Tuesday, March 4, 2008


If I think really hard, I could probably bring up numerous instances of obsessive-compulsive behavior from my youth. Okay, I don't have to think really hard - I used to make schedules (written) for summer days outlining what my little sister & I would be eating, watching, playing each hour; the pictures on my bulletin board were arranged by category - soap opera hunks, singers, movie actors; each stuffed animal & pillow had a specific location on my bed; I sorted my mom's grocery coupons by item & expiration date; I planned Halloween costumes at the beginning of the summer; et cetera ad infinitum amen.

No one ever hinted (that I noticed) that these behaviors might be considered odd. Maybe nobody watched me very closely until one day, a year into marriage, I was engaged in a conversation and, while still talking, I got up from the couch, crossed the room, and adjusted a video on a shelf. When I sat back down and finished my sentence, my friend looked at me for a few seconds then asked, "Did you just get up to fix that video?" Me, thoughtful, "Well, yes." And because she kept looking at me uncomprehendingly, I said, "It was sticking out a little from the others." It all seemed perfectly reasonable.

I started being mindful of the things I felt compelled to do, stuff that would make me uncomfortable if I left it undone. I was working at Barnes & Noble where adjusting books just-so was considered an asset, but I did find myself going beyond what other clerks were doing. Whenever I was at the cash register, I sought out specific pens and put them in specific places; my counter space placards and impulse sales items were straightened after each customer; the bags were neatly stowed. Huh.

And then I got a classroom. Bulletin boards, bookshelves, my desk, student desks, craft supplies, posters, signs, lists, trays - everything has a place, label, operating system. I have a book checkout clipboard and room sign-out clipboard as well as the emergency procedure clipboard (all have pens attached); the bulletin boards are divided into (labeled) sections for displaying student work; the school's class schedule is posted in three places; two crates hold class assignments organized by course & in chronological order; even the clock has a sticker on its face ("stop looking at me"). And everyday I check all of these things while I straighten tables & chairs, reposition window blinds (that they are broken and constantly fall into disarray is something I actually pray about), and straighten books (which are divided by genre - fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and comics).

I've had students say to me "OCD much, Mrs. Spencer?" after I've moved across the room to retrieve a candy wrapper or fallen pencil while continuing to talk to the class. It really feels good to be noticed.