book shelves and emotional de-cluttering
recently i was sat in my home study. i was worrying (what a surprise) about my preparations for a job interview and presentation. in fact, it is more honest to say that i was worrying less about the event than whether i would go for the interview at all. i had been contemplating the matter of academic authenticity. how would i present myself (my ‘self’) to the interview panel; what story about ‘me’ did i want to relate; was i really up to it anyhow? these are not just doubts about performance but go right to the existential problem of authentic living. i wondered whether i should re-read some kirkegard, i was sure he could tell me something about authenticity, after all he chose not to marry in order to live a particular kind of authentic life. choices. not supermarket choices, but real, substantive, existential choices. it was while reflecting on this question (no, worrying is much better a word here – i was WORRYING) that my eyes browsed my book shelves. for an academic book shelves say a lot about who you think you are. they are a semi-public display of your external identity, your intellectual and professional persona. obviously this is more true in the context of the institutional office, but the home office is a reflection back on yourself of who you are trying to BE publicly, a particular kind of ‘being in the world’.
i started to note one book after another that had remained unread, indeed unopened, for over a year.
why were they there?
i had bought them during my ‘year of a recovering academic’ (more on that when i am ready to share that particular story). they had been bought as an attempt to carve out a distinctive and authentic me, me as academic. the books were bought to bolster, to provide an epistemic bedrock for, a me i thought i wanted to be and who had been resisted by institutional requirements.
all very interesting books.
all books i KNEW i wanted, NEEDED, at the time.
but they lay there untouched, not utilised in any academic endeavour. money that could and perhaps should have been spent on other more useful items. it was. after all an expensive year. recovery is expensive.
but i worried that the job i had applied for, was now preparing to be interviewed for, would take me further away from this authentic me. however, it became quite clear that the me i had so diligently sought to construct, had put ‘effort’ into making, had invested ego into – was not really there. what was it that i spent my time reading? what really animated me as a person, as an academic, as a teacher scholar?
the books, blogs, websites, magazines were telling me, but i wasn’t really listening. they were telling me that what took my attention on a daily basis concerned matters of spiritual contemplation, the phenomenological experience of ‘being’ an academic, the nature of learning and knowledge, of Buddhist philosophy and psychology. how many retreats had i been on? how many times had i sat? how much mindful attention had i cultivated? this mount fuji of experience was transparent to me as i ‘worked’, ‘struggled’, put ‘effort’ into constructing a credible, authentic academic me.
it is not that issues of migration are not of importance. these remain heartfelt issues for me. but i was called to attend to other things.
all of a sudden my worrying stopped. i had mentally emptied the shelves of this excess matter; put them in boxes labeled “if not opened in a year share with others”.
as i had hoarded these books so i had hoarded discontent. as long as those books remained on my emotional bookshelves they would shout insults at me, telling me what a failure i was, that i hadn’t written that article, hadn’t sought funding for that research project. if i allowed, and it is allowed because i can choose otherwise, to be deaf to what my heart was telling me then authenticity would forever be unattainable. so i had to un-clutter my academic mind and heart, allow myself the treasure of pursuing what i felt called to do.
the books are still on the shelves. i might get round to boxing them up. if i don’t it will be less a worrying doubt in my mind as laziness.