Editor’s Notebook: ‘Boy With Improbable Ducks’
A cropped image of “Boy With Improbable Ducks.”
For the first two decades of my journalism career, I worked nights in the large open space for copy editors and reporters known as the “bullpen.” Not only was it a lot of fun, it’s where I learned how to be a journalist in practice rather than theory. I paid close attention to how reporters interviewed sources and top editors shaped the daily news report, and did my best not to be a liability on the night copy desk – sometimes with success – as my responsibilities increased bit by bit.
But as great as it was to be in the bullpen during those early years, later on I longed to have my own office. It had nothing to do with a desire to raise my status. As I saw it, an office was not unlike the bedroom forts I built as a kid: a little space within a big space where I could surround myself with objects that calmed and comforted.
In 2014, it happened. I returned to the newspaper where I had received my journalism education many years earlier for a job that came with daytime hours, lots of responsibility, and an office. The position was challenging, and so for that first month I didn’t have any time to think about interior design let alone tackle it. One month turned into two, and then three, and the only personal touch I brought to the space was a small plant purchased at a big-box store. I never even bothered to repot it.
A year or so into the job I hung one of my wife’s paintings on the wall, and at some point added another, and that was the end of it. So much for creating a space of my own.
In March 2020, when COVID made us a remote operation, I officially handed over my office to the mouse that had taken up residence in one of my desk drawers, and a year after that I left the newspaper to become editor of the Bulletin. I assume the mouse is still in my old office, adding all the personal touches I never got around to.
For 18 months, through the end of one job and the beginning of another, I worked from a home “office” that was any place where I wasn’t in somebody’s way. Most days I would start out on the living room couch, move to the kitchen table around noon, and finish up on another couch in a nameless room that I suppose is best described as a den. Because my daughters were learning remotely, I would occasionally get interrupted with a critical question such as “Are we out of cream cheese?” while doing battle with a tangled sentence, but all told it was a terrific arrangement. As I’ve written before, the pandemic that has taken away so much has not been without a silver lining here and there.
The bonus time with my daughters qualifies, as do moments I spent looking up at “Boy With Improbable Ducks.”
Dozens of my wife’s paintings are hanging throughout our house. I’m a fan of just about all of them, but none so much as that one. Although there’s no way that I could ever come close to replicating it myself, I recognize that it’s a fairly simple piece of art. It’s just a boy in yellow rain gear, flanked by two ducks that inexplicably still look like ducklings, and trees draped in the colors of late spring. Under cloudy skies, the boy looks toward the horizon rather than down at the ducks, which to me suggests that it’s not unusual for them to be at his side. They are frequent companions, I think, and each is in their glory when it rains.
For 18 months of working from home, I would look up at “Boy With Improbable Ducks” while editing stories of unceasing misery. And for 18 months, it helped.
I’m no longer working from home. On Oct. 1, I and my Bulletin colleagues began moving into our new spot in downtown Concord, and by the Friday before Halloween I had added a grand total of one personal touch to my space: a chipped coffee mug from home that was once part of a set.
The following morning, a rainy Saturday, it occurred to me that the reason I don’t put any effort into beautifying interior spaces – or landscapes, for that matter – is because of my relationship with time. I’m typically focused on the next deadline, the impending obligation, the coming season, and rarely on where life is actually happening.
Maybe that’s why I like that particular painting so much. I know he’s not thinking about anyone or anything that isn’t right in front of him.
There’s hope for me yet, though. As I struggle to write this notebook entry in my new office late on Tuesday, I keep looking up at the wall where “Boy With Improbable Ducks” now hangs. And it helps.
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