I Cleaned My Office. It Didn’t Work.

Posted on
May 8, 2021

I cleaned out my office for the first time in *mumble mumble*, the final act in a string of procrastinations masquerading as chores. With the help of a friend, I hung a painting which spent the last two years lying propped up against the wall of the guest bedroom. I dusted the baseboards, and then I painted them, a spate of productivity than can only exist when you are avoiding something (in my case – writing). And then, finally, I tackled the pile of papers of my desk, and on every horizontal surface around my desk (the papers had spread over, like flowing lava).

I have heard that some people need a clean workspace in order to write – the unproven hypothesis that it promotes productivity. So I wince a little when I think of my office, a place where Rand will occasionally poke his head through the door and ask, “What is happening in here?” His tone is curious rather than judgmental. The room is like a science project, an anomaly when compared to the rest of our home.

“I’M GOOD AT OTHER THINGS,” I yell by way of reply. The bacchanalia of papers and dust and empty mugs on my desk is oddly comforting. I’ve hit organizational rock-bottom. I can scribble on pieces of paper, I can pile mail on top of more stacks of mail. I can shuffle Post-It notes that have lost their adhesive quality and are now just squares of brightly colored paper, moving them around like a Vegas card dealer. The only place to go from here is up.

I am an organized person. My mother says I inherited this quality from my father. She claims that fastidiousness can’t be taught; you either have it or you don’t. I’m inclined to disagree, because her argument removes personal responsibility from the equation. Order is something I work at, something I’ve learned. But I see her point – she loses her keys so regularly I’m not sure she ever had them. She once misplaced a piece of paper the instant I handed it to her, making it vanish like a magician performing a parlor trick. It follows that I must have been born with a sense of order, because I sure as heck didn’t learn it from her.

I’ve been procrastinating on my book for a while. Not making the progress I hope for, feeling uninspired by, well – gestures broadly at everything. No one wants to hear about it – the only thing worse than a self-satisfied writer is a self-loathing one. When the only thing standing in your way is you, you don’t get to complain. Sitting in front of my computer, the page count stagnant, I decided to tackle other projects. I hung curtains and cleaned out my closet. I threw out bags of items. Had I kept the things that sparked joy? I wasn’t sure. Mostly, I had just sparked existential dread. I felt like a failure.

My office was the last hold out, my desk the final boss. There are no before photos. The shame is too great. I shredded documents like I was an mid-level exec in a Ponzi scheme. I found stickers from the Washington State Book Awards that I was supposed to put on copies of my memoir, published years ago. I found the actual paper copy of my James Beard Award, and wondered if maybe I wasn’t a failure. Maybe I just needed to clean out my office more. (This moment of confidence was short-lived.)

I went through all the tiny scraps of paper I saved, ones which at the time I could not throw out. I always thought there might be an answer on them, something that would crack my manuscript wide open, fill in all my plot holes, save my protagonist.

I … I saved this for some reason.

“Filled in all my plot holes.” #headdesk

The realization that organizing my office wasn’t the answer to my writer’s block hits me like a wave. I gently rest my head on my newly cleaned desk. There is plenty of room to do this now. My office is neat and tidy. It is not a reflection of the innerworkings of my brain, except in this respect: it feels a little too empty, and I don’t know what to do next.


P.S. – Yes, I have a Chris Pine calendar because my friends are awesome and he is the best Chris, after Lloyd.


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