You’re going to have to bear with me on this one, because this is not Shakespeare. It’s not even the self-help equivalent of Shakespeare. It’s a simple, clear-cut advice book that I picked up on my kindle for two dollars. I found it while googling “how to learn to pack lightly while traveling,” an extension of an obsession this month with de-cluttering my home. The closet has been purged – gone are the sweaters that didn’t really fit, the shoes I thought were cute but never wore, that dress from…when was it? High school? The kitchen cabinets have been reorganized and the out-of-date canned goods have been removed. Our spare blankets and towels have been carefully refolded and put away. The garage has been attacked, viciously. All of the medicine in the house has been examined and sorted into bins. The stack of papers balancing precariously on the shredder for the last six months has been shredded. Even bedside table drawers were emptied and carefully refilled. No room has escaped this frenetic purging energy.
And with every task completed on my invisible and seemingly endless winter cleaning checklist, I have felt a small sense of accomplishment. Very small. Of course I appreciate the fact that getting dressed in the morning has never been easier, and that I have a box of books ready to sell to the second-hand store, but for me, organization (and its delightful kin, furniture rearrangement) is a sign of unrest. I clean when I feel mentally disorganized, and that often coincides with the beginning of the year when it seems like the rest of the world is good-naturedly undergoing the process of resolution setting.
I don’t really do resolutions, though not because I don’t believe in them. I just never get around to it at the beginning of January – how could I, when I’m inevitably out-of-town or just coming off a week of vacation? My brain isn’t in productivity mode on January 2, and once the first week has gone by, I feel so behind that I can’t even imagine diving in. This year, this was made worse by the fact that I spent all autumn immersed in a manuscript, and when I sent it off the second week of December, all I wanted was a break. Well, now I’m back, and the calendar is about to change again, and my brain is still sputtering away in hiatus mode.
So I clean. And while I’m doing it, some quiet, dark corners of my brain start to knit together again. I find a deep and strange peace in the folding off clothes and emptying of trash. Part of me recognizes it as fear that I’ve barely started my next project. Another part knows that this is how my Type A personality justifies procrastination. A third part decided to pick up this book and allow January a little space to be what it is – a transition.
I enjoyed reading these brief chapters about how to find a more restful existence by doing exactly what it is I’m already immersed in. It’s like writing out a checklist and including things that have already been finished just to have the satisfaction of marking items complete. Reading Live More, Want Less made me feel less guilty about having an off month because it reminded me of what I have accomplished while sitting around waiting to do something more significant.
Maybe that isn’t a good enough reason to read a book. Maybe I should be forcing myself to do things my brain isn’t ready for, but every time I try, I’m reminded of what school is like for many children. At one of the preschools where I taught, parents were insistent that the curriculum begin to lean toward teaching every child to read by kindergarten. This is not only impossible, it’s developmentally inappropriate for roughly 99 percent of children, and as an added “bonus,” it turns a lot of children into self-doubting students who hate and fear books. It was a nightmare, to be honest, and even though I recognize that there was a positive intention behind the request, it broke my heart to force on children a skill they weren’t prepared for. After a year with the pre-K class, my director and I had a long talk and she supported the idea of me teaching a younger class of children. She knew that my goal was to create a loving environment that encouraged multiple pathways to learning, and she also knew which parents would be excited about that approach. Together, we found a middle ground – a place where I could be happier without completely rejecting the feedback we’d received from some of the parents.
Our brains are not ready for everything all the time. Many of us accept that idea when it comes to children but have a hard time realizing that adults are no different. I’ve read some amazing books over the last few weeks, and I’ve written some short stories that are way outside my comfort zone. I’ve also spent a lot of time staring out the window, and scrubbing things, and wishing I could daydream a little less and work a little more. I’m searching for order, and, I think, for a personal restart. I suppose I’m just getting ready for this year to really begin.
To learn more about Mary Carlomagno, head over here.