De-cluttering Time

June is summer break at University. Faculty members usually make the most of this time to develop their skills through workshops and conferences, while others take some time out to finally write their research work or take care of other things they’ve been putting off for the past months.  Other teachers take some much-needed R&R after handling a lot of paperwork for the semester.

My routine has lightened up compared to the past month. May went by so quickly, that even my planner / organizer had only one or two entries in it for each week;  my schedules were haphazardly listed into my cellphone. To review the month, I had to combine my photos, text messages, and google events to piece things together– I really could not remember what happened on some days.

I realize that every June is usually a month of recuperation and re-learning for me. After two months of cramming and chasing after deadlines, the weeks after inputting grades can either the be most restful or the most disorienting. In my case, it felt like withdrawal symptoms from the hectic semester– I was looking for something to do and to be stressed about it.

In addition, I DID have something to be busy about because I agreed to teach a summer class. However, I think it’s the last time that I’d be willing to teach for the summer term simply because my momentum is off… and so are the students’.

Since last year, I’ve been having mid-year classes. Last year was more of a last-minute request, but this year was scheduled long before the break began. It’s a little disorienting, especially in the weeks after the second semester ended in May. Students were on break and very few faculty members would come in. The school grounds were very quiet, and I often found myself cleaning my desk or walking around school rather than writing or staying at my desk to read.

The week after grades were due, we had our “spring cleaning” day. Our institution makes sure that we recycle papers, and that papers which are dated from five years ago or older than that should be discarded. I began to discard memos and letters from 2013. Since I work with the Humanities, it’s obvious that I need to be a bit more careful with how I apply that rule, or I end up throwing out everything. Needless to say, the past weeks have been dedicated to cleaning up my work and freeing some head space.

Since I’ve been trying to adopt the minimalist lifestyle, especially with the KonMari techniques, I decided to try to apply the same approach to my work space and my digital files. In the process of just sifting through my emails, I also found how much information I think I can fit into my head… subscribing to at least three different mailing groups about literature and teaching, only to find that I have no time to actually read them all every week though I thought that this was one way to improve myself.

In the process of cleaning up, I realized that my largest clutter is my digital clutter. I dedicated a whole morning just to organize and clean out my Google Drive and Dropbox account. I found redundant files, broken links, and a number of word files filled with potential research ideas or plot bunnies that remain unfinished. I completely forgot about them until I opened them again. When I was halfway through that, I decided to go through my email and unsubscribe to mailing lists which don’t benefit me anymore.

While my physical desk is so much cleaner now without all the papers, my online folders have a long way to go with organizing. I have yet to figure out a system for all these files, especially for books and digital readings that which have their occasional usefulness for classes. While I want to live a minimalist lifestyle, I realize that being in the academe seems like a paradox to that ideal way of life.

How do you organize your online files and clutter? I’m all ears.


Reading Out Loud

When asked if I was willing to take on a teaching assignment, I thought that it was the best offer I had been given in a while. I said YES immediately, looking forward to this class, because it was a topic close to my heart (Literature) and with a group of students that I had taught before. They were insightful, curious, but most of all, not readily resistant to new ideas. It was a perfect semester ahead of me– full of ideas and curious questions and great reads.

It was not until the later meetings that a colleague suggested that I should change my approach. Though I was surprised at first by the suggestion, it greatly changed the quality of insights that students would share with the class.

Her advice was to read with the class, and to read passages out loud.

By this, it also meant that it had to be ME who read these passages, rather than what I’d gotten used to, which is to ask students to read the passage.

One thing that I realized was that students will definitely read the text and that it usually wakes them up… but that I can always expect some awkwardness and hesitance with some words. This time around, I had to take on that awkward situation and read the material in the way that I thought it should be read.

At first, while I was hesitant, I eventually grew to appreciate this approach to literature. The quality of insights changed, and became more introspective. I’d like to think that it was not only because other insights would be shared, but perhaps because putting sound and feeling into the words on paper also changed its meaning. It could have also been because there was time to think since there was less nervousness about being asked to read out loud (or maybe that’s just the introvert in me making this excuse).

Teaching Literature this past semester has taught me that there is so much more to teaching in this discipline than I expected. Initially, a good storyline and well-developed characters would be the sure way that I would keep reading a book. In recent years, I realized that another element to literature is terseness, or the exactness of words to convey an idea or experience. That’s where I find the excellent writers set apart– in the amount of editing to find the exact words for extremely complex human thoughts and experiences (or perhaps even for extremely simple ones).

Great literature has a way of creating connections between otherwise unrelated concepts, emphasizing one word or phrase so that the subtext becomes even louder. All together, these communicate a distinctly human trait– that human beings can  and will want more than what the animal self can be complacent with.

Since the second semester, I had also been telling students to read their paper out loud when they’re in the process of editing it. I find myself needing to follow the same advice, even if at times my arrogance can sometimes get ahead of me and say that I have learned to write much better (of course not, no one is exempt from proof-reading).

Reading out loud is such a simple advice to follow, but how it’s changed the way I see and think about things!