Piles and Pacing

I decided to give myself two full weeks off between leaving my job and starting grad school to rest, relax, and get organized. While there have been a few naps here and there, there’s also been a lot of Well, now what? Once gifted with days not scheduled down to the minute, I found myself uncomfortable, anxious to fill in the hours with lunches, coffee dates, and errands. When I tried to sit down at home and read for even half an hour, I felt distracted, guilty, too self-indulgent. I couldn’t relax or focus.
Some people rake sand to quiet the mind; I move piles of paper and pace. I have piles of paper everywhere: story ideas written on Post-It notes; pages of magazines ripped out with one sentence highlighted that I don’t want to forget but can’t remember why I highlighted to begin with; index cards with lists of books to read; names of people I need to email jotted down on old car insurance statements; books, pamphlets, brochures.
All of these things go in various piles, organized only by a timeline of when I think I will put them into new piles. Then I move the piles around, stacking them here then moving them there. Sometimes when I’m in the throes of a particularly satisfying pile re-org, I imagine my life is like the Truman Show and the viewers “out there” are simultaneously very bored and very worried. Then I shrug to myself (and to my audience) and start a new pile.
I struggle with managing downtime. It’s why I move piles and pace. It allows me to feel productive in a tangible way while I’m mostly only being productive in an intangible way. When I’m surrounded by my beloved piles of paper, gently moving stacks of loosely organized ideas around the room, it becomes a sort of meditation, a metaphorical moving around of stacks of thoughts and ideas in my brain.
I hold each item up, evaluating its worth and the timeliness in which I want to deal with it. Then I give it a home in a pile, maybe the one it just came from, maybe a new one, or maybe the garbage. This handling and moving around of things with no intention or expectation of reaching any specific conclusion is a soothing kind of busy-ness.
When I can relax into the mundane—moving piles of paper from this room to that room, washing dishes that will be dirty again in a couple of hours, pulling weeds that will grow back in days—it’s amazing what my mind is able to reveal to me later. When I give my attention to a seemingly meaningless task, those parts of my brain so focused on productivity, outcomes, and next steps actually start to have a fighting chance. That anxiety of having too much or not enough to do is eased into submission and a different kind of calm can appear—the calm that comes with doing something that accomplishes “nothing.”