Where I Sit

I sit at my computer in my small graduate student office located on the fourth floor of Washington University's Lopata Hall. While the office is small and the heating and air conditioning system at this end of the building leaves a lot to be desired, I am fortunate to have a private office with my own window to the outside world.

The window is my office's best feature. Were it not for the physics building across the way, I would have a clear view of the St. Louis arch from here. But at this distance the arch is static, so I'm not missing much. Instead I have a view of the roof of the physics building that astronomy students must cross to get to the campus observatory. I also have a view of the roof corner of a neighboring engineering building that seems to be a favorite perch for various species of birds who alternately win perching rights for several weeks at a time. And I have a nice view of a small courtyard where people like to exercise their dogs. Being a dog lover, I find this view particularly appealing. But my favorite view is of a nearby oak tree. From my fourth-floor vantage point I have a rather intimate view of the tree and the various birds and squirrels that inhabit it. I watch the bare tree sprout buds in spring, which turn into tiny leaves, and then almost over night the tree is full and green. In fall the leaves turn orange and red before they drop. And always there are birds: cardinals, bluejays, pigeons, crows, and many more that I can't identify. Occasionally one will land on my window sill, which usually has the effect of startling both of us. The squirrels can be quite interesting to watch too, especially when they are engaged in some purposeful activity such as a futile attempt at building a nest by balancing fresh leaves precariously on a tree branch.

I placed my computer, an ailing SPARC 1+ named barbaloot, on a small table next to the window, so that I can stare out the window as I type with only a slight turn of my head. My monitor, propped up on an old St. Louis phone book, has post-it notes stuck around the edges. Atop the monitor sit a small golden pothos, an African violet that won't flower, and a frog shaped bean bag that my brother got in exchange for proofs of purchases from several granola bar boxes. I had hoped the pothos would grow a long stem that would creep around my monitor, but it has grown only a handful of new leaves in the two years that it has been here. Too short to sit with proper typing posture at most tables, I've raised my chair to keep my elbows at the right height, and placed another old phone book on the floor to rest my feet on. I have to be careful about typing posture, otherwise I suffer wrist and finger pain--but with the help of a few phone books I can keep it under control.

My computer is surrounded by cassette tapes, various Perl, C, Unix, and LaTeX books, an Emacs reference card, a dictionary, various drafts of my dissertation, and lots of official Washington University punch cards that I rescued from the trash and now use as note cards and bookmarks (it's also interesting to see how many of the undergrads who enter my office don't know what they are). I have a small radio/cassette player next to my computer, borrowed from a friend to provide some background noise after my stereo stopped working several months ago. On another desk behind me is my phone, which I regularly manage to knock onto the floor. The desk is stacked with piles of books, including almost every voting theory book from my university library. I have a book shelf too, filled mostly with old text books and a large collection of computers and society books, many inherited from a retiring professor. Above my computer table is a bulletin board to which I've attached three years worth of conference name badges, a few newspaper clippings, printouts of some of my computer graphics, several pages from a feminist page-a-day calendar, a "C++ SUCKS!" button, and lots of photographs. One of the photos is of my dad dressed in a train engineers costume and posing in front of his Lionel train layout. Another is of my husband posing next to a llama. These are comforting photos, as is a photo I took of a patch of black-eyed susans that I had enlarged a few winters back until the flowers were life sized. The black-eyed susan is the Maryland state flower, and reminds me of Maryland where I grew up. It's also a golden yellow color that makes the winter seem sunnier.

Lorrie Faith Cranor
16 August 1996
St. Louis, Missouri