Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Clerical Mysteries

(with apologies to Kathleen Norris1,2 and a tip of the hat to my friend Katherine)

I've spent a chunk of time today clearing out my study to get ready for the summer's writing projects. My study was ringed with (relatively neat) stacks of books and folders, one or two for every project from April and May: columns for the Standard & Times, an essay for Nature Chemistry, student writing, general chemistry lectures. There are moments I wish for a wand to wave à la Mrs. Weasley, or to twitch my nose like Samantha on Bewitched (yes, my age is showing, I saw these episodes when they first ran) - so I can get on to the NEXT THING, but for the most part the gradual clearing of space is proving to be a contemplative exercise.

Slipping folders with drafts and tear sheets into their proper spot in the file cabinet, tucking correspondance from friends and family into a box and cataloging the book collection, let me see where I've been these last few months, in my teaching, my prayer, my writing, my family life. Where were things so crazy I didn't even manage to make a file? Did it really take me two months to answer a note from a friend confined to her bed?

You might have noticed the list in the sidebar of the blog labeled "Fifty Fewer" which is a remnant from a project undertaken four summers back — to clear out fifty things a week from my life. I stopped tracking around 250 categories — but wonder if I should return to the practice, albeit not on the same grand scale, and regularly track what stuff comes into my life and goes out of it. An Examen of Things.

Skimming the full list of Fifty Fewer and thinking about what I tossed/recycled/gave away in the recent tidy, I realize that I live in hope - which may not be a bad thing in many ways, but when it comes to things, might be less of a virtue. I hold onto the tea that I don't care for, hoping that I will grow to like it, or perhaps a visitor would enjoy it. Cooking gear that I don't use — ever. Am I hoping that one day I might decide to poach a whole fish?

My imagination, a faculty I generally would not surrender, also holds me hostage to stuff on occasion. I imagine that I might find a way to unstick the long rusted shut (and already replaced) pliers, or a use for the generic sticky notes that don't actually stay stuck.

The office space is neater, though I will spend a bit more time clearing out files and purging the book collection, and I am on to the NEXT THING. Writing a column — and an essay.

1. Clerical as in filing, not ecclesiastical
2. If you haven't read Kathleen Norris' The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and Women's Work, do.


  1. there is an old tune... what's the use of getting sober if you are going to get drunk again

    Sometimes I feel that way about creating order in my studio (a place I don't go even if I only had one recent beer)

    But order is a good thing to have at times, just like it is good to take a shower even if the humidity is just going to make us sweat again

  2. I'm not sure how one poaches a fish, but I like the way you organize your binders. All my moving has made me want to go paperless (admittedly with rudimentary organization, but even when organized . . .!). I've resisted surrender so far.