Strata: Brian Griffith

Brian Griffith is an independent historian with an interest in the culture wars that take place in our world.  Ecology, religion, history… he explores them all.  He has worked in the United States, India, Kenya, and now makes his home near Toronto. In Correcting Jesus: 2000 Years of Changing the Story, he fearlessly takes a look at some of the most contentious issues surrounding religion: nonviolence, the role of women, the way that the same words have been used to justify widely differing agendas, and how and why beliefs developed and changed over the centuries. Brian also does a heroic job of keeping his office tidy.

What does your desk—the bare desk itself—look like, and how did you acquire it?

Its a big laminated desk. Looks as if it was walnut and has three drawers to each side. It barely fits one side of the solarium. Got it in a box from Office Depot and stuck it together.

What’s on your desk?

A copper pot full of ivy with unweeded shoots of tall grass, my wife’s two-volume Persian-English dictionary, a row of editing and style manuals,  pictures of my sister at her Mexican art cafe in Austin, Texas, and of some very good-looking relatives in Iran. The computer nearly fills the remaining space.

What do you wish wasn’t on your desk?

I wish there were shelves for the editing books and dictionaries, or the computer could leave a surface space for handwriting.

Are there artifacts in your office that relate to your current project?

The coffee mug is slightly relevant. It looks like black marble with the head of a Roman emperor, which recalls our many tensions between authority and friendship.

Are there living things in your office (besides yourself)?

Six potted plants left by house guests. But the condominium forbids animals, except maybe birds. A parrot would be good.

What else surrounds you?

Two sides of the office are windows with venetian blinds and a tenth-floor view of Toronto’s suburbs. The other two walls are glass, including the sliding door. Since the walls are clear, you can’t pile book shelves against them. The office can be no more cluttered than the adjoining living room, or it would make the living room look just as junky. My history books and notes have to go somewhere else.

What’s on the walls?

On the non-glass portions there’s a large framed butterfly from a Brazilian butterfly ranch, a Japanese fan, and a small picture of me and my wife in a Niagara Falls flower garden.

What have you lost in your office that you really wish you could find?

Well, my notes. They are handwritten on quarter-page sheets of paper, each with a source reference. And after about 25 years, the notes fill several file cabinets which are scattered in the closets of three rooms. We don’t like file cabinets being visible; they do look stultifying. So anytime I run into a question, like what did various religious leaders say about freedom, it can be slow finding what notes touch on that. But I like the paper note-cards. You can write them anywhere, and then hand-shuffle them into any order when looking for patterns.

What tools do you write with?

Hand-written note cards and shoe boxes with cardboard dividers for sorting ideas. I play with book or chapter outlines on the computer screen till patterns in the notes and the outline fit. Then shuffle the cards for each segment into rough order of presentation. I write on screen, separating the notes into used and unneeded piles. After each draft I can see where it needs more research, and repeat the process.

Is anyone allowed to come in and clean?

Sure, it’s the family office. My wife has to do her work too.  I get bumped off  the computer and everybody gets cleaning opportunities.

T. Myers is a writer who could never manage an office with glass walls, although she certainly admires people who can.

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1 Comment to Strata: Brian Griffith

  1. Lisa Peet's Gravatar Lisa Peet
    March 2, 2010 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    A parrot would be good.

    I often think this about my own home office. Probably not going to happen, but then I don’t have glass walls, either.

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