I thought I would enjoy my break from blogging more than I have. It turns out that I like the discipline of focusing once a week, the way I used to like thinking about what I would narrate for a friend with whom I had dinner once a week, wanting to entertain her with the soap opera of my life. There’s something infinitely more satisfying about the weekly rhythm―storing things up for, letter writing when separated by distance―than the inevitably shattered, randomly intermittent exchanges of email. I can’t even begin to imagine the texting relationship my young friends have, although I can see its convenience, just as I recognize that the ubiquity of the cell phone is more convenient than looking for a working phone, not to mention a phone booth. Still, certain experiences seem irretrievably banished by the new social media (like the fraught romance of the phone booth), and sometimes it scares me to realize how superficial, finally, my ties are to twenty-first century culture– superficial, resistant, and probably Luddite. Oh, and how old my dissonance makes me feel.
So maybe the blog post is some kind of compromise formation. It’s completely an invention of Internet technology (I say that as I used to say “dominant ideology,” which it also sort of is), which mainly baffles me, and yet has some emotional ties to an older way of relating. I guess it’s of a piece with my attachment to pencil and paper―my date book and dog-eared address book are handwritten (as are pages of scribbled passwords), and when I recently had to empty my file drawers so that the painters could move my desk, I saw that I was by now hopelessly retro, as I suffered almost physically with every piece of paper, every folder I forced myself to throw away. It is no consolation for me to know that I could store my class teaching notes in the cloud (the cloud?). I need to see the file folders bulging with possibility to feel confident that I truly exist.
My messy desk during the paint job.
In the same way, I’ve had to conclude that not only will I never have a cleanly functional desk, but that I don’t want to. And here is why. My friend Carolyn Heilbrun prided herself on keeping her desk clear. She answered every piece of mail as it came in, and filed away the very few pieces of paper she needed to hold onto. But looking back now after the tenth anniversary of her suicide, I can’t help thinking that a clean desk was the opposite of what might have kept her alive. Yes, neatness counts, but the wrong way. It makes you feel that there is nothing whatsoever to do.
Unless something “to do” is sitting in a pile (better: scattered in several piles) on the desk, people like us feel lonely. Irritating as the messy desk can be to the severe eye, for the rest of us, it is also a perverse lifeline (hoarder alert): annoying, demanding, but demonstrating the ties we have to others.
I realize that this sounds like a specious defense of procrastination, but as I enter the new year, I will not make a resolution to clear my desk. The appearance of chaos is what I need to keep going.
What about you?