hockney continued, “Is about our own bodily presence in the world. It’s about the world, yes, but ultimately about where we are in it, how we are in it. It’s about the kind of perception a human being can have in the midst of living.”
So what can I learn while sitting at my desk every day? How can I better learn how to interact with the world in my cozy, corporate cubicle? Apparently quite a bit about the passage of time and the importance of packing interesting things in to that time instead of just leaving a blank wall where the memories should be. That seems like a pretty good start. -------------------------------- *Also, and this really wasn’t intentional, I just noticed it while looking at the picture, notice the focal point of pretty much the entire scene. The lines draw the eye back to the screen on the laptop. The monitor and the keyboard of the desktop computer create a plane on the right side that takes you straight to the same image on the laptop’s screen. The text on the Peacemakers poster on the upper right similarly slopes towards the laptop. Over on the left side the docking station, calculator, Jessi Lynn’s guitar, and the heads of the members of Seneca similarly form a series of lines that draw the eye back toward the laptop. And, of course, since the lines are duplicated on the screen of the desktop itself the eye is then further pulled towards the screen of the laptop inside the laptop. Also, I’ve been thinking about this way, way too much. Seriously. I think I need a hobby or something.

1 comment:

Fiat Lex said...


Reminds me of Stephen Colbert's portait(s)! Man, I miss that show!

And cool, cool observations and posterages. I think it would be awesome if you did that photo-every-day thing, saved the photos in a folder on your desktop, then every period of time or so, just put them up as a slideshow so you could watch the passage of time march across your workspace. Like in a movie, only the narrative voice-over would be in your mind! Like backreading your own blog, only in pictures. Much faster.

Good practice for storytelling, too. Because a person's territory is in a sense an extension of their body, and seeing the changes in its expression are like watching a person's body language in a mirror. A mirror made of many different kinds of rectangles. Like a Cubist painting? Okay, it's a crappy metaphor. Work with me, here!

Personally I love the at-arm's-length world of offices as a milieu in which to view the human experience. You can see everything a person is willing to show and/or unable to conceal. But unless they invite you into their confidence, you don't participate in it. And of course the intricate dance of getting invited into someone's confidence is its own wonderfully satisfying art form, if that's what you're into.

I exhort you not to be saddened or feel hemmed in by your rectangles! They are a hiatus, even a several-year-long hiatus, in which the eight-hour-a-day working part of your life partakes of a groovy monklike, contemplative vibe. You can send your mind down as many bizarre pathways as you can find, and know you have that stability to draw you back into a pattern of everyday life. For me, this was helpful in maintaining emotional stability, which could be a chancy thing. For you, it doubtless has, can and will serve other functions.

I dunno. Do weird things with yourself. Write in new genres. Participate in insane message boards. Contemplate modern art. Look at the things people in history did which were as weird in their days as, say, Fear Factor or BattleCry are today. You're a resourceful fellow; you'll think of something. :)