Last week at Tea, we got to talking about mid-day naps. In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I am an office napper. As a matter of principle, I try not to snore. But I do lie down right there on the floor, turn my timer on for 12 minutes, and slide into sleep. For some reason, the Maintenance guys long ago took the bunkbeds out of my office. Not sure what they were thinking. Perhaps they needed to make room for the desk and the file cabinet and the bookshelves and the conference table, all of which I occasionally use between naps. But not even those Maintenance guys could get rid of that aroma of rest that lingers from the old days when my office was a dorm room in Groot Hall 2nd.
As I think about my mixed-use residency in my office—a place for work and rest, prayer and reading, budgeting and even a little distracted eating—it makes me wonder, “What sorts of metaphors guide the ways we think about our workspaces?” (I mean, besides thinking of the office as a hammock.)
Sometimes it’s tempting to construe the work desk as a derrick. A place where you drill down deep, hoping you sitting atop, not just a pile of books and papers, but some sort of dark, bubbling, money-making fluid. Drill, baby, drill. Other times, you might think of your desk as a sort of drone command center. You’ve heard the PR term “email blast,” right? Sometimes I’m like one of those guys who sits thousands and thousands of miles away from the real action, using a keyboard to guide a memo missile for some ongoing campaign to secure power. Operation Masterful Moodle. Operation Eternal Reporting. Operation Infinite Assessment.
But I think, in my sanest moments—that is, those moments immediately after taking a nap—my office feels like a shed on a small farm. I know, I know. I’m going all John Denver on you. “Well, life on the farm is kinda laid back / Ain’t much an old country boy like me can’t hack.” But you know how it goes on a farm, right? You’re always caring for growing things, only on this farm it’s not wheat and beans. It’s ideas, books, conversations. And the thing about farms is, stuff’s always breaking down. So you drag it into the shed, clamber underneath it, and see what needs fixing. And thank God you’re a country boy, I mean, country person.
Sometime I invite you to stop by and take a slow look at four prints on my office walls. Maybe you’ve seen them already: Van Gogh’s The Four Seasons. In one of them, there’s a tired-looking man leaning hard on his plow. You know, somehow, deep down your memory, what it’s like to try to keep that blade deep as you can in some very tough soil. And there he is again, in the next print, in another season of the year, slinging his seed from the sack around his neck. You know what that’s like, too, right? You know that sense of impossibility that sets in as you see the seed lying on the soil, in the furrows. Will anything, anything green, ever come pushing up through the dirt? On the other wall, he’s in another print, this time digging potatoes with his wife. There’s a time for that too, a time for reaping. And, finally, there’s that good man again, this time walking home tiredly behind his wagon. I’m glad for these Van Goghs. They call to mind deep truths about the soils we find ourselves tending.
And they’re good to stare at, too, in that half a minute after the watch alarm goes off and before you push up from the nap and find your footing once more in the fields of the Lord.