• Just Visiting

    A blog by John Warner, author of the story collection Tough Day for the Army, and a novel, The Funny Man, on teaching, writing and never knowing when you're going to be asked to leave.


On the Importance of a Change of Scenery

I have a new office this semester.

February 14, 2013

I have a new office this semester. It’s amazing what a change in scenery can do for your spirit.

My office is on the lower floor of an old quasi-Charleston single that looks like parts have been grafted on over the years. It has five walls covered in a nice blue paint that doesn’t quite extend all the way to the top, two windows, an old bricked-up fireplace, 12-foot ceilings (popcorned), crumbling sills, and a single working outlet. The furniture is of the “classic” industrial utilitarian variety, equally at home in a construction trailer. The lighting is a single, dual long-bulb, florescent fixture that throws maybe fifteen candlepower down to the desk.

I love it. It’s got character in spades.

I’ve put some of my older books on the fireplace mantel, along with my signed Duncan Keith hockey stick and Patrick Kane figurine. I’m sort of hoping one of my students takes notice, and would like to talk about the amazing start to the season for the Chicago Blackhawks, but as of yet, nothing. They insist on asking about things like assignments and readings. All work, no play, these people.

This is a significant improvement over last semester’s office, which was in an interior, windowless hallway adjacent to the campus marketing office. It also smelled like junior high boy gym locker. I swear the smell was there before I moved in. When my students would come for conferences, the looks on their faces said “Seriously? This is where you hang out?”

I’m sort of amazed at how much the office has brightened my mood, how it has me spending more time on campus, often choosing the office over home for work.

I don’t really put that much stock in offices. Back during my corporate America days, I was moved from cubicle to office kicking and screaming, not wanting to acknowledge my improvement in status because it might have meant I was having a career.

And objectively, as an office, my new digs here are well down on the hierarchy, having opened up only because some much better offices have recently been remodeled.

I may get a roommate in future semesters, which would be fine. Some of my best memories at Clemson are rooted in time spent with my three office-mates, where we happily shared a space smaller than my current office. Sometimes I pitied the tenured and their offices filled with books, but without other people. The mutual support of NTT colleagues in the same boat was important to me at Clemson. If I was being exploited, I wasn’t alone, and it wasn’t an excuse to not serve the students given there were other people in the exact same position as me doing their jobs well right in front of my face. I learned more about teaching listening to my colleagues work with their students than just about anywhere else.

So I’m doing the same thing in a new space that makes me feel, somehow, better about everything, which got me thinking.

By the objective, job description criteria, the job I have now is the same one I held at Clemson for six years. It’s a visiting position, renewable year to year. I teach composition and writing. My classes meet Tuesdays and Thursdays. In some ways, again by the objective criteria, it’s not as choice, since at Clemson I taught upper-division classes while here most of my time is spent on freshman writing.

But I’m happier, and I think at least some of it has to do with the change in scenery. Maybe it’s just the inevitable honeymoon period of a new place with new people, though I also suspect that the values of College of Charleston are more in sync with my aims than an R1 university like Clemson that’s asked to serve different masters with different agendas.

In twelve years, I’ve taught at four different universities. I just counted on my CV and during that time I’ve also been instructor of record for 16 different courses. I think that this variety of experience has something to do with the pleasure I still take from my work, even as I sometimes question the contingent circumstances within which I do that work. This semester, job and solo office. Next semester, job, maybe an officemate.

Fall 2014, who knows about either of them?

I’m no Pollyanna, and I’m not here to argue that life outside the tenure stream is somehow better or more desirable, but things like a new office remind me that not having the same strong gravitational pull to a place that pursuing and achieving tenure can provide, isn’t an entirely bad thing. Their shackles might be silver-plated, but they’re still shackles.

There’s uncertainty in my future for sure, but if you squint and look at it just right, uncertainty can look a little like possibility.


I just crossed the 1000 Twitter follower mark. I can now die happily. But you know what would make me die happier? 2000 Twitter followers.



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