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A Study in Disorganization : T. Jefferson Parker

January 20, 1994| T. Jefferson Parker is a novelist and writer who lives in Orange County. His column appears in OC Live! the first three Thursdays of every month.

When the keen observer gets three Christmas presents that are all basically for the same purpose, he can't help but detect an implied message. When the gifts come from people very important in the observer's life, the message is magnified, often displayed in bright neon, and demands reflection.

In my case, the gifts in question were all dedicated to helping me "organize" my life: a "Calendar & Journal for Personal Reflection," an appointment book (subtitled "A Personal Record and Useful Reference") and something called an "Executive Planning System." They came from people who know me well.

My first reaction was the warmth and happiness you always feel when someone gives you something. The photographs in the journal are stunningly good, and the accompanying biblical quotes profound and spiritually lifting. The personal record book has gold-leafed pages and fascinating essays at the beginning of each month. The executive planner has information on everything from interest rates to international climate and is housed in leather that smells so good you can whiff it from a yard away. I smiled and fondled the items, happy and grateful.

My second reaction was, who needs to be more organized? If you know your obligations for the next two days, have gas in the car and enough cigarettes for the next two hours, you've pretty much got it boxed. Besides, I thought, I'm a pretty damned well organized guy to begin with, aren't I?

I toured the house to confirm my organizational skill level. The kitchen and dining room were neat, because I rarely cook and prefer to eat standing over the sink.

The bedroom was kind of a mess, but you're allowed to have a less-than-clinically clean bedroom, aren't you? The living room looked fine, except for the old Esquire magazines, Cabela's catalogues and scores of rocks I collected a year ago up near Trona and more or less dumped on the floor near the fireplace. Yes, November's sample election ballot was still leaned up against a sofa, but it had what must be a critical phone number scribbled on it, thus earning its space. Hmmm.

Confidence dwindling, I peeked into my study, a room whose brute chaos is, quite simply, astonishing. You don't really enter this room in the conventional sense; you approach it, lean like an inquiring butler toward it and devise an entry strategy.

Impatient, and eager to affirm my organizer's skills, I penetrated the room using the blitzing linebacker's method: a quick stutter-step, then a sprint into the fray, knees bent, head up, eyes alert, arms lowered to hurl obstacles from my path.

It was stuffed with a writer's tools: typewriter, computer, stacks of note pads, books by the hundreds. This is OK, I mused--a worker needs a place to work.

It was also a storage place for guitars and amplifiers, golf clubs, valued pictures, architectural drawings for an add-on, stacks of letters, a collection of empty wine bottles once filled with my father's wine from up in Mendocino County, fishing poles, vests and tackle, towering piles of newspapers, shopping bags full of the past years' tax information, paintings stacked for lack of wall space, an enormously useless sofa piled high with blankets, pillows, a telephone, more newspapers, the outline for my new book.

It was actually impossible to sit on the sofa without first climbing over a coffee table invisible beneath an avalanche of more books, magazines, paper, a hiking canteen, a Scrabble game, and--for purposes mysterious to me--a box of Baby Fresh unscented wipes (84 count).

I stood amid the ruin and, inching my feet by small degrees, slowly surveyed the whole sorry mess. The epiphany came hard and fast: My friends and relatives were right--I'm disorganized. I struggled from the room, fled upstairs to the relative calm of the bedroom, and, panting, tried to figure out what to do.

I took a nap.

Upon waking, I found that my problems hadn't gone away, though I'd had a wonderful dream about being in the military with Drew Barrymore as my commanding officer.

I took up the Personal Reference and Useful Record book and under Jan. 13 wrote: "House a bit disorganized. Must improve surroundings." Under the same date in the Calendar & Journal for Personal Reflection, I noted: "Chaos of house equals chaos of mind--work to be done on both fronts." Opening the impressive Executive Planning System to the right date, I neatly penned: "Am living like a common barnyard swine. Get a grip."

Since a task well begun is half done, I did nothing for the next few days, avoiding the house altogether in favor of tennis, visiting friends, doing errands. Then with a burst of pure animal energy, I decided to begin with the bedroom and pump up my organizing muscles before tackling the Augean stable of my study.

I pulled all the albums, tapes and CDs from the cabinets, intending to replace them alphabetically. I took my dysfunctional tape player and CD player to the driveway, smashed them gleefully into the asphalt, then swept up the shards.

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