When I was in music school, I took a side job as a professor's office assistant. I had done similar work for other faculty members before - marking papers, schlepping to the library for research, even putting in a few hours as an occasional house sitter.
This job was different. This particular person (who I had greatly admired for many years) had gotten himself into a real bind and couldn't seem to get out of it alone.
While the office itself didn't look all that disastrous to me, the Prof. had come to the conclusion that it was uninhabitable. He said he couldn't stand to go in there anymore. The papers on the desk all looked menacing and the same to him. The piled up messages, memos and letters brought on such guilt and frustration that he was tempted to throw them all out rather than deal with them.
He went to therapy, and I went to work.
Junk mail was immediately trashed.
Everything else was prioritized. Some things needed immediate attention, while others could be held off for a week, a month, or indefinitely. Then came a hidden jewel. I found a note from a music publisher asking him if he had ever finished a certain composition he'd corresponded with them about in the past. Once upon a time he had sent them the first movement. They loved it. They were still interested. No pressure, just one human being showing him a bit of sincere, genuine interest in his work.
I cleared the bulletin board over his desk of nearly everything else and pinned the letter to the centre of it. I prayed the gesture wouldn't backfire (I not only cared about the Prof., I couldn't afford to get fired.)
In the days and weeks that followed, he began to spend time in the office again. Sometimes we worked there together, other times he'd come in late at night when no one else was around. He was keeping his head above water now, he said. Things were getting better. We never talked about the letter on the board, but it stayed right where I'd put it. When I noticed that manuscript paper had begun to appear on a music stand in the corner, I made sure there was a steady supply of sharpened pencils nearby.
2009 has brought the realization that my life has become much like the Prof's desk. I shudder before I open my inbox. I avoid answering the phone. I need to get rid of the junk and get back to hopes and dreams. Thank heaven I have a partner who brings me no. 2 HB pencils and sends me wise words from Cory Doctorow.
Writing in the Age of Distraction
I hope that the New Year brings you the determination and strength to begin again.
Hang on to your hopes my friend
Thats an easy thing to say
But if your hopes should pass away
That you can build them again
- "Hazy Shade of Winter," Paul Simon