June 30, 2003

Mucking the stall

Ok... It's been a long time since I've written anything on my blog. It's true. It's not entirely my fault either... but keeping up with a blog was one way that I was attempting to get myself into a more disciplined routine for dissertating. So now, I have no choice. I need to start working again. And as a result... I need to clean my @$#% office! It's amazing to me how quickly semesters' worth of old notes, junk, notebooks, student exams, assignments... all kinds of things, begin encroaching on the little sliver of sanity space that you carve out for yourself to work in. I'm amazed to find that I have notes (good ones) that date back through college... even high school. My mother periodically calls and asks when I'm going to get up the guts to throw away my notes from 5th grade. Honestly. I don't know what I think I could actually *use* them for... I dunno... maybe one day my child will be sick and need to copy them in order to keep up? In any case, it's come down to the wire now... we need to make more room in our appartment, and I need to find new ways of making my office area leaner, meaner and more effective. But this leaves me with the following questions.

How long does someone save their notes? Where do you put them once the semester is over? I've got binders upon binders worth... but then there are notebooks, coursepackets... all kinds of handouts... Does anyone keep these? Have you ever found a use for them? I mean, I have this fantastic packet of post-colonial readings.... They're really good selections... but am I going to use them again? Maybe. I mean... Maybe if one day someone asks a really good question about a Derek Walcott... I can look up my post-colonial packet and say... "Ah... this is what Spivak would say to that!"

But then again, how likely is that? Or, is it assumed that if I haven't committed all of it to memory by now... that I'm never going to remember where it is anyway? I mean, I take some pretty good notes... I still have my Honors American Literature study guide for my high school American Lit final exam. Mind you... it was a good class... I learned more in it than I did in my 19th century American lit. class in college. But it's highly unlikely that I'm going to have to take that exam again... and yet... I can't seem to part with this relatively insignificant piece of paper.

There is another category of notes... these slightly more useful... that also seems like one of the largest self-created organizational nightmares ever. Qualifying exam notes. Now, some of these have, as you could guess, turned into disseration notes. Those have a special place. But at the same time, I went at taking background notes for this exam with a particular... shall we say... gusto. By background, I mean lists of facts, dates and publications for over 75 poets and 20 fiction writers. I have 14 spiral bound notebooks with background information/articles/fact sheets on various poets, poetic movements, literary movements, etc. I tried to use them to produce some of my lectures for last semester... the only problem was that my 10-minutes-at-the-beginning-of-class lecture turned into a 6-page, typed, single space lecture on topics such as realism, naturalism, lynching, the American Dream... so on and so forth. About mid-way through delivering one of these (admittedly) boring letures, I looked up and realized that I'd completely lost nearly half the student population to a bizarre condition that included nasal wheezing, drooling, and lack of eyelid control. Not my most astounding classroom performance.

So, I ask... what do you do with these, quite literally, tons of accumulated bits of paper upon which you have poured out your time, effort, energy... and one might hope learning. Do you admit to yourself that you're never going to be able to find the notes you need when you want them and simply resign yourself to looking it up again the next time you need it? Or, do you simply allow yourself to continue to be subsumed by pounds upon pounds of old notebooks, notecards, folders, and binders... hoping that if nothing else... they might provide the same function as barbells... something to lift, shift, and shuffle somewhere new at the start of each new term.

That's all I can handle for now. I'm off to throw out old exams (it's ok if they haven't picked 'em up in 4-5 years, right?) and perhaps even find a way out of this academic wasteland!

Posted by c_jane at June 30, 2003 1:57 PM

I think it's safe to say the students aren't going to come looking for their exams after 4 or 5 years: Toss 'em out!

The rest of the stuff I want to counsel you to save. I wish I had that kind of archive. I've shed much too much over the years, though I'm now faced with my own stack of stuff and wondering what to do.

Maybe buy a scanner and convert the marks on papers into digital documents? Burn to CD and put on a much smaller shelf?

Posted by: George at June 30, 2003 2:26 PM |

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If only scanning them was so simple! I remember thinking - once upon a time when I first got my scanner - that I would scan in my notes, archive them in a database, and amazed myself with my ability to retrieve, recall, restate.

And yet... several years later, piles upon piles of (mostly bad) notes and (mostly good) articles clutter my shelves. I look at them, shake my head, and wonder if a good fire would cleanse my soul, if not my bookshelf.

To scan *that much material* would rival an effort to produce a large academic website. Such a good concept, but practically very difficult and timely to execute. If only we all had interns!

Posted by: Jason at June 30, 2003 3:59 PM |

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"To scan *that much material* would rival an effort to produce a large academic website. . . .If only we all had interns!"

The Rhody Archive?

I still have my notes from grad school and occassionally refer back to them. Course packets too. You never know what you're going to be called upon to teach or comment on or advise, so I find the stuff that's far afield from my current interests useful indeed.

Posted by: Matt K. at June 30, 2003 7:38 PM |

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The lack of eyelid control thing sounds pretty cool. I'd keep the notes around just to induce optic tremors on a whim ;-)

Posted by: kari at June 30, 2003 7:47 PM |

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jane, i've seen your files. i know your system. keep ALL of it. don't let the bastards take your stuff away, because while you may indeed never need to check up on the publication history of the book of margery kempe, a) imagine the agony of needing that urgent information, knowing you'd ditched your notes, and b)one of the only benefits we get is the chance to revel in the material pleasure of looking at all that work we've done. i hesitate to get all bibliophile amongst the wordherd, but can't we just have a birkerts bacchanal every once in a while? you know, laying hands on papers, notes, notebooks, texts.

besides, there's an ikea, now. storage possibilities abound!

Posted by: dave at June 30, 2003 10:06 PM |

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Ok. I'm convinced. I'll keep most of what I've got. Has anyone come up with a better storage system than multiple (heavy) filing cabinets or shelves upon shelves worth of binders? I have to agree with Jason. I have so much stuff that scanning it would probably take over most of my time... an effective procrastination tool, though. In any event, if you've discovered some brilliant way to catalogue your old notes, I'd love to hear it, as the binders, filing cabinets and, now, expandable folders begin to encroach on the little bit of space left in the den!

Posted by: jane at July 1, 2003 7:21 AM |

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Yeah, don't throw out all those notes and packets and stuff. Trust me, I've done some thinking about throwing stuff away, muck, and the like.

I have been mucking out someone else's stall lately, trying to make it my own. That is, I'm trying to make the office my own after years of occupany by someone else. The odd thing about it for me is that I seem to have a reticence to throw out things that have absoluely no utility to me, and which are eyesores, if I percieve in the slightest that they might be important to "someone." Case in point: there was this bizarre representation of the Georgia State Village (student housing) composed of legos glued to a pretty big project board sitting on a shelf in the office. For weeks, even though given permission by my predecessor, I could not trash it. I didn't exactly expect the long-since departed student to re-emerge and lay claim to it but I kept thinking, "abomination that it is, someone put some real effort into this."

Finally, the other day I got up the gumption and did it. But I stripped the legos off for the kids....

Good luck with getting your muck under control, Lisa/Jane.

Posted by: mike at July 2, 2003 5:33 AM |

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I hear that you can tell alot about a culture by what it throws away :-) Perhaps, this is an occupational hazzard for you... the need to examine and treasure the trash that others leave behind. Hope your "mucking" goes more quickly than mine.

Posted by: CJ at July 2, 2003 7:17 AM |

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