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Personal Environment
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I've read a lot lately about architecture and how various designs of rooms and porches, hallways and classes, can affect the quality of life, to relax or inspire, to energize and activate, to soothe and calm.

It seems that we perform best whatever we are set to do--sleep, study, cook, work--when the environment is conducive to that activity. Not only the structure of the edifice, but color and scents and lighting are part of the whole impact.

I know that I am strongly influenced by my personal environment. Back home in New England, ceilings were low and rooms were small, so that fireplaces and the wood stove could heat the rooms more effectively. The affective response was that when I came home, I always felt that I was coming home to my cave, an inner space enfolding and protecting me.

When I moved to California, the rooms were full of light and air, with high ceilings and big windows. Even my dorm room at Stanford impressed me with its size, though my California-born roommate complained of feeling oppressed.

I felt free, light, energized, liberated from the restrictive ways of New England. I'm sure the physical surroundings added to that feeling--Stanford is justly proud of its early California architecture, with open colonnades and curved arches, bending down to columns which touched flagstones and brick. Fountains and flowers and palm trees. I had never seen a palm tree before, nor a colonnaded walk.

A few years ago I was assigned to work in a building with narrow corridors and extremely high ceilings. I felt overwhelmed and diminished the whole time I was there. I've often wondered if that was the purpose, since the building is the headquarters and was built to spec by the company I work for.

More intimately, I find I need order and organization in my immediate surroundings. Chaos and disorder make me uncomfortable and restless. Filthy dirt like greasy dust (as opposed to temporary clutter) brings out a feeling of disgust, though "clean" dirt in the garden is fun to root around in.

When I was a teacher, I used to change up the decorations on the bulletin boards and the arrangements of desks and chairs frequently, to match the tasks at hand and to bring variety and interest into the classroom. Rows of desks are deadly boring and that boredom spills over into the attitude towards the lessons.

Usually I walked around the classroom while I taught, and often sat in an empty seat myself. I found that the non-standard seating and teaching arrangements fostered independent study and actually improved students' behavior. The best classroom environment I ever enjoyed had carpeting, too, and I brought in pillows and arranged bookcases to create a sectioned-off "library". I suppose that would be outlawed now. Everything is much more rigid and standardized.

I dream about having a home that is clean, well-organized, full of light and color. Some day.

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