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Stairwell.

Nature does not know extinction; all it knows is transformation.

Dr. Wernher von Braun

“Philadelphia style,” he called it. “Entire first floor: yours. One room on the second floor: yours.” He opened a door in the kitchen, pointed up a poorly-lit stairwell. We craned our necks up, strained to see something in the darkness — what we couldn’t see smelled of humidity mixing with old paint, and we tried not to wrinkle our noses too much in front of the owner. We weren’t especially successful, and he smiled wryly before telling us the rent, the deposit, the utilities included, when garbage day was: a litany he’d practiced before on previous tenants in prior years, an old dance, well-tread.

So having entered into the I-like-like-you-so-let’s-sign-a-lease-together phase of our relationship, we moved in one week ago. Contracts were read, checks signed, boxes packed, and trucks rented. Later, after our help had left, we’d stand in the living room: surrounded by the remnants of lives in separate apartments, this new space seemed even more so. Acutely new, foreign, not-us. Without the previous tenants’ belongings, the apartment’s little imperfections began to show through: the small cracks in the walls, the scuffings on the hardwood floors, the odd crack in the bathroom tile.

We walk through our days with a little lexicon of Known, the little rituals and jokes that we graft on to unfamiliar situations to make them less so. She began setting up the kitchen, I unpacked my computers. After awhile, the unknowns were put aside in favor of something a little more familiar, a little more exciting.


One week ago, I began a new job. While I’m still working at Harvard, I’ve moved over to the iCommons group — they build and maintain the University’s courseware, the software that powers Harvard’s online courses. I’ve come on board as a standards evangelist/UI lead; and as Dan told me, being a standards evangelist is the new black. The team is incredibly smart, talented, and committed to building a great looking, standards-compliant piece of software; I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

Still, there’s been plenty to adjust to. The voices in the hallway outside my new office are different, the coworkers’ sense of humor something I’m still learning to navigate, the day-to-day responsibilities are still being worked out. But all-in-all, the settling-in rituals of the past week have felt oddly like those in the new apartment. Find the rough and unfamiliar edges, and sand them down until comfortable. The routine may be different, but the details always remain the same.


Three days ago, I found the remains of my Chinatown poster on the floor of the apartment; the first thing I’d hung in my new home office had fallen from the wall and been dashed to pieces, its vibrant greens and yellows reduced to splinters of foamboard and glass.

I picked up the broom, and began to sweep.


This post was originally published at http://sidesh0w.com/weblog/2004/08/10/stairwell/.


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