Taylor: De-cluttering our mental bulletin boards

The whole bulletin board became a bewildering chaos. Nothing stood out.

For a while, our community had a bulletin board outside the neighbourhood store. Anyone could stick up a notice.

But no one ever took a notice down.

So there were notices for yard sales, babysitting, dog walking, car repairs, gardening services, concerts, weddings, hairdressing, skin care, tree pruning. The notices kept piling up.

Each new notice had to be pinned through three or four old notices still stuck to the board.

The whole thing became a bewildering chaos. Nothing stood out. There was just a mass of brittle sun-stained paper, curling at the edges, rustling in the breeze like autumn leaves.

As I grow older, I have increasing difficulty coping with chaos.

When multiple conversations swirl around me, I tend to turn my ears off. When too many meetings beckon, I inevitably miss some of them.

I don’t multitask well—I can’t talk on the phone while I check my e-mail while I scan the newspaper while I make coffee while I look for my glasses.

My mental bulletin board gets too full.

On that community bulletin board, I sometimes saw people riffling down through the layers, trying to find an announcement or advertisement that they remembered seeing once.

It used to be there. Therefore it must still be there, somewhere.

And I wonder if that’s why some people—not necessarily older people—remember what used to be on their bulletin boards, even if it has long since been covered over.

I’ll use church examples, but I’m sure the same happens elsewhere.

My generation remembers when Sunday schools overflowed with children. The Sunday school notice is still on the board, somewhere. But dozens of competing notices have gone up—for soccer leagues and shopping malls, weekend work shifts and televised sports, video games and golf courses.

Still, people insist, “We need to bring the children back.”

There almost seems to be resentment towards new notices, as if they had no right to cover up the past.

When the United and Anglican churches jointly published their new red Hymnbook in 1971, people lamented the old blue 1930 Hymnary.

When Voices United came out in 1996, they wanted to keep using the red Hymnbook. When More Voices offered a livelier selection of music, they clung to Voices United. When the next book comes out—whenever that happens—they’ll wax nostalgic for the good old songs in More Voices.

My church celebrates communion by intinction—dipping the bread in wine (actually, grape juice). Some people object that it’s not hygienic to dip one’s bread—and perhaps one’s fingertips—in the wine. They want to restore individual glasses, in trays passed from person to person.

But those trays were originally a radical break from slurping out of a common cup. The grape juice too was an innovation, prompted by the temperance movement’s opposition to anything alcoholic.

Each layer of notices covers over the previous ways of doing things—whether it’s church or science, medicine or economics.

We need to tidy up our bulletin boards occasionally. And clear out the stuff that has passed its best-before date.