All summer, I’ve been avoiding the work of cleaning up my office. It’s not a horrible mess, but the shelves have books wedged in sideways, and it’s growing harder to find what I’m looking for. It got bad enough that I was more interested in analyzing why I felt so resistant to the work than in doing the work! Today I began, and I quickly realized what the issue was.
After my PhD graduation, I moved into academic publishing instead of into academia per se. Around that time, in conjunction with the birth of my elder daughter, I moved my office into our former guest room, so the office could become the nursery. It was a big shift, physically and professionally, and I cast off virtually all of the books I’d accumulated over four years of college and seven years of graduate study in English literature. Of course, it was a literal load gone (and a little diaper money earned at the secondhand bookstore); figuratively, it was a lightening, as well: a turning away from reading and analyzing books, and toward shaping them. I reasoned that if I were to want to revisit any of the books, I’d get them from the library. I haven’t wanted a single one. I set a rule that I’d spend money only on books I’d use for reference, and I accumulated a stack of dictionaries and style guides to shelve alongside the few remaining “reference” books from my studies: The Riverside Shakespeare, Hamilton’s Mythology, Holman and Harmon’s Handbook to Literature.
Most of my money, though, went toward accumulating a library of books on yoga and on endurance sports training. One day a few years ago, in a moment of procrastination in work on someone else’s manuscript, I turned and gazed at my bookshelf. VeloPress, VeloPress, VeloPress, read the imprints on the spines of most of the books. Hmm, I thought, and contacted VeloPress; a year and a half later, The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga was published. Now copies of my own books join the nonfiction on my shelves.
Today, as part of the housecleaning, I boxed up the books to which I’d contributed essays during my academic career; another box now holds the copies of the books I have edited thus far. I’m not letting go of editorial work entirely—Chicago 15, Words into Type, and Strunk and White keep their position close at hand—but I recognize that this packing represents a shift away from shaping others’ books and toward creating more of my own. Someday, I know, I’ll be packing up the books on sports; in time, I’ll be putting away some of the yoga books, too. Today’s been a good chance to practice nonattachment. Now back to the shelves.