List-making anxiety and cleaning house

Posted by on August 5, 2008 at 12:12 pm.

My undergraduate degree is a B.A. in computer science.*  I’ve been a programmer for the last seven years and have been programming full-time for the last 6 years.  I just finished my M.A. in Religion (concentration: Theology) in May and in 14 13 days, my wife and I will be flying out to Nottingham as I will soon be starting a 3-year Ph.D. research programme at the University of Nottingham.  Because of the constantly changing gears between the two disciplines, and because I am only now getting into full-time theology & philosophy studies, I often feel like I am playing catch-up: there are still some essential theology texts I have yet to read, and I have never taken a Greek class — things I would have done if I were a theology/philosophy undergrad.  I don’t have regrets, but this is what I have to deal with now.

Since the latter part of highschool, I’ve been making to-do lists to keep track of homework assignments.  Nothing out of the ordinary at all.  Now in the age of electronic Post-It Notes™, I’ve been using NetVibes to make multiple lists of tasks: Fiction books I want to read, tasks for CoTP projects, an often-returned-to packing list for traveling, movies I want to watch, a general to-do list (“move to Nottingham”), and lastly, a list of theology and philosophy books to read.  That last list is a bit lengthy at the moment, but of course, this list extends into my Amazon wishlists in no particular order.  Actually, it is a bit overwhelming, of course, as any serious student probably experiences a mass rabbit hole effect where after reading scores of scholarly books every year, there are now an exponential amount of books to add to one’s relading list based on chasing footnotes and bibliographic references.  Blogs and the wonderful Librarything do not help, either.

But back to that other item** on the list, “moving to Nottingham”: in the last couple months, Tiana and I have put in many hours sorting through our stuff, figuring out what to sell, what to give away to friends, what to give to thrift stores, what to put in storage, what to take with us, etc.  We moved into our friend Stef’s house a couple months before we are going to make the bigger move in an attempt to front-load some of our stress and big moving decisions to the beginning of summer instead of having to figure out all of this stuff in the month of August.  So, after getting all of this mainly done, we are living out of boxes of all of our “essential” stuff.  The thing is, I’ve gone through my clothes again and at least a third of it I put in bags to send to the thrift store.  And actually, even some of what is left isn’t even appealing to me any more.  Rinse, repeat, and apply to other things like our DVDs and other things that we don’t actually need.***

What’s interesting (maybe “blessing” is a better word here) is that I honestly can’t say that I miss any of this stuff.  In fact, it’s quite liberating.  It’s a pain in the ass to have to keep track of so much stuff and worry about it when the reality is that I’ve forgotten about most of it anyway.

The most difficult things to sort are my books.  As my good friend Rusty reminds me from time to time, our books are now our “tools of the trade” like a craftsman and his/her own, uh, tools.  Moreover, we often write in them, scribble our notes all over them, re-read them and re-read our notes to see what new things jump out at us in our expanding hermeneutical horizons and such.  Couple this with a bad habit that I (and many other people) have where I’ll buy books knowing I’ll need to read it soon as a part of my core research or because it is basically part of the accepted canon of quintessential theology or philosophy.  (I’ve been much better about this in the last year having written an M.A. thesis now and honed my interlibrary-loan skills quite well.)

This is where my lists come back in to the picture.  In short, they’re pretty overwhelming at times because I know I have a decent amount of catch up to do (I haven’t even mentioned academic journals yet!), and there is a lot of satisfaction in crossing out a book on a list that I know I have read closely and slowly… which only opens more avenues of further reading.  And so on.

There’s a lot of issues here, really, and it’s a bit of a tangled web.  On the one hand, this is what I do now.  On the other, is there–should there be–a limit to this where I’m now basically just consuming information?  For one, I’m pretty sure I’m not very good at taking a day of rest.  Because I’ve had to juggle working full-time and getting an M.A. for the past two and a half years, I’ve had to make the most of every available chunk of time; I’m always usually doing something productive because of the many hats I wear.  On the flip side of this, though, I have been learning the skills of saying “no, thanks” to friends who ask me to work on projects–even paying projects.

I don’t really know where I’m going with this post, but it began from the idea that I experienced great joy when I actually deleted a book off my list of books to read.  It occurred to me that I didn’t have to read it at all, or any time soon.  I just thought that it would be good to read it to make my breadth of reading more “complete”, but really, that’s not even interesting and probably not a good use of my time unless I am writing a dissertation on that topic where being a completist suddenly becomes a good thing.  Then, I deleted another item off the list that wasn’t super important.

Clearly, the tools of a craftsperson are not just there to be consumed and put on the rack for display, but are meant to be used and in my case, the varied writings participate in various traditions that are supposed to call me out of my life of slumber.  I’m not sure when I’ll feel like I don’t have to play catch up anymore.  Plus, there’s that whole Socratic thing of figuring out that the more I learn, the less I actually know at all.


* Which is kind of weird because it would make more sense to have a B.S. in computer science, which the school now offers in their catalog, but didn’t offer back in 2002.

** Haha, I’m not that anal and micro-managing.  This is just an example for effect.

***   One of my New Testament professors in the MA program at PLNU recently told me that when we come back from the 3 years of PhD work we will have changed and we will most likely find that much of the stuff we have put in storage–aside from kitchen utensils–won’t be worth keeping anymore.