Monday, October 26, 2009

How I Cleaned up This Mess, Part 2.

Well, here it is, the exercise I found in Brenda Shoshanna's Zen Miracles:
Enjoy persevering at something. Pick one activity that requires a great deal of perseverance and do it for a designated amount of time every day this week. Whether or not you are in the mood to do it, do it anyway. When the time is over, put it down. Then pick it up the next day. See what happens as a result of this to you, and to the activity. (p. 45)
At the beginning I did something Dr. Shoshanna didn't talk about - I defined the task more carefully. You learn to do this in management by objectives, and in my case, in working with classroom curricula. A task like "clean up this mess" is too amorphous. Rather automatically I made it specific: "Get this stuff off my study floor and stored properly."

Another thing I did that I think was important was bite off a really small amount of time. I know myself. I wouldn't do an hour a day. Even half an hour felt like too much, felt like a burden. Fifteen minutes is enough time for me to waste time. I vowed to work only ten minutes a day. Anyone can do that, I thought. That turned out to be good. Inbetween work sessions I found myself planning just how I would handle the next box.

What an amazing amount I accomplished in a total of only an hour, split into ten-minute intervals. I sorted huge boxes of photographs into Tom's and J's, and a small box of unknowns that can be examined at leisure some time. These boxes are marked and stored where they ought to be. I collected our old semi-functional slide projectors and cassettes and gave them to Cat Welfare, where they may appeal to someone who practices archaic photography. The study floor is clean. Basically, the mess as I defined it is cleaned up.

Here's the interesting thing that happened the first day: I got so much momentum going I really didn't want to stop. But I looked at the book, which said to stop when the time was over, and I did. That gave me momentum for the next time - I knew what I was about to do. Each time I found myself making quick decisions, not wasting time, which would have been very easy to do with things of sentimental interest like photographs. But I was clear in my own mind that I was not scrapbooking or figuring out who was in a photograph just now, none of that. I was getting those boxes off my study floor.

As I worked, many other projects occurred to me, and I actually did a couple of them. Gave all the houseplants what they needed, good locations, fertilizer, cleaned them up. Took this year's dead outdoor plants into the garage. Got caught up on the recycle. I saw that the "messes" I worry about, in closets and the laundry room and the garage, are just separate organizing tasks, not so important. Happily for me, what I see as disorder doesn't bother Tom at all. I happen to like my socks folded a certain way in the drawer. That's just a preference. It is my preference, though, and I learned more about that as I worked. I noticed that my yen for neatness fits into that part of my heritage that is German; I remembered how my mother cleaned, and how my father kept the house up immaculately. How my brother always kept his house spotless, what a good housekeeper my sister has always been. This is something I don't need to rebel against.

Doing this exercise worked on a much larger scale for me. Toward the end of the week the thought popped into my head, I shouldn't be putting all this energy into organizing stuff - I should be doing this with my work. My writing, that is, my work as a poet and writer publishing beyond this blog. I thought, I've been making way too much of this household thing. It's just stuff. In other words, worrying about it was functioning as a distraction from something more important in my life.

Just at this point I came across a breathtaking poem by Matthew Dickman via a friend's blog. Then the friend surprised me with Dickman's new book. I spontaneously decided to read one of Dickman's poems every day. I had a new project, a very easy one, and one that is leading me out into the world of contemporary poetry. Sometimes it seems as though the universe is watching, and has decided to do something nice for you.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this. Now I know how to go about getting rid of my boxes too. Because I'm overwhelmed, I'm frozen into inaction and distractions.

    Thank you for pointing out Mathew Dickman's poem. He reminds me of Ben Okri's passion and rhythm.