Monday, January 25, 2016

Minimalist KonMari

My laundry, tied up by load in furoshikis
Marie Kondo's tidying book is all the rage.  It promises not only organization, but painless, persistent organization.  While part of my mind is thinking, what part of the second law of thermodynamics does Ms. Kondo not understand?, the rest is crying, is this the holy grail of tidying, will at last all be wondrously organized?

I suppose I could have spent my sabbatical ruthlessly purging my possessions, asking each one if they were a source of joy.  But I didn't. What I did do is apply a dash of KonMari to my laundry and to my office.  This violates Kondo's principles (do it all, she says, or nothing), but not mine, so off I went.  I found a one page version of her folding methods (easier than flipping through the book) here and tackled my dresser and closet.  Some worked well with the storage I had, some didn't.  Several months later, things are still tidy without a lot of mental work going into keeping them that way.

There is something of the Liturgy of the Hours in this discipline of putting things away just so.  Each day I begin again, each four week cycle ends, only to repeat.  When I cannot find the words to pray, I can open my book, and begin — like my socks, the psalms are tidy and waiting for me.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Winter tea: the scholar's mug

Summer yunomi on patio
at Collegeville Institute
Two summers ago I spent a week at the Collegeville Institute at a workshop on memoir.  The week before I spent time at the St. John's Abbey guesthouse, on a quiet retreat.  I took long walks, (mostly) timed to miss the thunderstorms.  One afternoon rain arrived before I was well back from my walk, so I ducked into the Abbey pottery, where a tea table, with sand and a charcoal brazier was set and ready to share with guests.  I had a cup of tea and enjoyed a delightful conversation with the artist in residence about Japan.

I bought two yunomi (the taller than they are wide Japanese everyday tea cups)  — a summer one and a winter one) — fired in the Abbey's wood kiln.  You can see the marks of the flames on the winter cup, which the potter named the "scholar's mug," and every time I drink from it I think of the abbey's hospitality and Abba Joseph, his hands aflame.

I quickly learned not to fill the handleless mug all the way with tea, the ceramic quickly becomes too hot to lift.  It's a lesson I keep re-learning, as I am tempted to add just a tad more in hopes of not having to return to the kitchen for a refill as often.

As I return to the classroom after my sabbatical, my scholar's mug reminds me not to fill my days or calendar too full.  It's a lesson I have to keep re-learning here, too.  Somehow I have three classes, in different parts of the building, in very different parts of the curriculum (an introductory class, a graduate class, a major's upper division class), scheduled back to back and through lunch.  By the end of the day on Wednesday my metaphorical mug was too hot to handle.

Every day, I begin again.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Bigger than a breadbox?

We took a family trip between Christmas and the start of the new semester, in part because the schedules aligned as they had not for four years and all us were free that week.   It was wonderful to have such a stretch of relaxed time with my spouse and kids.

On the very early in the morning drive back to the airport, Crash and The Egg were playing 20 questions. At one point Crash asked if something were "bigger than a breadbox" and I wondered aloud if he even knew what a breadbox was (and how big it was).  Actually, no clue.

I remember my grandmother's metal breadbox on the counter with the corrugated steel door that slid up into the top — a tiny garage for the bread.  There was a touch of rust on the corners, and if you were to ask me what color it was, I might say it was a pale blue.

And you can still buy them - there is even one for more than $100 at MOMA!  I'm fairly sure my grandmothers would be appalled by that last.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

DotMagis: Dusting

I'm back.  I packed up plants and books at the end of last May and moved home, with plans to write and to travel during a six-month sabbatical leave.  I wrote and wrote:  three essays for Nature Chemistry, an essay for the UN for the International Year of Light, an op-ed on the internet and pseudoscience for C&E News, 17 blog posts for my Culture of Chemistry blog and a solid first draft of a book of writing exercises for chemists.  Then I traveled, to talk in Texas and Rome and Barcelona. Lots of exciting things happened (two NPR interviews! new colleagues to collaborate with!)  And that was just the professional end of things — about which I have to submit a written formal report next week.

My other authorial persona tried out a few new things as well — writing a short piece of fiction about an encounter with Pope Francis, in two languages no less— though that wasn't part of my official plan for my sabbatical.

But yesterday I went back into my office for a full day, and today am working on writing not only that report, but also polishing up the syllabi for the three courses I will teach this spring (intro chem, physical chemistry and a first year graduate course on quantum mechanics), and finishing a letter of recommendation for a wonderful former student.

This shift from extraordinary and the ordinary has prompted me to do some tidying of my study and office, and to write a reflection on the spiritual arguments for not dusting for DotMagis.
Dusting reminds me that our daily life, even when unremarkable, is perhaps not so ordinary. As I step back into my teaching, into the very ordinary days of my life, I’m reminded to think twice about brushing off the infinite hiding within the immanent.
Read the rest at DotMagis.  Read all of Marilyn Nelson's science flecked poem about dusting and chemist and spiritual writer Mags Blackie's thoughts about her return to the everyday from sabbatical.