Friday, July 07, 2006

My Office is a Total Nightmare!

When I began my sabbatical, I just left my office in its end-of-semester messy state. This was both because I was very tired, and because I was afraid that once I started in on The Piles, I'd get lost in them forever and never get any research or writing done.

During my sabbatical, I'd come in every week or two to check my mail, and I'd go through it quickly to make sure nothing urgent had been delivered to me by accident. (If so, I gave it to the department secretary or forwarded it to the interim chair of our department.) The rest I just left piled on my desk.

Meanwhile, a retired philosophy professor has been sorting through his own books and papers and offered three boxes of philosophy books to me and the department. I said, "sure!" and he came by and dropped them off in my office.

So my office is a hopeless mess.

After having a dreadful dream last night of getting trapped in a strange and narrow elevator, I woke up deciding that I needed to tackle the nightmare mess that is my office. To make it manageable, I set myself a modest goal: just go after the desk; just sort through enough to fill one recycling bin full of paper.

Happily, I succeeded and am starting to feel significantly better.

Or, from another perspective: tragically, I easily succeeded.

There was a point at which I paused to consider what I was doing. I looked at the brochure in my hand: a postcard beautifully announcing that soon I would get a catalog of philosophy books by a certain publishing house, and if it didn't come in two weeks, please call or visit their webpage. I studied the artwork on the postcard. I read the description of the focus of that particular publishing house. I thought of all the people who work there, and all the authors who write for them, and the graphic design artist(s) who designed this card and the promised catalog (which turned up in my Pile as well). And what was I going to do? Toss it in the bin.

All this wonderful work out there; all of this good effort. But I am overwhelmed by it.

I can't save everything. I don't have time to process it all adequately. I don't even have time to remove myself from all of those mailing lists; nor do I want to, because sometimes this is how I learn about an important new conference or an exciting new book.

But, still, I am dismayed at all the time, effort, and resources that go into producing all this mail that I end up throwing away. People work so frantically hard. And here, on my desk, are the fruits of so much of that effort, and yet much of it just gets tossed.

What is this world we have created?

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