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What had struck him then was how few objects there were
in his house. The necessary--never had a word been better
illustrated. When his mother lived in one of the rooms,
she left no trace, if anything, a handkerchief.

Camus, Notebooks 1951-1959

I plan on tidying up the physical spaces I inhabit and work in next week. I figure that if I am to move on and get things done I should start with my surroundings, which are the basic preconditions of productivity and creativity, peace and tranquility. I resolve to once again follow my mother's three-step fix yourself plan: I will cut my hair, clean my room, fix my life. I'd be crossing out the first item next Monday. But that is the easy part.

Though I have started backing-up my computers in an attempt to archive what could (in my head) be worth saving for reasons I cannot as yet divine, I am already getting a headache just thinking of all the papers in hard copy that I have to sort out in this room, what my father refers to as--rather undeservedly--"my office." Even if I never fail to have folders, binders, sheet protectors and index card boxes on standby I pretty much randomly store papers and cards anywhere.

My last attempt at a rationalized and systematized filing system was more than two years back, when I was still finishing my further studies and at that time had surmised I may not be able to go back to teaching (a long, different story). Notes for each book I had read were assigned to a corresponding index card box; each course I taught an allotted binder. Since then, I have not been able to even keep to the compromised plan of collecting cards per year--"2008," "2009." Now I have cards here on my desk, my upstairs bedroom and work area, some in between books, inside old bags, a few posted on walls and windowsills, and I think I recently saw one in the glove compartment of our car.

There's also this mysterious set of hanging folders that had then promised accessibility and space efficiency. Through the years I have not labeled the folders, and have just kept on blindly filing miscellanea such as newspaper cutouts and formal correspondences, hard copies of essays by my own hand and those by my students. I dread taking out the contents of the folders soon; I already want to throw out the eyesore.

Then the books. Like my cards, nearly a decade's worth of liberal book acquisitions, when I was still unaware of my possible bibliophilia, have managed to find--or lose--themselves in three different areas of the house. When we transferred here, the idea was to keep the books in my bedroom; so it happened that six columns of shelves were installed on the widest wall of the room. With a modest library fit for a beginner, I was then able to organize my books by category: the different periods of the history of philosophy, fiction and non-fiction, and so on.

A rearrangement and a renovation later, I have, albeit unsuccessfully, tried to keep the fiction in my room, the non-fiction and design books in the second floor workspace, the references and philosophy books closest to me (what I use for teaching and those of my "favorites") here in the office-den. Even if I eventually do find a book I am looking for, usually after much frustration, the current disarray begs for real consideration. I also now find myself sighing when I discover a Heidegger hardcover I already forgot I had hidden beneath Nabokov short stories and Grahame Greene novels, or an etymology dictionary I find useful every now and then misplaced in a modern philosophy case.

But to be honest, what I fear the most in my brave plan to reorganize is that I might once again see and all the more touch all the excesses I have accumulated through the years. Never mind that I am a pack rat by nature when it comes to books, someone who fears throwing away things (case in point: drafts of essays, lectures, quotations on post-it notes), because I ultimately am an obsessive-compulsive, and there might be no use in psychological corrections in one sweep of a broom in summer.

I developed this fear of seeing my excesses back in the wintry days of recent years, when I could no longer see the point in keeping dreams I will not reach, or why I protectively covered books I will never get to read. I wanted to dispose all of them, dreams and books alike, when I failed to see my value, the point, the reason.

I then measured the areas that were lent, allotted and given to me, and I figured I just took up space. I browsed through the books I had, and I saw vanity written on every page.

You see, one's dwelling and what occupies it might really not be correlative to the character or success of a person. I wish I were like my mother who can fit everything she needs for work in a satchel, or like Jane Austen who wrote her best works on an incredibly dimunitive walnut table.

Austen's table in the Chawton Cottage in Hampshire


  1. you're actually very lucky because you still have your books and notes with you. i lost 70% of mine including my other belongings last sept 26 during the super typhoon ondoy when my entire house was submerged. most of my journals, books, even high school, college and masters notes carefully and meticulously filed were gone. it was also my 28th birthday then. today, i celebrate my 7th month of being alive when i felt i almost died along with my most prized possessions. i didn't know where and how to start again after that. made me realize a lot of things though... relationships are more important than physical things, and i'm just lucky to be alive (=

    - yvaughn

  2. Yvaughn,

    No amount of wise words can diminish the force or alleviate the weight of what you went through: and whereof one cannot speak, one must be silent.

    Yet if I cannot join you in the pain of your past loss, I can, however, join you as you celebrate. So here's to new beginnings and to lives reclaimed.


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