Cubiclemia: a morale-sapping disease I’m happy to not suffer from chronically

Possibly my favorite thing about studying the earth (and there are a lot of things) is that it generally involves studying the earth. By this I mean “going outside and looking at nature, or at what humans are doing to fuck up nature.” Even when this involves bugs or snakes, obscene Texas heat, and/or rain, there’s a common saying that “the worst day in the field pretty much beats the best day in the office.”  After having a bout of chiggers and my fill of the heat the last couple of weeks, and spotting a tick crawling across the collar on one of my compatriots’ shirts just a couple of days ago, I was foolishly thinking that having a whole Friday in the office for processing all that collected data might be a nice break.

WRONG…enter Cubliclemia (yeah, I’m aware there is probably a real name for this, but I don’t think it sounds as ominous and therefore adequate as this does).  Holy. Crap.  I cannot imagine having a job where I ocupied a cubicle 40 hours a week.  8 hours in one day was too much for me.  When I’m teaching I get to walk around and help students, and when I’m working on my own research I get to break up the monotony of data entry and analysis with setting up lab experiments or shooting the shit with other grad students, unfettered by predefined “working hours.” But it was actually painful. The noise level that cannot be dampened without real walls made it distracting to work without headphones, which squished my ears too much to be comfortable any longer by lunch time. My back could not really handle sitting any longer, even after some desk yoga.  I had to stack binders to raise up my keyboard and mouse enough to be able to stand (see Instagram).  Now I know…if you work on a roof in Texas in the summer you feel no sympathy for me, nor should you in all likelihood.  That is a different beast entirely.

None of this is to say anything negative about my employer, who is awesome and has made my first  few weeks a great experience.  And my day wasn’t even really “bad” so much as a watered-down (this office is super low key in that I get to wear what I want and most of the other people there share my desire to be in the field) peek into cubicle work. But if you compare this whole “sitting most of the day under artificial light” thing to the entirety of human evolution, pretty much the only perk we are getting here is climate control while losing much more.  So, some simple lessons from my brief glimpse into the life of a cubicled office worker: 1–studying the earth is awesome, 2–cubicles are not, 3–some offices are worlds better than others (my day at a desk may have been unbearable if I was forced to wear business attire instead of my shorts and Chacos), 4–beer with friends can alleviate truth #2 even if truths 1 and 3 couldn’t do it all on their own.