The Gods of Busy Work


There’s a definite after world feel in my office today. In the first place, the place is completely dead. For the most part classes have ended and there’s nothing happening today so there’s not one student on the 7th floor. Additionally, the heat of June has created a confluence of effects. We need to keep the doors and windows open, with the window blinds down to keep out the sun. So the place is dim and, while the open windows and doors allow air mobility, the gods of ironic comfort call forth aggressive currents to slam and thump the windows against their frames.

We jerryrig them open with boxes of paper, chair backs, door stoppers, and rope. But still, now and then a door slams in impossible surprise. Then there is the wheezing and wailing the wind plays as it rattles the windows. The sunlight never seems to go away. And the office gets eerily quieter as my colleagues get picked off to do busy work.

At this point in the year, we are short timers. There’s only a few weeks left until we are allowed to frolic in the meadows of summer and sip from the fountain of replenishment offered by relatively late mornings and guilt free late bedtimes. In reality, I do very little of this. I almost never frolic, my summer bedtime is remarkably geriatric, and I like getting up early so as to enjoy the day before it becomes mercurial. Nevertheless, the end is nigh, and we are looking over our shoulders.

At this time of year our teaching duties are essentially done, so we embark other university work. This includes syllabus design, pedagogical development, research, writing, or editing. Basically a lot of stuff we couldn’t devote all that much time to during the semester.

It’s understood by the higher-ups that this is what we’re doing. But the end of the semester also means a variety of busy work that has seemingly been conceived to waste time and push the boundaries of Sisyphean tedium that the human brain can withstand.

Whenever the boss breaches our already open door and hovers in the office, we all know we could be the next. So we click a tab that’s not Facebook and really focus on looking as though we are really focusing on something. Personally, I do long division in my head, thus emanating the look of a caveman in a desk chair. Also, I pick up one piece of text-filled paper and compare it with another piece of text-filled paper and pretend I am searching for a bespectacled man in a winter cap and a red and white sweater.

So far today it has worked. However, when the boss comes back I extend a peripheral glance to realize that I am one of the only two left. I am reminded of the fates of the others by the faraway sound of a paper shredder, the grunts of a person heaving eternal boxes into a bottomless cabinet.

I have earphones off (as an extra defense) and hear the light murmur of what could have been my name. I drop into an animated state of possible aggravation. She taps my shoulder and I have no choice, but to accept my task.

I have to reorganize two floors of classrooms; it could have been worse. I walk to the empty floor below, still in its limbo dim sunlight, and I start. While there I wonder who will have to re-reorganize it again in September. But I think I already know.

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