Every year, for at least the past ten or fifteen, I’ve gone through a cycle that I once thought of as filling and — eventually — clearing my proverbial plate. I’d start each new semester (and, yes, sadly I’ve been involved in university life so long now that my internal calendar is split into semesters, not months) with “a clean plate”. A few courses to teach, a few papers to write, a few stories to write, a few chapters of the thesis to churn through…
But as the year progressed, I’d inevitably take on more and more jobs, more and more tasks, more and more responsibilities, until, in my mind, the plate looked like something you’d see at an all-you-can-eat buffet catering to people who haven’t eaten in weeks. Recently, the plate became insufficient; I expanded my mental image and turned it into a tray. Then a coffee table. Now, it looks a little something like this:
Perhaps not quite so glamorous, but stacked in this way. Heaped. Piled with so many things to do, so many things to keep track of and attend to and finish, that the table isn’t really up to the job after all, and things start getting stacked on the floor.
BUT. This post isn’t about whining about how busy I am, but celebrating the moment when I begin the clear the table. Because this clearing is as vital to the cycle as is the filling up: every year, at about this time, I start to notice something that never ceases to feel miraculous.
I start taking things off the table. Today, I gave my last lecture for the year — so, see that book with the red spine? The green one above it? The little paperbacks atop those? They’re gone now. In two weeks’ time, I’ll be finished teaching — knock off a couple more stacks. I’ve got stories to write, stories to critique, final assignments to mark — that’s at least three piles. Of course, some of the books will stay on there — my novel, my next collection of short stories, the plots and plans for book launches, future books, etc, etc, etc. But the heavy ones? The ones I’m keen to put back on the shelf until next year? They’re going, bit by bit.
By Christmas, my brain-table and the room in which it sits will look a lot more like this:
And today was the first step.