Zen and the art of office design

For many many years, I have had a divided self – torn between the practical and the spiritual, the creative and the logical. I’ve tried so many ways to work it – mostly, by giving a chunk of my time to “work” and another chunk to “art.

I grew up seeing this division in the lives of my parents – Dad was very practical, Mom always longing for a creative life.

As I got older, I realized that they weren’t really polar opposites – Mom was quite practical in many ways, Dad had several creative outlets. Each of them admired the dominant trait of the other – Mom leaned on Dad’s solid practicality, and Dad vicariously enjoyed Mom’s music and art.

All my life I’ve tried to have both. The trouble came from seeing these two elements as being in conflict.

Spiritually, I aim to eliminate dualistic thinking – the artificial division of black-white, good-bad; the artificial sorting of people, thoughts, actions into one or the other. Peace comes from acceptance and integration.

For the nine years we’ve lived at Azalea, my office has been set up with a severe duality. The right side was strictly for work – my desk, printer, file cabinet, reference books. On the left side, my easel, glass, paints and paper sprawled.

I placed a dining table down the middle of the room to separate the two halves. For awhile, I even hung a bed sheet between the two sections as a room divider.

As I prepare to move back into the restored house, I feel that I must integrate the two sides of my office. By changing the space, I hope I will change my thinking.

The first element that will help integrate the room is my new propane wall heater. Because the whole room will be comfortably warm, I can open up to the light and use the entire space. Having a more open arrangement will allow the heat to circulate better, too.

I’m going to put my work desk smack in the middle of the wall. No more dividing line. And my work desk is going to be the dining table, not the crappy white laminated Ikea table. The dining table is solid wood, with curved legs and rounded corners.

Because I have two monitors, I can pivot one or the other toward the other parts of the room. A monitor can display a model while I’m painting, display directions when trying a new technique, show a design while I’m cutting glass, or even watch a tutorial while sitting on the futon.

I will also be able to use my very comfortable office chair in any part of the room, because there will be an easy path to roll it to the surrounding areas.

On the right will be the long Ikea table. Taking advantage of the white laminate surface, this will REMAIN EMPTY except when I am using it. (Capital letters required to keep my clutter-prone self in control.) The empty expanse will act like a whiteboard – allowing me to sprawl, experiment, mind-map, sketch, play.

On the left side of the room, next to the windows, two tables. One is a smaller white Ikea table, which can hold whatever supplies I need for any project I’m working on. The other is a glass-topped drafting table that I’ve had up in the kitchen, which has been pretty there but not very functional. It’s perfect for designing glass pieces.

Integration at last.

I hope this carries over into my life. The work I’ve been happiest at has been work that allows me to use my creativity. And vice versa – the art I like most has some element of being a project or design that incorporates multiple mediums, requires math, planning, or organization.

When I was younger I thought about my dualistic conflict in terms of a need for balance between opposing elements.

Now I see the need for integration, dissolution of these boundaries.

Balance happens naturally in the flow.

Today’s penny is a 2013 – I was trying so hard to do art and do work and keep them separated, and I never got any sleep.