In elementary school, I used to create binders for each class I took. I slipped hand-drawn covers into the plastic pockets at the front of each: “MATH!!” swirled in purple glitter or “HISTORY!!” emblazoned with heart stickers and rainbows. The start of the school year was always an occasion for promise, a moment where classes were nothing but organizational shells, binders for which the glittering hopes of learning could be tucked neatly into a backpack.
I maintain this desire to compartmentalize, to draw neatly the lines between the different “subjects” in my life. If I could, I think I still would create these binders, but I am not sure I would have any idea how to organize them.”UC Online Educational Project!!” I may have scrawled on one, but is that where I’d also place my readings on multimodal pedagogy? And what about my notes on new media theory and cybernetics and intellectual labor? Do these all go in the same place in my mind? Should they? And in what ways do I continue to divide them or link them into some larger project?
This is the question looming for me as I make my way into my second year of graduate school. I’m eager for a project, bouncing between early reading for my preliminary examinations (which I’m trying to view as membership into the biggest, baddest book club imaginable), tinkering away at my supplemental job of editing college personal statements (a task that, after reading and editing over 2,000 essays in three years feels relatively breezy and – dare I say it? – fun), and course planning for my teaching in the fall. This niggling desire to organize, to get everything in place, to build the pieces of something larger remains unfulfilled; in short, in this transition, I’m having trouble settling down.
And I think I’ve got to be OK with this unsettled feeling (perhaps a lesson for surviving my 20s, too?). The first stage of a project, after all, isn’t always pulling out the compartmentalized pieces; it’s about floating through big ideas, about seeing strands of things, noticing them, and simply setting them aside, not yet writing them in permanent marker (see how far I can take this extended metaphor – or is it a conceit?).
Besides, shouldn’t this noncommittal part be the fun part? The low pressure part? The part appropriate for a slow summer ending where I refuse to give up sundresses even when the need to shrug on a sweater becomes increasingly clear?
While I may not be able to anticipate the things I will learn this year in new, neat compartments, what I can anticipate (with great eagerness!) is the opportunity to simply experience, to practice mindfulness, and to keep figuring out where I want to be. This is a luxurious thing, indeed.