Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Dear Diary

Dear Diary,

Yesterday I stayed at home in an effort to do some work without being distracted by the people I share my office with. My change of venue was a successful ploy, and I got to do my washing as well. But I am faced with a dilemma. As a rule, I don’t want to work from home. Because I live by myself, I think it’s important to maintain some kind of separation between home and work, otherwise I would never go out. Lately, I have used travelling to and from the University as a way to incorporate some free, regular and (hopefully) effective exercise into my routine. Still, going out is about more than raising my heart rate; it’s also about finding ways to establish a routine, when the arrangement of my day is entirely a matter of self-discipline, and it’s also about collegial and social interaction. In regard to this latter point, dear diary, you might wonder what I’m complaining about when I tell you that I’m spending too much time in distracting conversations with the people I share my office with; isn’t conversation the reason I go to the University? The short answer is yes. I go to the University to attend seminars and reading groups, and I consider going for coffee with someone a priority on most days. When I’m in my office, however, I would like to work, whether that be internet database researching, reading or writing. I don’t like my main activity in that room to be talk. I’m not against all conversation in the office, but there are limits and I’m not quite sure how to set them. Part of the problem is that everyone in the room is at different stages in their theses. I am three months away from confirmation, so I need to start tackling the writing of that document in a concerted way and for that I find it better not to feel compelled to enter into conversation every time I or someone else enters or leaves the room. One of my office mates is near completion, so he is very focussed. I like it when he’s in the room because the others take one look at him with his headphones on, typing intently on his laptop, with books and articles on the floor near his chair, and hustle straight to their desks without a word. Another office mate has just started her thesis and she is new to this country as well, so in addition to her thesis she is concerned with making social connections and improving her English. I am not indifferent to this and have enjoyed many excellent conversations with her, but when my work isn’t going as well as I want it to, I’m afraid that I resent making conversation. Perhaps I should try the headphone tactic. Even if there’s no music playing, it constitutes a clear signal that says ‘I’m not available to talk right now’. I'm worried about being rude and inhospitable and making her feel unwelcome. The last person I share an office with is at an awful time in her thesis. Her scholarship is about to run out and she is far from completion. Her initial supervisor got a job overseas and she has a fraught relationship with her current supervisor. That mix of insecurity, fear and conflict makes for a combination of anger and bitterness that seems to need constant expression. Again, I’m not indifferent. I experienced this same convergence of circumstances and the subsequent cocktail of emotions when I did my Master’s thesis, and I didn’t have the responsibility of a child as she does. Still, even before we shared a room I always found our conversations to be like walking a tightrope; I am exhausted by the effort they require since I feel I can never fully relax. I often feel patronised by her, and again that makes for a level of resentment that lately I just don’t want to hold in. Today, in fact, dear diary, I gave a very brief vent to my resentment and frustration in response to my perception that I was being patronised, but it was also fuelled by feeling constantly diverted from my work by circular and exhausting conversation. And then I left the room to attend a prior commitment and proceeded to avoid her for the rest of the day. Dear diary, I am not proud of myself. I think I need to apologise, but I don’t know how to do it sincerely and address the problem at hand. But I wonder if it’s worth investing the effort into smoothing things over, beyond a functional surface level, with someone who I’m not likely to ever be best friends with. Will discussing my feeling of being patronised merely create unnecessary problems? So you see my dilemma, dear diary. What should I do?

Yours sincerely,


Galaxy said...

Well, dear diary, I have learned that one only tends to focus so much on peripheral things when one is seeking to find something or someone to blame for one's lack of progress in the main action of one's life. Mea culpa. I have sought professional advice which has endorsed the headphones tactic and my suspicion that I don't really have anything to apologise for.

David said...

When I was midway through my thesis I shared an office with a woman who had the worst life ever and would fill me in on her trials for hours at a time. It wasn't very good for my work. I stayed at home. But listened when I was caught there.