I shook my head slowly, pretending offense. They weren't buying it, though. Probably my delight at picturing myself as a creepy old person who yells obscenities at elevators was shining through. Also, it had been one of those sorts of days. I'd spent the entire day playing straight man to Noodlebowl's jabs.
It started with the pride of my office: My whiteboard. It is understood throughout my entire division that the whiteboard in our little corner of the world is mine and mine alone. It is not to be used for personal notes or doodles or any sort of cutesiness (aside from the two stuffed lizards with magnets in their feet, and a couple of carefully chosen magnets with clever sayings on them). The one other exception is children -- if you're under 10 years old, you can draw on one particular part of the whiteboard, so long as you don't touch anything that's already on there.
Once upon a time, the whiteboard was used to list our projects with deadlines only. These were listed in no particular order -- just title and date -- and things got left off or left on beyond their end date, other projects were disregarded, and notes-to-self were routinely posted. It was a mess.
Some months (more than a year, certainly) ago, in the midst of me creating a job I wanted to do, I fixed the whiteboard. There are now three sections, two on the left-hand side (Ongoing Projects and Workshops & Classes), and one on the right-hand side (Deadlines). These sections are delineated by straight, drawn-with-a-ruler black lines. The titles of the projects (or classes) are in blue ink, the people responsible are in green ink, and the deadlines or scheduled dates are in red. Deadline projects have the funding agency, mechanism and title, as well as the principal investigator's name. If you walk into our office, you know exactly what we have coming up, and who is working on each piece. Because I used to teach, I developed the skill of writing in straight lines. My white board is neat. It's orderly.
It is a fucking work of art.
And it is mine.
Once, in the midst of a lot of projects and stress, I looked at the out-of-date whiteboard and fretted. I said to Noodlebowl and Congee that maybe I should just suck it up and get one of them to take it over. I could cope with that, right? And it takes at least an hour for me to update it properly -- erasing which ever section needs updating, re-spacing the list so it sits properly within the allowable area, making certain every entry is in chronological order, updating the people working on the project if necessary. Noodlebowl told Turkish Mama this plan. Turkish Mama is one of the most powerful people in the division. She looked at me aghast.
"Toxicfur," she said. "You cannot do that to Congee and Noodlebowl! You would never be satisfied, and that just isn't fair. You can't set them up like that!" As usual, Turkish Mama was right. I felt the anxiety build as I pictured Congee (with her beautiful handwriting, even) climbing onto the chair, eraser in hand. So I sighed and decided an hour ever week or two was worth sacrificing for my sanity, and the sanity of my coworkers.
But back to the morning in question. Congee was going to be in late because of her classes, and so I had room (without asking Congee to move from her usual spot) to update the whiteboard in its entirety. All three sections, rather than just the Deadlines, as I usually do. I carefully copied each entry into the proper section of my work notebook (the whiteboard entries go in the "Projects" section) in the proper color of ink (black, blue and purple for my notebook). Then, carefully not touching the horizontal and vertical black lines, I erased each section and rewrote them. I reorganized the Ongoing Projects by category and status. I added to the Workshops & Classes. I deleted canceled and completed projects and added and clarified a lot more Deadlines. The entire project took a couple of hours.
It was beautiful. Spaced properly. Neatly written block capital letters. Straight lines of text, color-coded for easy parsing of the information.
With a satisfied smile for a job well done, and an exhortation to Noodlebowl to admire my work, I sat back down in front of my computer to actually do some work. There was an email from Soldier, the director of another office within my division. "Wasn't sure if you were lined up to assist," it read. The remainder was a forwarded notice that a particular project had been canceled.
It was, in fact, the second entry under Deadlines on the whiteboard.
"Fuck me," I said to my computer.
"What's wrong?" asked Noodlebowl, her voice tinged with anxiety.
"The Q06 is canceled," I told her. "Soldier just emailed me to let me know."
"Oh?" she said, confused.
"It's the second thing on the whiteboard," I whined plaintively. "I'm going to have to rewrite the entire goddamn thing all over again."
Noodlebowl turned slowly in her chair to face me, her arms crossed, her body shaking all over with barely suppressed laughter. She wiped her eyes and continued to laugh.
"Now fuck you!" I said, grinning. She laughed even harder. I pretended to be distraught, and talked about how much work the whiteboard rewrite was going to be, and why did the second one from the top have to be the canceled one? Why couldn't it have been something near the bottom, so I wouldn't have to start all over?
"Why don't you just move the top one down?" Noodlebowl asked. "It'll be fine!"
"But there will be extra white space! It'll bother me!" But that's what I did. I couldn't justify the extra time it would take to get the whiteboard back to it's former state of near perfection. I erased the top two entries very carefully so as not to disturb the black line above or the third entry below. I held the markers carefully between my fingers, my wrist angled away from the board so I wouldn't accidentally smear anything already written.
When I was done, I looked at the white space at the top and despaired. I moved a lizard into the space and covered his eyes with his front feet. It would suffice until I had time to really fix the white board, but it really wasn't a good solution.
When Congee got in, I couldn't help myself. I pointed at the whiteboard and explained the hard work I had done.
Noodlebowl turned around and started laughing again. "You're going to point it out, aren't you? You just aren't able to stop yourself. You know that no one would even pay any attention if you didn't show them."
"I know," I sighed. "But it's so obvious! I don't want anyone to think I did it on purpose! I need people to understand the context of the imperfection."
Congee looked, wide-eyed from Noodlebowl to me. "What's going on here today?" she asked. She sounded like a mom, or like a grade-school teacher. I felt abashed, and I responded accordingly, talking over Noodlebowl, who was trying to tell her side of the whole sorry affair.
"See," I said. "I re-did the whole whiteboard, while you weren't here so I wouldn't be in your way."
"She was so proud," said Noodlebowl.
"But then I got this email from Soldier, and a project was canceled."
"The second project down."
Congee turned to look at the whiteboard.
"I didn't want to, but I just moved the top entry down. Noodlebowl told me to," I said, my voice increasing in pitch and volume.
"Did you really want to rewrite everything?" Noodlebowl asked.
"So I put the lizard in the white space, but it's bothering me that things aren't spaced properly." I ignored Noodlebowl's question, because the answer was clearly 'yes.' She was just trying to make me look like a crazy person.
"Would you like me to put a decorative flower border up there?" Congee asked.
"Definitely not!" I said. "What are you thinking?"
"Friday," said Noodlebowl.
"That's right!" said Congee. "Friday, when you aren't here. Decorative border."
"Oh my god, you guys are trying to kill me here," I moaned. "My one day to go to yoga and work from home, and now I'm going to have to come into the office to keep this travesty from happening."
They thought I was joking. I'm certain that on my one work-from-home day, Congee and Noodlebowl are having, like, keg parties and shit all up in the office, and I'm cool with that. When the cat's away and all that. But I seriously considered going into the office on Friday to prevent the floral border.
"I'm so fucking glad Turkish Mama told Tox not to make us do the whiteboard. Can you imagine what she would be like?" Noodlebowl said to Congee.
"Oh, I know," said Congee. "I'd just refuse if she asked me."
I'm holding out hope that my whiteboard hasn't been defiled. I didn't get any texted pictures, though, so maybe, just maybe, it'll be in its current imperfect state when I go in on Monday morning. Regardless, that white space has caused enough angst. Monday, time permitting, I will be spending some quality time with my dry-erase markers.
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