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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.

18 Responses to Getting Organized

  1. toni hallock says:

    Loved your blog. I’m trying to organize too. Merry, Merry Christmas. Keep in touch. Toni

    • Eileen Obser says:

      I have lots of other “stuff” to be organized – or to keep organized. It’s an ongoing process. Thanks for replying, Toni, and Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  2. Carole Avila says:

    It’s time consuming to get organized, but it’s so worth it when you’re done! Merry Christmas, Eileen!

    • Eileen Obser says:

      Good to hear from you, Carole. I had those folders in boxes on the dining room table for weeks before I finished the job. Whew! Enjoy the holidays, and I hope to meet up with in 2014.

  3. I think about it, but don’t really ever get around to it. As Carole said, it’s time consuming.
    This was a fun read though.

    • Eileen Obser says:

      My office could use lots more organizing, Marilyn. I also just put it off until I can’t find things . . . then I’m driven to tackle at least part of the job. Happy Holidays!

  4. Eileen,
    I’d love to get organized in December but that never seems to happen – too much going on, I guess. January seems to be the month I do the most organizing, including file drawers in preparation for (yuk!) tax season. 🙂

    • Eileen Obser says:

      Ah, January. After my memoir is finally released, I have lots of filing and discarding to do — from my online folders, those on the desk and in the drawers. Everything related to Only You. And it’s the kind of work only you/me can do when it’s our books. Happy Holidays and thanks for responding.

  5. Sigh! I still have files from my newspaper days, many of which could/should be discarded. I’m one of those guys who hesitates to throw anything way, thinking it might be useful sometime down the road. One of these days I’ll get organized–or not.

    • Eileen Obser says:

      I’m sighing with you, John. I was a book reviewer, then a restaurant reviewer, and it took many years to discard most of those reviews. Last fall I discarded a huge file from my year and a half as a Special Sections editor for a small newspaper on Long Island. Did I throw out the interviews and articles I did myself? No. Thank God there’s not too many of them. Enjoy the holiday!

  6. Ed Hannibal says:

    Say, I’m about to straighten my sock drawer too! Stay tuned for complete inventory by size and color, fabric age and season.

    (Sorry, you can tell how fond I am of Facebook.)

    • Eileen Obser says:

      That was meant to get a laugh, but I really did need to tackle the sock drawer. Total chaos. Lots of socks that I never wear are now residing in the Salvation Army box at the dump. More to be done . . . Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to Maggie and you.

  7. Maria Ruiz says:

    You must have lots of room to keep all those files. I’ve moved about fifteen time in as many years. Now it’s time to start collecting again. Merry Christmas to you and your files and drawers.

    • Eileen Obser says:

      My many file drawers and I thank you for replying. Unlike you, I’ve stayed put for almost 35 years. If I ever decide to move, it will be time for a purge! Happy Holidays to Ted and you.

  8. Jerry Giammatteo says:

    Hi Eileen. My office at work has been a mess for 15 years. I find organization to be in the eye of the beholder. What is an ungodly mess to one is a system to someone else. Sometimes I organize so well, I can’t find whatever I organized when I’m looking for it later on. It’s best to keep some mess, as long as it’s your mess. Most people know there own tendencies and hence can navigate their own mess. Sounds good when I’m looking for an excuse to tell my wife, anyway. Merry Christmas ,Happy New Year good health always.

  9. Eileen Obser says:

    I love your version of what I wrote, Jerry. It’s another humor essay for you to get out there! You don’t seem like a disorganized sort of person. You use the cliché: you can’t tell a book by its cover. Merry Christmas!

  10. pat shevlin says:

    Eileen, loved this blog. I dream of a “Container Store” organized life. It’s a dream; the reality is that I have learned that less is more when it comes to being organized! On the other hand, I have writings and essays everywhere. I guess I have just found something to do if I find myself in early retirement!

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