“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk?”

Albert Einstein


I confess.  My desk is a mess.

But I have been feeling much better about since it since I read that messiness can go along with creativity. It seems that many famous artists and thinkers were messy including good old Albert Einstein. After he died, a photo taken of his desk showed it to be full of clutter – a mess of papers and sundry objects.

Is it true that creative people are messy? It is said that mess frees us to think creatively and without constraint. On the other hand, if my desk was tidy I wouldn’t spend so much time thinking about how messy it is and would be able to get on with my writing.

And yet, people do say that “A tidy desk is a tidy mind”. At work, in the days when I was teaching, four of us shared a staff room. There was one colleague whose desk I coveted. It was in the corner of the room right under the window. It faced the door so no one could creep up behind you and look over your shoulder to see what you were doing.

What’s more, his desk was the tidiest, cleanest surface you ever saw. For his lectures he always carried piles of papers but you never saw them cluttering up his desk. My own desk was always in a state and I was full of admiration for this chap who was so in control of his surroundings.

When he retired I took over his desk.  That lovely, clear, uncluttered space.  But what was this?  Why couldn’t I stretch out my legs under the desk? I bent down to take a look.  To my astonishment there were piles and piles of papers, each pile about 18 inches high. No wonder his desk had always looked so tidy! The guy had two empty filing cabinets, an uncluttered desk top and had stored all his teaching notes on the floor under his desk!

Another colleague had a very good filing system. He just used to file everything in the waste paper bin.

Of course, with the advent of email it became easier to stay organised as everything could be filed online. But now, working remotely one’s whole surroundings are open for scrutiny. It’s easy to get distracted from the person speaking because one is looking at their bookshelves or wondering about the objects arranged haphazardly in the background. Who is that in the photo? Have they really read War and Peace or has it just been placed there for effect?

And then there are the pitfalls to giving an online talk. Someone I know was having to teach remotely for the first time in front of her Zoom class.  Just as she was getting into her stride, her husband, wrapped in a towel and bound for the shower crossed the room behind her, causing much mirth among the students. Well, at least it broke the ice, she said.

If I don’t blog tomorrow, it is because I shall be tidying up my desk.


© Andrea Neidle, My Life in Poems






















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