It’s the end of the year and I’m doing what I always do in December – getting organized. Last year I organized my phone directory, a hefty volume with artwork spread between the pages. Finally, all the names, addresses and phone numbers are in the same book instead of straddling two, after I transferred data from one book to the other. The older one is now on a shelf with those from previous years and decades. You never know; I may run into a long lost acquaintance and need that information.
This December it’s my teaching files. Twenty years of creative writing workshops and I have a folder for every single class during that time. I had – and still have – student writers print out name, address, phone, e-mail address (when I started teaching, we didn’t have e-mails). I’ve taught at three colleges, a historical museum, a cultural center, public and private schools, several conferences, and at over 20 libraries in that time, in increments of five to 10 weeks, year-round, with as few as five students and as many as 15 in a series. That’s a lot of sign-up sheets.
I keep in touch with many former students via my quarterly newsletter or know them from the community (our university, theaters, organizations, local villages, etc.) but, to be truthful, seldom refer to the files. They are there, neatly sorted by school, library or other venue, in alphabetical order. Along with the sign-in sheets, I’ve kept fliers or library bulletins announcing my classes, contracts I’ve signed to teach and, in many cases, students’ work that I edited as they read, but that they never took home.
Looking over all this writing, which I feel bound to do, is time-consuming. I pull aside a “keeper” essay or story now and then, but most have to be laid to rest in the basket headed for the dump. There are four thick folders of my students’ fiction and non-fiction that I don’t want to read right now but am not ready to part with. Sentimental? Crazy? Whatever – all this will have to be put aside until the next time I re-organize. Back they go, way back into the file drawer where they will hopefully rest in peace (as I well may do before I visit them again).
Certain in-class prompts over the years have drawn exceptional results, like “Your First Crush,” which I used in all my workshops for about two years. I keep these personal essays in a separate place thinking I may edit and bind them, then give them out as gifts to the writers. Another, taken from Abigail Thomas’s book, Thinking About Memoir, is to “take any ten years of your life, reduce them to two pages, and every sentence has to be three words long — not two, not four, but three words long.” This exercise has proved so popular and produced such diverse, creative work that I have a thick file of pages that, again, I’ll hold onto in case I decide to do an anthology. Note to readers of this blog: Please DO NOT send me your takes on these prompts but DO try them on your own; just for fun or maybe on one of those I-can’t-think or-write-a-word days.
Okay, back to the folders and my job of tidying them up, emptying them out. After this, I’ll decorate the Christmas tree. Next thing to be organized: my sock drawer.
Enjoy the holidays and have a very happy new year!
Coming shortly: Only You from Oak Tree Press. Stay tuned.