Category Archives: hoarding in the profession

i have (a) disorder

IMG_3528My second book is in a bit of a mess right now as I cobble together the chapters. I was looking through my introduction notes today and kept seeing reference to Huyssen. I realized I needed his book to pull together a point I was trying to make, but somewhere in the back of my mind I thought, I must have read this book or at least looked at it. Being a visual person, I googled it to see the book cover. Definitely familiar. In my mind, I could see the book in my university office, on a high shelf, but knew I had not seen it recently. I read a few reviews online to see if that could help me get what I needed.No, I needed the book. I looked through the titles pushed against the wall on my desk. Not there. I looked on my bookshelf to my right. Not there. Should I buy it online? Then out of the corner of my eye, I could see behind my laptop, just in front of me and within easy reach, a pile of theory books. There it was. Second book down. I have no recollection of bringing it home or putting it there. I think I have (a) disorder. At least for now it’s made its way to the top where I can see it.



I’ve been wondering lately if everything I’ve believed about myself up until recently is false. I always prided myself on my sense of focus and my ability to organize. I’m writing this, weeks after the thought first crossed my mind, and now with a  sense of humor. Desktop update? Here’s a corner of the debris in front of me right now.

If I’m organized, it isn’t very obvious. Although I have no trouble focussing on an activity, my focus is probably not apparent. When I’m engrossed in a task and another item arises needing attention, I’m either unable to consider the new issue (I can even manage to block it out completely) or I get so involved in it, I cannot remember what I was doing before. I then go from one item to the next to the next. I appear very distracted, yet I’m fully attentive to each thing. It concerns me that I see my daughter exhibiting the same behavior. Getting her dressed in the morning is sometimes a drama because she gets fixated on other things and can’t easily complete the task at hand. In her defense, she’s three. What’s my excuse?

When I was younger and busily affirming my sense of self, I had a near obsessive rein on myself. I had my mornings rigidly organized into 15 minute increments. This helped me accomplish what I need to do: 15 minutes breakfast, 15 minutes shower, 15 minutes makeup and hair, 15 minutes meditation, until I was out the door. At some point it became unrealistic to get up two hours before I needed to leave. I slowly abandoned the schedule. Now, and for the last twenty years, I’ve been living on a university schedule. I shift my habits every 15 weeks and each day has a different dynamic. Today is “research day” (reminds me of “steak night”) and I get to sit at home and think about the world and scold myself up for not writing faster about it.

I think the reality I’m coming to is that organization does not really come naturally to me. It’s something I’ve learned to impose on myself when necessary because it keeps me afloat. Sometimes it becomes a tricky web to navigate, but without it I might just be endlessly engrossed in the shiny objects dangling before me and never find time to articulate what’s so fascinating about them.

my valentine

Yesterday morning I checked into my office to find the most wonderful and coincidental Valentine’s gift from D.. Eight boxes of books arrived in my office from the U.S.     Love.

There are another seven that are MIA and probably fifteen more that need to be sent from home. Unpacking the boxes felt like Christmas, my birthday, the fourth of July… you get the idea. Among the loot were a few much needed texts, some French fiction I haven’t touched in ages but love to have on my shelves, and then the random: a pattern for a crocheted afghan that I’ve started three times and never finished.

D. has said if we move again, the books are not coming with me. I feel like whining, “But I neeeeeeed them for work!” Of course, there is that big building on campus called a …. library.

more unchanging

More evidence that I do not change: a photo from what’s on my desk right now.

some things never change

Desk drawer update today. Even I’m disgusted by this.

absence and home


Last week the last three boxes of my books arrived to my new office. I felt immediate joy and reconnection: “at-homeness” with the contents. I lovingly placed the carefully chosen texts onto my barren shelves. They barely made a dent in the void, as I am surrounded by 32 of these beautiful new bookshelves.

Boxes emptied and books put away, melancholy almost immediately ensued. I’m surrounded by space now, here and at home. It feels scary and open but full of possibility and imagination.

The biggest void and absence of home will be over tomorrow morning, though, when D. finally arrives.

the French do it, too

When I happened upon this pile of castoff furniture and junk, an elderly man was very carefully checking it over. When he saw me, he started to scurry away.

truckloads of news

On a professional listserv today a graduate student asked for advice on where to consult French newspapers from the 1980s til now. A professor responded as follows:

“A year ago I could have offered you my enormous print collection of Le Monde, but you would have needed a van. Alas, it is no more.”

A year ago, I would not have batted an eye at this response. Today I’m wondering where colleagues store these tons of paper collected in the name of the profession, and what or who prompted this one to rid himself of the van-full. Where did it eventually go? And, I wonder if his “Alas” sums up the difficulty in letting go of something he may have collected over decades, adding to his personal hoard…umm, I mean, library.

abandoned but holy

A colleague from New Zealand emailed a listserv today looking for the source of a poem by Nicole Brossard. I eagerly lept to work, digging through a box of packed up books and pulled out my 12 volumes of her writing. These works are almost sacred to me – one of them is personally autographed for me by the author. I have combed used bookshops in Montreal and Quebec City looking for pieces of Brossard, and yet, I realized today I’ve read precious little of her writing. That is saying a lot if you consider that Brossard only writes on about 1/3 to 1/2 of each page of her usually short works and that her poetry and novels look strikingly similar. It’s not as though the number of words are getting in my way of reading them. True, she’s difficult to digest, but also true that I think she’s brilliant and love her writing.

What’s standing in the way of my reading of Brossard? Me, of course. I put off reading what I love, I put off watching the movies that I adore, I put off doing tasks that I truly enjoy because I’m saving them for later. Reading feels so indulgent to me that I’ve become quite bad at it … and this is not at all a good relationship for a literature professor to have with books.

Brossard is not the only one languishing for years in boxes waiting to be read. She is joined by Cixous, Derrida, and Sebbar who have written beautifully bound words that accumulate dust on my shelves, waiting for me to reward myself with time to read.

objets retrouvés

Lost and found

I went to my office on Saturday to clean out anything that mattered to me and any confidential papers that shouldn’t be left about for a stranger to read. Someone will be using my desk for the remainder of the semester and this was a good motivation to bring home more books. Two boxes were donated, four came home with me, and of those I’ve already begun a pile of what should be sold or recycled.

Waiting for me on my desk were a few VHS tapes I had converted to DVD. Just moments ago I checked the DVD made of “Outremer” (Overseas) by Brigitte Roüan, the story of three French sisters from Algeria and how they confronted the end of colonization, each in her own way. I had used this film as an undergraduate student in an art history project, I have loved it and revisited it over the years, but had more or less abandoned the video cassette on a shelf for the past five.

My heart lept when I saw it play here on my computer screen. How accessible this movie suddenly became, how joyfully familiar, its grainy images comforting me as nostalgia bubbled over. Once a cult object, much like my beloved copy of Les Pieds Noirs by Marie Cardinal, now it is so close to me, I wonder if its charm will wear off.