This morning I woke up, terribly worried about how things are going to go between now and the end of October (you know, the defense and all). When I’m worried, there’s really only one thing I can do, which is organize. So I organized.
This is what my desk looks like now:
Those files are labeled with all the things I need to do in the next month and a half: teach, defend the dissertation, etc. Then I have my calender, my to-do list, and some papers I need to mark on top of my teaching binder. Notice what’s no longer there: the dissertation chapters! Those are now all together, in a large binder on the shelf.
And here is my other desk, with the computer on it. Some things on the right that I still need to sort through, but otherwise it’s bare. Ready for typing.
Oh, there it is, the dissertation binder. It’s the large one on the top right shelf, to the right. At least it was there this morning, when I took these pictures. Now it’s by my bed, ready to go through so I can prepare for the defense. (The magazine rack to the right is holding my Locus magazines, one of my writing notebooks, and some pictures that I may never get around to hanging up.)
When I go to the university, I sling these two black bags over my shoulder. But notice how neat everything looks. Do you see what’s missing? No piles! No books or manuscripts piled up on the floor! Oh, there are still manuscripts piled on top of some shelves, but those are stories and essays that need to be sorted, and I probably won’t get to them for a while. Not until after the end of October.
Predictably, my printer broke just before I had to turn in my dissertation, so I brought up the downstairs printer, which works better anyway. I put it on a rather nice shelf I found in one of my favorite antiques stores (for $28, I think). So you know, my room isn’t exactly neat yet. It won’t get there until after the dissertation is defended and I can really organize. (This is temporary organization, just to get me through to the end of next month.) But it will do for now.
Once the room was organized, I felt as though I could breathe a little more easily. And then I started working.
All the work I need to do has been so stressful lately that I’m consciously holding on to certain things. Dance is one of them, and I’m endlessly grateful that I’ve gone back to ballet just now. Music is another, so I’ll give you my new favorite song by Mumford and Sons, “White Blank Page”:
I love great lines, and this song has two of them:
“But tell me now where was my fault, in loving you with my whole heart?”
“Lead me to the truth and I will follow you with my whole life.”
The way they’re sung in the video, they’re romantic but in a way that is also raw and powerful. And I love the half-rhymes: fault/heart, I/life. (You’d expect the second line to end “until I die,” but it doesn’t. That’s what makes it interesting. How do you follow someone with your whole life, exactly? It sounds like a choice, something intentional. As though you’re consciously taking your whole life, putting it in a basket or backpack, and following – like in a fairy tale.)
And going into the woods, to the extent there are woods here, walking around under the trees, sitting on the rocks. Those are the sorts of things that get me through. Also, a story by Isaak Dinesen that I remember reading, about a prince who, when he becomes king, is given a ring with an inscription on the inside. He is told to read it in good times and in bad. The inscription reads, “This too shall pass.” (And it will, because dissertation defenses do. As do difficult months filled with way too much work.)