Staring at Nothing in Particular

I've recently found myself walking into rooms in my house and just staring. Staring at what, you ask? Most often, nothing in particular. I'd open the pantry and stare, wondering why there was a canister of oatmeal and a bag of egg noodles on the same shelf where we stored our batteries, super glue, and a bin of assorted pens.

I'm generally an organized person, but this didn't make sense. I didn't have energy to make it make sense, either, so I'd just stare. Occasionally, I'd deliberate if the partially used bag of marshmallows leftover from a summer campfire should be thrown out, or if I should buy Rice Crispies to make Rice Crispie treats. But then would I end up with a partially used box of Rice Crispies? Would I ever get the ratio of cereal-to-marshmallows exactly right, or would I always have some annoyingly small about of one or the other left over?

I'd shut the pantry. 

The weeks leading up to Thanksgiving are a slog, work-wise, and I feel the effect of this cumulative fatigue at moments like this when Rice Crispie treat contemplation is too much to manage. 

Over the past 13 weeks I've spent so much time sifting student work through criteria. It's constant weighing, considering, and evaluating, My last task was reading a batch of 75 student topic proposals. This takes about 6 or 7 focused hours, plus break times where I stand to stretch, change the laundry from the washer into the dryer, or open a closet and stare, wondering vaguely if I should upgrade my hangers.

I suspect that I think more carefully about my students' topic ideas than they do. This isn't for true all students, but it seems to be true for some. During these points, I stare out the window into my yard contemplating all of my life choices. 

Once I finished commenting on the final proposal, I shut my laptop and put it aside so I wouldn't see it. Out of sight, out of mind.

Then I let myself fully sink into Thanksgiving break, and great things happened. 

I watched a movie and read a book. I put away fall decorations and put out Christmas decorations. I went through the pantry to organize all the contents, then the closet, then the bookshelves. Joel joined the action. Together we sorted, tossing unneeded boxes from old phones, random cords that had no discernable purpose, and obsolete paperwork. We spent hours raking leaves and working in the yard.

I realized that I hadn't been tired of working; I had been tired of thinking

You might be pleased to know that our oatmeal is no longer stored beside our batteries. In fact, I'm so happy with my newly organized pantry and closet that I keep inventing reasons to open them, just to appreciatively gaze at their sensible arrangement.

Life makes more sense when you take a break from thinking so you can think about other things. 

Get Just One Thing In Order

I love watching trees turn colors in the fall. Technically, of course, these changes mean that the leaves are about to flutter en masse to their crunchy deaths, but golly, it's a beautiful process to behold.  

Yesterday I devoted hours to these leaves. I blew them. I raked them. I repeatedly dragged piles of them on a tarp to the curb so when the township's leaf-sucking truck drives by, we'll be ready. More leaves kept falling while I worked, which somehow felt like celebration (look, it's confetti!) and mockery (look, you'll never finish this task!) all at once.

When I finished the blowing, raking, and tarp-dragging, I entered a final stage of leaf-conquering by cutting the grass, which ground up and mulched leaves that I had missed with the first steps.

After a few hours, I had a pretty substantial pile.

While this yard work was definitely work, it felt therapeutic. Unlike my day job, this type of work gives space for my mind to wander. I immediately see progress, with distinctly satisfying "before" and "after" changes. On top of that, after a stretch of rainy weekends, the weather was perfect -- crisp and dry with sunshine, not damp and dreary or overly cold. 

Each time I upended the tarp to shake more leaves into the larger pile, my eyes took in the scene. I drank in the sights like I was trying to commit them to memory before November settles in earnest and eventually all remaining colors mute into winter's grays and browns.

Once I finished and rolled the lawnmower back into its space in the shed, I slowly paced the yard to inspect my work: the turned-over garden, the cut-back plants, the orderly grass with its perfect lines from the mower. 

It was so pretty. I was so happy.

The leaves kept falling, but now they were landing on ground that already was in order. It was like when my children were little and the difference between when they dumped out a bucket of Legos on a messy floor that needed to be vacuumed, versus when they dumped out a bucket of Legos on a freshly-vacuumed floor.

Somehow, it makes a difference. A mess on top of another mess can feel like too many messes to handle.

Sometimes, you need to get just one thing in order, then everything else feels better. Yesterday, for me, that one thing was these leaves.

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