My house is a mess.
It doesn’t look that messy. Books are on the shelves, where they should be. Pillows are on the beds or sofas or armchairs. I can move around in it with relative ease. If a visitor came, I would not be ashamed to have her sitting in my living room or office. There are clean teacups in the cupboard. I could make her a cup of tea.
The mess is different. It’s contained in neatly stacked folders, a pile of them, with receipts for taxes. In neatly stacked piles of books for various projects. Neatly stacked binders in which I organize my writing — but I’m behind, and things have not been organized for a while. A long while. It’s a kind of mental messiness, in which I know where all the projects are, and all the things I need for the projects, but there are so many of them . . . The tops of the shelves are covered with these piles. And because there is always a new project, always something to do, the old projects don’t get filed away. And I am always afraid of missing something, losing something.
So I need to put my house in order, because it’s an extension of my brain, and I need to put my brain in order. It feels exactly like my office, filled with things I need to remember, stacked in various places. It feels as though I’m always managing those mental stacks, and that effort is exhausting. I try to externalize it as much as I can — of course I have a to-do list, or rather a to-do notebook. But it’s still there in my head, creating stress and worry.
I’ve been stressed and worried a lot lately. It’s the beginning of the semester, so there is so much administrative work to be done. Tasks that used to be easy, like sending in a copy of my CV at the beginning of the semester, have been made a hundred times harder by putting them on the computer — now I need to upload everything from my CV into a program, figure out where my strange and sometimes uncategorizable projects fit into an academic template. I need to file for reimbursements, again on the computer. Request funding for conference travel. And then, of course there are all the tasks associated with actually teaching . . .
In my writing life there is also work to be done — I have a whole book to proof this week, among other projects. There are so many people I should get back to, so many things I should do. All smaller things that are not actually my writing — things like interviews, reviews. It’s difficult finding time to actually write.
Sitting here, thinking about it all, I feel a sense of helplessness, of being overwhelmed. I don’t know where to begin, except by going down my to-do list, item by item. But I think this is going to take more. It’s going to take a kind of spring cleaning that is not about dirt, but about mess: assessing, evaluating, organizing.
I’ve found that when the inner is not working, you have to work on the outer. That’s why I need to put my house in order. And now that I think about it, it’s not even the whole house — just my office, which contains all the work I do, and therefore all the mess I make as I do it. It contains all the files, the binders, the books I’m currently using for research. It contains all the teaching material, all the printouts. All the bills and receipts. I’m going to start with one corner and slowly make my way around the room — corner by corner, step by step, straightening out both my office and my life. It’s going to take a while . . .
But in order to do my best work, I need a sort of peace and quietness of the soul. I need to have an uncluttered mind. And this is one way to get there.
(The image is A Favorite Author by Poul Friis Nybo.)