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Adjusting to life in a cubicle


Patricia TorvaldsFor the first time in my life, I have a cubicle.

At 17, this has probably happened earlier for me than it does for many, but I have spent the last two summers jealous of people I knew who, even at my age, enjoyed the luxury of workplace privacy.

When I volunteered at the Portland VA Medical Center, I was sometimes allowed to work in empty patient rooms —admittedly nicer than a cubicle — but I never had my own work area. And my part-time job at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s office was hardly enough work to warrant me a space of my own.

But now, on the fourth floor of Portland State University’s engineering building, in the mechanical and materials engineering office, I have my own little cubicle. I even have a sign with my name on it, and underneath, “MME HS Research Assistant.”by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: PATRICIA TORVALDS - Torvalds captures an image of one of the features of her cubicle, a large sheet of foam.

It’s all so romantic and exciting, like a studio apartment in Paris, but with more fluorescent lighting.

The cubicle itself is pretty empty. I haven’t put anything on the walls out of fear of violating the Cubicle Use Agreement, so it showcases only a gray plastic-and-metal bookshelf (also empty, except for a file holder that I put there when stuffing pink Styrofoam peanuts into one of the filing cabinets). The L-shaped desk has only my two bags and laptop on it, as well as a large black wrist rest that feels like a sea cucumber. One of the filing cabinets holds the only proof of a previous inhabitant: a gigantic stack of paper. On the top sheet, it says "Continuity Equation in Rectangular, Cylindrical, and Spherical Coordinates.”

The other drawers are mine. They hold a cubic foot of pink Styrofoam peanuts, a box of 1,000 toothpicks and two small receipts for the purchase of the aforementioned items. There is a 4-foot-by-4-foot sheet of styrofoam leaning against the wall. Nobody’s complained about it, so the cubicle police probably wouldn’t mind a little flower or comic on the wall. But I can’t bring myself to risk it.

I like my cubicle, because it makes me feel important. I also like it because when I read 8,000 xoJane “It Happened To Me” articles instead of reading studies on turbulent airflow in clearcuts, nobody can tell. There are on average four people in the office at a time, so I could read xoJane in the hallway, probably aloud, and nobody would care or even hear it. But I like the idea of it. I’m sure I’ll tire of the novelty of my small, beige box someday. For now, I have another xoJane article to read.

Patricia Torvalds is a senior at Riverdale High School, and she writes a monthly column for the Review. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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