A week or so ago, I was sitting in my office. It was too close to class time to actually start on any project yet far away enough where I had time to kill. So, in lieu of even attempting to do anything productive, I decided instead to merely contemplate my surroundings.
Of course, no such task ever ends up staying in the land of innocence.
A relatively new colleague once commented that he wanted his office to obtain the look of mine. My natural response was to tell him to never throw anything away and just collect silly things. Granted, I have my share nof those in this office. My calendar for this year is Superheroes and Faires. This replaces last year's,which featured robots and donuts, which replaced one of retro advertising for trips around the solar system, which replaced a long line of bunny suicide calendars.I have a wall of fame containing flyers from all my bands (save my new one, which keeps getting added to shows at the last minute and doesn't make the flyers). I have a large collection of lego minifigs and some other toys. I have a ceramic lucky cat (as seen in Asian grocers). I also have a fairly random collection of art.
I noticed then that I had a large collection of scholarly books...and, from the point of my colleague's assertion onward, I started to think about why I had so much of my old scholarship. Yeah, I'm glad that I have this space to store the books rather than trying to wedge them into an already-crowded apartment, but that alone wasn't enough. The old excuse of someday needing it no longer held up, as I am quite sure I have no desire to do any more academic writing. I already work hard enough for little to no compensation in my life. Maybe they were here for memories? But the last thing I need are reminders of the career goals I never achieved, of the papers I never had a chance to write. Sentimentality is one thing, but of a life you had to leave behind due to your own failures, whether your fault or not? Not the wisest idea.
So, last week, I decided to start cutting down the office book collection. I took two bags of books to our local coffee shop/used book place last week. Today, I didn't have a class until 3:30, so instead of immediately jumping into grading, I decided to start attacking the clutter. In short notice, I trashed seven cans of paper, journals, magazines, and articles to be recycled. I found a massive folder of overhead projector sheets (I've taught in some pretty ugly and low tech rooms). I packed a few bags full of books and sorted through the rest, whittling down eleven shelves down to the three I'm still going to keep (although I'm not set on these ones).
It's an almost indescribable feeling. It's like I'm throwing out my past. But more than my past, it's my former hopes and dreams that are going in the recycling bin. I pick up a folder and remember the grandiose plan I had for this subject. I pick up another stack of papers only to remember the grad school class where I took those notes. I delve into the bookshelves, only to find whole schools of thought which became dead ends or were never pursued in the first place.
There's a lot of this which is definitely cathartic. No doubt that, with more time and increased perspective, it will become more so. And I can definitely use the space. However, the task does bring a hint of sadness. I saw the tenure track faculty member who was hired the same time as I in the hallway, and my irrational disdain for him and his position in life started to rear its ugly head...but only for a minute before I clamped that sucker down.
Perspective can, at times, be a mean mistress. Oh well. It will get better.