April 2018

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

P. S. 15 World Enough and Time

Yesterday I visited two colleagues' office and was overwhelmed by the amount of stuff.

Lest I sound like a neatnick, which would be ironic, I should confess that when I was a child, neighborhood children and cousins always wanted to visit my bedroom and my siblings' rooms, as other children with less patient mothers were so impressed by our mess. Not only could a person not see the floor or any other surface in our rooms, but one would have to dig through layers to find a surface.  When I got into bed, I would simply crawl in under the covers and all the stuff. As a college freshman, I (and my roommate Angelique) kept the room so delightfully messy that our boyfriends broke into the room when we were out of town and straightened it up for Valentime's Day. That was love. As an adult, when I was chair for the Humanities department in a new school, I kept so many textbooks and papers (yet to be graded, I'm sure) on the floor that the office became a part of  the unofficial tour. Guests came to marvel at the mess.

In the home where I grew up, my father's study  is as cluttered as my bedroom was when I was a child. My sister and brother  had similarly messy rooms. Clutter is in my genes.

I have such a long history of clutter and such a genetic disposition towards clutter that impressing me with disorder is difficult, but yesterday, when I visited two colleagues' office, I was impressed. The office is at most four square yards. In that space are two desks, two office chairs, one tall filing cabinet, two computers, two tall bookshelves, and twenty-three boxes (You have to look down--under the desks where most people would put their feet--and up--on top of file cabinets and bookshelves-- to find them all.) . There are seven piles of paper with approximately 800 pieces of paper in each one, 18 files that are not in the filing cabinet, 15 three-ring binders, 727 books, and six giant post-its with 23 smaller post-its on them. There is the cozy feel of home: one Mexican rug, one art hanging from India, and eight children's drawings. You can find the word "To Do" thirteen times: once on a box, once on a scrap of paper, once on a folder, four times on the giant post-its, and so forth.

This place has the feel of too much to do and too little time. Other colleagues step in for a moment just to grab some resource as they run by. One colleague's backpack is tossed on the floor. The other totes her stuff in one of those suitcases that airline attendants pull through the airports. People scurry by, looking neither left nor right. In the nearby conference room, teachers meet to write curriculum. They'll need to rush back to their schools at the end of the day to see how their classes went with substitutes.

Before brain surgery, I filled the nooks and crannies of my days with too many to do lists and stacks of dusty papers. I rushed from my car to the classroom and ran to the restroom in any spare moment. I arose at 4 am, so that I could be at the gym by five to swim and lift and rush through my sun salutation before my work day began.

My physical spaces were as cluttered as my time. I had stacks of ungraded papers, revised and re-revised lesson plans, and unpaid bills. A couple of times, I fell racing about with stacks of papers in my arms. The papers fluttered into the rain until I jumped up and grabbed them and ran on.

Since brain surgery, I slow down and focus. I must. If I try to dash around like I did before, my head will hurt, and I will fall over stuff. This new way of living in space and time is a gift. I sold many of my books. I have a few folders in the filing drawer in my desk, but I only take a piece of paper if I really need it. There is not so much stuff around both because it's difficult for me to read paper and because I can't lift even a three-ring binder very easily. The space, I find, gives me mental and emotional space, too. Though I'm dealing with brain tumors and their after-effects, I'm more centered and spacious in my self than I was before.

My  time, too, has more room in it. I cannot rush from moment to moment or room to room so I do not rush. I plan my days so that I can complete my responsibilities in a way that doesn't require me to hurry. I leave early to be sure I'm at places on time. I say, "I'm sorry, but I'm busy then. Can we plan for another time?" I drive slowly.  I am no longer part of Merton's contemporary violence which is overwork.  I can stop to say hello. I can ask a friend how they are and wait to hear the answer. I can notice the wet smell of fall. I can get lost in the intricacies of a leaf's architecture. I can.

Gotta go so that I'll be early for hocus pocus. Mary

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this, Mary! "Merton's contemporary violence which is overwork."
    Irony of irony. Times when I can most notice the wet smell of fall - when I am on a run. ;)


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