Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Piles, Collections and I Need to See It-itis

Last night, I took down the birthday cards I had displayed in the dining room. Sounds like a good thing, right? Except the birthday was over a month ago. And it was mine, so I can't blame their extended stay on top of my microwave on anyone else's sentimentality or lack of initiative. This one's all on me.

I didn't leave them up on purpose. And I'm busy, but not so busy that I don't have thirty seconds to take down the birthday cards and put them away, especially since I actually do have an "away" in mind. These aren't homeless items, or even sentimental knick knacks that I intended to leave out. They aren't a physical replacement for a to-do list. They simply became so much a part of the landscape of my dining room that I ceased to see them.

I'm definitely a piler. An "I need to see it," "out of sight, out of mind" visual organizer. But, like so many others who share my special way of organizing the world, I often find myself walking the fine line between useful strategy and insurmountable hurdle. Okay, walking is an understatement. I've camped out there.

And so I suspect that a brief walk through my house (should I be brave enough to embark on such a journey) would reveal countless other "collections" that need to be attended to. In fact, right this minute, as I sit in my living room typing this blog, I can spot four such piles -- without even moving from my seat.

Why does this happen? How come these things aren't where they belong? I'm not a slovenly person. And I can guarantee you that as soon as I finish typing this, I will right three of these long-overdue wrongs. And it will probably take me less than five minutes.

So why didn't I do it before?

Because until I took down the cards and started writing this blog, I really didn't "see" those "collections." They began as reminders to do something, or to finish something, and as time went on, they blended right into the landscape of the room -- so much so that it took an awakening of sorts to remind me that they were, indeed, out of place.

These awakenings often come in the form of expected company. Knowing that visitors will be arriving, I will look at my house with a critical eye, removing the blinders I wear when I am home alone. For the first time in weeks, I'll see my house as company would see it. Appalled, I'll tidy up, put things away and make my house fit for non-family companions.

Once things have been put away and clear space has been restored, I will revel in the beauty of the uncluttered space. I will remind myself how easy it is to gain that space, and how nice it feels to have order restored. And I will promise myself to try to keep it that way....

....but will stop just short of vowing to do so. Because I know that's a vow I can't keep. I know that when I put things out of sight, they often go out of mind as well. And the fear inspired by that possibility is greater than my need for clear spaces.

So the best I can promise myself is to try to strike a balance. To continue to work toward leaving out only that which it's necessary to leave in plain sight.

As for the rest, I'll keep looking for organizational options that keep things visible but not intrusive. I'm only partway through that journey, but I am making progress.

One collection at a time.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Book Butterfly

One of the best things about writing a book is the people you meet as part of the journey.

It begins with the company of other writers. Long before the book is even a completed manuscript, my critique group reads each chapter, giving me feedback and encouragement. At conferences and on social media, I meet other writers who are sharing this journey, toiling away on manuscripts of their own. We share stories, news, successes and disappointments, but mostly, our interactions help us to feel less alone in what is typically a solitary pursuit.

Once the book is out, new journey begins: promotion. A dirty word to many writers who'd prefer to stay in a happy little writing cocoon, toiling away at the next work-in-progress, promotion isn't really so bad if you find a way to make it your own.

For me, that meant beginning my publication celebration in a place where I write: Starbucks. On a snowy night in February, I spent four hours with good friends from all aspects of my life: family, church friends, theatre friends, co-workers and former co-workers, fellow writers...It was so much fun, I did it two more times, at three different Starbucks stores in all, and each time was wonderful. The book was merely a starting point. The conversations and connections were what made each time special.

Each of these book events, whether at a Starbucks or a book store, has given me the opportunity to connect with current friends and re-connect with old friends -- those from whom my path has diverged. And now, as I move forward, those re-connections are something to be cherished anew. People who come to celebrate with you when the time on different paths is measured in decades are people whose friendships are worth savoring. And savoring, by definition, is a process which requires both time and attention.

Writing a book and getting it published is definitely something worth celebrating. But without friends with whom to celebrate, it's merely another item to be checked off a bucket list.

When life gets hectic and it's hard to find time for that coffee or that lunch -- perhaps even because it means sacrificing time spent working on the next book -- it's important to remember that without friends, life really is just a bucket list. We can spend our time checking things off and feeling accomplished, and at the end of the day, that makes us feel pretty good. But at the end of a lifetime, it merely feels empty.

So as I set out on the journey that is the next book (and the next busy week and the next crazy month), I have to keep in mind that remaining in a cocoon may be the best way to write a book, but it's not the best way to live a life.

And in the end, I'd much rather be a social butterfly than a solitary caterpillar.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

All That Jazz

About six years before I retired, I moved from one office to another. My unhappiness with this move is something I've written about before, not because I'm bitter, but because like many changes, this one came wrapped around opportunities.

One of the good things to come out of that move was the chance to create a space that was warm and
fun. The layout of the room was completely different from the one I was leaving, and at first, I was worried about how I'd make it work. But, once I hit on a solution, I had a wonderful time filling the room with my decor of choice. Animal prints, bright colors and soft surfaces abounded, and my new room drew just as many compliments from adults as from the kids who were my charges.

I learned a lot about organizing in that room, too, not the least of which was that I wasn't what I've come to call a "Type A" organizer. Type A organizers don't fill their offices with pillows and animal prints. They don't clutter their desks with trinkets or their bookshelves with stuffed animals. To a Type A organizer, an office is a place of business.

I am a Type A organizer's nightmare.

Eight years have passed, and that's still the case. I no longer have an office all my own (except for the one I've appropriated at home). The office I use at work is quite nice, but it's a shared space. Shared desk, shared shelves, shared file cabinet, shared computer. And as such, it's...nondescript. I don't expect zebra pillows and children's construction paper creations, but a splash of color or personality here and there would add so much.

I'm happy to provide these things -- in fact, I brought in a cute little cupcake sticky note holder (complete with heart-shaped sticky notes) to sit on a corner of the desk, tucked away under the upper cabinets. Hey, it's paper, right? And it's not big enough to get in the way. And if it is, then it's easily tucked in a drawer, on a shelf or in a cupboard. Till then, it adds a little pizazz to the drab brown standard-issue desk.

Too much? ;-)
And I would dearly love to add more to the decor, but I find myself trying to think like a Type A organizer. How much is too much? If it's functional, can it also be pretty? I don't want to clutter up the work space, but the shelves are bare, and those nails on the wall are just begging for inspirational quotes...but one person's inspiration inspires another person's eye rolls.

As it is, when I head to campus, I'm pretty weighed down by my laptop, course materials, my progress has been slow. But, I'm on the lookout at home. I have no doubt that if I got serious about it, I could find all sorts of goodies lurking in my basement that would jazz up the place. I'm just not sure my colleagues would be thrilled with all that jazz.

So, for now, I will keep my decorating dreams on the back burner until I can find the perfect mix of practical and precious. And I'm sure that by the end of the semester my cupcake sticky note holder will have some company.

After all, I wouldn't want her to be lonely.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Procrastination Pays

I just finished reading a great little book -- one that was part of my last book splurge at Hearts and Minds. Entitled The Art of Procrastination, it's a fun little read by John Perry, an emeritus professor of philosophy at Stanford. Yes, I know the two halves of that last sentence don't sound as if they belong together (one of these things is not like the other?), but I'm not making this up. And, as evidence, I submit the subtitle of the book: "A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging and Postponing."

Dr. Perry's first chapter began life as an essay -- one that won the 2011 Ig Nobel Prize in Literature. Before purchasing the book, I stood in Hearts and Minds and read a good chunk of that chapter, and that's what sold me on the book. After I brought it home, I set it aside, picking it up now and then to nibble at it a chapter at a time before finishing it all in one big bite this morning. No, I did not put off reading it; I merely savored it.

Dr. Perry doesn't extol the virtues of procrastination, except in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. Throughout the book, he points out that lots of procrastinators accomplish quite a bit, much of it while they're doing something else, (a.k.a something besides what they're supposed to be doing). He intertwines his philosophy on the life of a procrastinator with strategies and, true to his education roots, a disclaimer that he's not recommending procrastination as a lifestyle, merely pointing out that we're not all lazy lollygaggers who put things off to the point that we never accomplish anything.

If you're a procrastinator (especially a "structured procrastinator," as Dr. Perry has dubbed himself), you'll laugh out loud at this book. If you know (or live with) a procrastinator, you'll either chuckle, or grow increasingly annoyed (see chapter nine) as you read this book. Or, perhaps you'll do both.

The timing of my reading is a bit ironic. I read two chapters last night before going to sleep, then finished this book this morning -- after spending much of the day yesterday putting off doing a project at the top of my list. I picked up the book last night in part because it related to the project I was working on, which is also part of what compelled me to finish the book this morning. By the time I finished it, I'd mentally written half of this blog and had begun coming up with new ideas for a class I'm proposing.

And my project? I finished it. Before I finished reading the book.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday Freebie: What I'm Reading in Ten Minutes or Less: ADHD and Brain Connections

The Human Connectome Project
I've been reading a lot about brain development lately, partly because I'm teaching it in both of my classes, but partly because it fascinates me. The fact that technology has reached the point where we can examine working, living brains non-invasively and create maps of them that de-mystify their inner workings has such amazing (and, according to my students, scary) potential. Not only can we create stunning images of what's going on inside our heads, but through research like the BRAIN Initiative and the Human Connectome Project, we're learning how the brain communicates within and outside of itself. Researchers hope that this information will put us closer to understanding and treating diseases like Alzheimer's, depression and autism.

Earlier this week, some of those stunning images, along with an article from NPR about some research breakthroughs in ADHD, landed in my inbox. Immediately friends and former students ran through my head as I considered how this new information could impact them, particularly as I read about treatment implications.
For those who want to dig deeper, the article links to a research abstract that's a decidedly more challenging read, along with a brief podcast about the study. To hear President Obama talk about the BRAIN Initiative, click here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Falling for Fall

I am trying to stave off a cold. My daughter is sick. My students are dropping like flies. Germs abound and sleep is in short supply -- a surefire recipe for defeat.

Still, I love this time of year. Cool, crisp mornings. Sunny afternoons, perhaps with a hint of a breeze. Sweatshirt weather. The time of year when, depending on the time of day, I may need a blanket if I want to curl up on my patio with a book or my laptop.
I have always loved fall. The juxtaposition of fresh starts against leaves in one final display of glory creates an energy that inspires me to make new plans. Optimistic, far-reaching plans that excite and that I foolishly believe I have the energy to carry out. Inevitably, they become part of the reason I succumb to the sleep deprivation that invites illness, but that doesn't make them any less fun to contemplate.

We all need a season in which to contemplate. To create new things with hope and a sense of complete possibility. Without renewal, life grows stale and we feel more like the crumpled leaves on the ground than their celebratory siblings on branches just out of reach. Maybe those plans will fade and wither, or maybe they'll spark something as long-lasting as the tree itself, nurturing generations of leaves to come.

So I will continue to plan. And if experience is any indication, I will make plans that tax my energy and patience, no matter how realistic they may seem at the start. But no one ever promised that life would be free of challenges.

And along the way, I may just curl up under a blanket on my patio and take a nap. I'm going to need energy for all of those plans, after all, and I can't afford to get sick.