Sunday, June 27, 2010

Of Paperweights and Other Sustainable Practices

Picture a 1940’s office: the portable fan in the corner rotates quietly - blowing the fabric bits tied to its wire blade guard, moving the air just enough to create a semblance of cool. On each pass the papers on the desk ruffle a bit but stay put. On occasion a cross breeze comes through room, bumping the door.

What’s going on here? Is it? Are they? No, it can’t be! I can’t remember the last time I saw a doorstop in use, much less a paperweight in action.

I’m rediscovering the humble doorstop and ubiquitous paperweight as critical work tools as I sit in this unimproved 1875 house in the southeastern United States. I’m trying to see how far into the summer I can go without AC yet remain productive. This house has 14’ ceilings, 8’- tall windows, and an Eastern Shore cross-breeze that qualifies as a gale. And it reminds me how, long, long ago, people used paperweights.

It’s easy to see how our work-efficiency focus of the last decades drove us to choose all-on and all-off services for our lights and temperature controls, and how efficiency in the building process drove us to put all services in one conduit, on a single switch, and in all-in-one systems. Of course that is near-term efficiency, not long term. The flipside has the near-term inefficiencies of raising and lowering shades and windows throughout the day, changing to heat-strategic work hours, and acquiring doorstops and many, many paperweights. Often I value that inefficiency for the time it means I can leave my computer chair, for the opportunity to see and hear my neighbors, and for a moment to appreciate the design of this old house.

I don’t always appreciate the inefficiencies, but so what? It is good for the planet, and so far the bonus is that it’s easier than I thought. Ask me again in August.

It made me think of all the cool museum vignette exhibits each of us could do: "Air Conditioning the Old Way" with paperweights, doorstops, ceiling fans, desk fans, transoms, double-hung windows, cross can see how much fun this would be!

I've had one near miss during this experience, though. I lost my mind for about 30 minutes the other day as I looked up antique paperweights online and fantasized in a very ungreen way about collecting them. My true-green kicked in and I went to the drawer and took out the clay rabbit figure I just cannot throw away (for all sorts of reasons). My now-16-year-old son made it about eight years or so ago. It’s a perfect paperweight. Hmm, a tidy desk and a fond memory all rolled up in an energy-efficient paperweight. Life is good.

Come to think of it, he made me a very cool green-and-orange clay dragon that will be perfect for the pile of use-the-other-side scrap paper I keep by the printer and just in front of that tall window.

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