Thursday, March 24, 2011
Last week my workplace moved, and this week marks the first regular work week in the new place. For most of the people I work with it's a bad change: we're 20 miles away from our old building, so people's commutes have doubled or even tripled. There is a lot of grousing and many people have suspiciously puffy eyes when they come in every morning, as if they maybe spent some of the drive in tears. Some people have gone from corner offices with wall-to-wall windows and close views of the nearby rocky ridge to windowless caves. Other people have had their job duties completely upturned and their daily work routines disrupted--"I feel like I've taken a totally new job," said one of my coworkers. "Everything is new." I try to keep pretty quiet. I think I technically live the closest to the new office (five and a half miles away, but still: the closest). I also have a bigger, brighter, newer office with new furniture, and what's more, the move was an excuse to toss out all my predecessor's files and books and knickknacks. So I am unobtrusively thanking my lucky stars/ office politics/ the powers that be for my situation. Nevertheless, it has been an adjustment. I find myself thinking idly of the walk I will take at lunch--and then remembering, with a small pang, that no, that walk is 20 miles away. People I used to see every day are located in offices I can't always reliably find. Everyone in my department has their own office, now, so that instead of being grouped in out former cozy circle we are spread along a wall--the casual interactions we used to have don't work anymore. It isn't bad. It isn't something that we won't all get used to and find the new benefits in. I, for one, am already right now reaping the benefits of having 30 to 40 minutes less commute time every single day. But the adjustment is still surprisingly difficult and it reminds me of how much of our internal equilibrium is based on external cues we're almost unaware of--like geography. Like circadian rhythms, which are going to change based on which way our offices face and whether we have access to circadian cues. Like...is this possible?...external vegetation. Our new office is located out in the midst of warehouses and rugged old ranchland. There's very little out here in the way of plant life except knapweed, scattered weedy cottonwoods and siberian elms, and occasional strips of bluegrass and landscaping trees. There are no houses and the offices tend toward the utilitarian. There isn't much in this landscape that is thought out, or that reflects attention to place. Or interest in place. I go for my lunchtime walk and it's beyond barren: it's desolate, windswept, neither human nor nature but some drosscape in between. I catch sight of my office building at the top of the hill and I have a little lurch of affection for it, like I'm sighting my covered wagon after foraging for buffalo chips. Aw, we're pioneers, I think, even though we're literally sitting between two demographically identical office buildings. It's interesting to think about the animal basis of all this, how some animals are so sensitive to changes in light, termperature, or smell that they'll up and leave a place if it changes too much. And even if humans are more akin to noise-and-change-loving house sparrows and racoons, we still get all discombobulated and grumpy when it's suddenly brighter or our room faces north instead of west. One problem with noticing the animal basis of my response to changing geographical location, though, is I start noticing the animal wrongness of my daily routine. Driving! Desk sitting! Working away from my family! It makes me want to up and leave, some days, and go in search of a daily routine that feels biologically better suited.