If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Friday, June 6, 2008

Claiming Space

Zuska put out a fascinating call for this month's Scientiae Carnival. Her topic, Added Weight:Taking Up Space, reminds us that women are not allowed to take up space in the world. She has asked us to respond to this by describing ways we, as women, allowed ourselves to take up space or add some weight this past year. I had written a bit about this when describing my New Year's theme for the year. As we are now halfway through the year it seems a perfect opportunity to revisit that theme.

I had a lot of trouble claiming my own space when I was young. I found small niches where I could store myself (up a tree, in a closet, a particular windowsill); where I could claim a space no one else wanted--or even noticed. Later, when I joined my first dojo, I heard the phrase "don't occupy occupied space." It was certainly not something I did but I began to notice that people often tried to occupy space I was in. They acted as if I wasn't there. Literally people would try to sit on me--not realizing I was already in a seat or someone would step into a space where I was standing and then apologize because they hadn't seen me there. I often felt invisible.

As I mentioned in my Themes post my goal this year is to Claim: claim my power, claim my experience, claim my expertise, claim my right to occupy the spaces I am in and to occupy additional space. There are some spaces I find easy to claim as mine--like the classroom. I own that space. And my ownership is recognized by my students and my colleagues. I've also made considerable progress increasing the space my research takes up in the world. I've started a new research agenda that is growing nicely and this past year myself and my student research team were visibly taking up university space and resources. Claiming that space in the larger environment of my field will take considerable effort and time but at least I can now see the path.

A year ago I changed offices and moved from a tiny office in no-man's-land to a large corner office next the to the Department Head. My office is large enough to hold a small conference table and I use it frequently for project meetings. I have students in and out of my office constantly and we often raise a ruckus when we're all there together. A new DH arrives next week along with additional faculty and space is, well, an issue.

My two favorite colleagues are moving downstairs to share a very small suite (more like a very large room). The suite has no windows, is near no one, and will eventually house 4 faculty members and several graduate students. They would like me to be one of the other faculty members and, as these are the two people I most see myself collaborating with, in many ways "rooming" with them would be ideal. But the space is not. In fact it is not even adequate. So I'm staying put. I'm claiming the space that I've been given. I use it well. It works for me. And quite frankly I deserve it.

There are consequences to location--opportunities arise when you are around to receive them. I found from my first year in no-man's-land that being away from the "hub" meant not having access to resources and not having a voice in the department. In the long run, whether my claim is successful or not, I feel it is important to not voluntarily give up a power position. While we might not like the concept, the space we occupy is symbolic--it sends a message. I think I'm sending a critical message to my department and to myself: I AM this.


Amanda said...

Definitely keep your office. I can sympathize with the choosing a space over being with other colleagues.

acmegirl said...

If I had a corner office with a conference table, I wouldn't want to give it up either. And it is a demonstration of your power, since you are in a position to offer YOUR space for a meeting. Keep it!