The Stories We Tell

20150421_193254I have so many things I want to write about, including spring cleaning. I am stubbornly waiting until the weather actually turns spring-like so that I can open the windows and actually call it spring cleaning. Today we are due to get some hail, (yes, hail!)so I continue to walk across my sticky kitchen floor and watch the dust balls grow.

I also want to write about the time I wrote an article on assignment for a magazine. It was about a vision quest in suburbia. Talk about an oxymoron. I remembered the assignment while driving home from writing group last week, after discussing freelance writing. Oh, and there was that, I thought. I’d forgotten about it. And now I want to write about it because it was so bizarre that I have to dust it off and churn the experience into a new story.

And I want to write about writer’s block and how Julia Cameron, author of the Artist’s Way, rescues many writers from this misery. She reminds us, when words become as elusive as water in the dessert, to not call it laziness. Call it fear.

Thank you, Julia Cameron, for reminding us of this when we are blocked. We are not losers! she is telling us.  We are cowards. Believe it or not, this really does help.

I want to write about these things and more, and I will, but I am currently preoccupied with the Moth open mic story telling. I first wrote about my Moth Story Slam adventure in an earlier post here:

Happily, I sold my winning Moth story to an online magazine and am now working on lengthening it a bit, at the editor’s request. They will own exclusive rights for six months, and after that  I can do what I want with it-submit to other publications, blog, etc.

I am still waiting on the date for the Moth Grand Slam where I will compete with ten other story tellers. I think it will be over the summer and I can hardly wait!

In the meantime, I plan to perform again this week at another story slam just for practice, so I am preparing for that, right down to picking out my mothfit

A mothfit is what I now call the outfit I wear to these things.  A small detail, I know, but I reason that it requires at least a little thought.  It should be authentic, and not pretentious. Comfortable, but not frumpy.  Chic, but not shabby.

So after this week, with the story revisions and the Moth Story Slam behind me , I will be free to focus on other writing again.

And it would be great if this coincided with spring making her grand entrance.  Because for me, bogged down by winter’s layers- of clothing, cold, and grime- are dichotomous with writing freely and moving forward, lightly.

Here in New England, we are going to appreciate spring like a blocked writer appreciates fresh words.

When that time comes, I will throw open my windows. I will wipe away any dirt and excess, and clear the way for the sunshine and the muse to come through, light and warming. Because this simplifying thing, it really does work.

Cars and keeping the journey light

Cars have long been a universal theme explored in literary works such as The Outsiders. Do you remember the two groups of teen rivals, the Socials and the greasers? The Socs had cars which represented power, protection and mobility, while the greasers had to travel on foot and were therefore much more vulnerable.

stock-photo-30594346-hands-of-driver-on-the-steering-wheelAnd who can’t relate to feeling vulnerable when our car doesn’t start up, or it stalls on the side of the road? Maybe this is a distant memory of our younger years when we had less control over our lives, or perhaps it happened yesterday. We’ve got somewhere to go and this is our mode of transportation. To lose it is unnerving.

Or how about the elderly driver who has to give up driving altogether? This denotes a loss of freedom and independence. How could it not? They’ve crossed over to having to depend on others to move them from one place to another.


Dreams of cars symbolize how much control you have over your own life. Are you in the driver’s seat or are you along for the ride as a passenger? Do you know how to navigate from one place, or stage, to the next? Or are you lost?

And just like any other area of life, clutter in a car can take an emotional toll. It’s restricting, slows us down, and in the case of a moving vehicle, can even be unsafe.

Cleaning a car is a simple and symbolic way to take charge of our lives. It’s so much more pleasant to take the journey free of clutter and crumbs. Cleaning out one’s car is a step towards traveling with mental clarity and space. It is moving forward with both hands on the wheel, free of the stuff that bogs us down.stock-photo-36568830-driving-on-an-empty-road-towards-the-setting-sun

Extreme decluttering

Cleaning consultant and author Marie Kondo has sold over two million copies of her book, The life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing.  She has a three month waiting list for her services and never has repeat clients; when they use her reliable methods, they only have to do it once.  And as soon as people uncover the joy and shift in mindset that living clutter free allows, they typically develop a strong desire to maintain their more minimalist lifestyle.  Tidying is just a tool in moving forward in the rest of your life, but once you begin to use the tool “you are resetting your life”, explains Konda. medium_2541710549

Her book is a fun read and is full of valuable tips and detailed guidance for anyone wanting to try the KonMari Method of simplifying. To gleen the full benefits of her wisdom, I recommend reading the book. But for those who are just curious about  what some of her significant methods are, here is my understanding of the four big ones:

* Do your simplifying all at once.  Attempting to declutter a little at a time just doesn’t work well for most people; you won’t see any immediate results when doing it little by little, and therefore you won’t gain any momentum  Besides, it could take you a lifetime. Think of simplifying as an exciting event, and tackle it all at once. Yup, when you’re ready, jump in and go. When you do it this way, you’ll be feeling the magic in no time. You’ll want to keep going.

*Go through items by category, not by rooms.  You should only have to go through each category once. So when you’re sorting clothes, for example, collect all of your clothes from the house before going through them. Kondo recommends sorting in the following order: clothing, books, papers, miscellany, then sentimental items (pictures, etc).

*Instead of thinking about what you want to get rid of, first decide which things you really want to keep.  Do you need it? Does it bring you joy? If you can’t answer yes to either of those questions, then it goes.

* Discard first, and store afterwards. In other words, don’t try to figure out where you want to keep things until after you’ve discarded all things that you aren’t going to keep.

The magic of tidying dramatically transforms your life,  promises Marie Konda.  And a whole lot of people are discovering that she’s right.

Closet Clarity

I love clothes, but I don’t like the idea of hoarding them.  I only want what I wear and I want to like everything that I own. This past spring, I’d weeded out  any clothes that I no longer wear, but my closet just wasn’t quite organized. I had hangers made of wood, wire and plastic in every color. This, along with some randomness of where each type of clothing was hung, contributed to a visual disorder which can be a subtle yet real energy drain.

So I spent the better half of one day really going through the entire closet. I put my scarves and hats and gloves in hanging shoe holders, and then gathered hangers of the same type and color for different categories of clothing. Dresses on black hangers, shirts on white, and so forth. I hung things in order- pants, then sleeveless tops together, followed by short sleeves, long sleeves, then sweaters. 20141030_102612  20141110_160859

Once the job was complete, I knew every piece of clothing that was in the closet. I didn’t just have a bunch of clothing; rather, I was mindful of what I had and I knew that it was enough.  I had seen, held and hung every thing I could possibly wear, and it made me want to make use of it all, rather than accumulate any more.

When I enter my closet now, I know exactly where to go to find what I want.  A few hours may sound like a long time to spend on a closet, but as far as I’m concerned, I have saved myself future shopping trips to buy clothes I now know I don’t need, as well as given myself a new appreciation for the ones I already have. All of them favorites, neat and orderly, and mine for the taking.

Clearing space for National Novel Writing Month

November is National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo.  Beginning on November 1st, some 30,000 participants from all over the world come together, if not physically then in spirit, each one to produce 50,000 words by midnight on November 30th. Writing groups and libraries open their doors days and evenings and sometimes even all night long, in support of NaNoWriMo.

Anticipation and excitement is the air right about now, amongst new and experienced writers alike.  Having a national event gives participants added structure – focused writing times, organized groups, a goal of 1600+ words per day on average to “win”. It also gives us permission- you’ve got to drop some other stuff in order to do this-it’s part of the plan! The go big or go home mentality keeps many writers tapping away at their keyboards for these thirty days.

Many writers prepare by creating a detailed outline of their intended novel. The idea is that by the end of the month, you will have completed a first draft. Having the outline ready allows you to jump right in to writing the book on November 1st. Rules are flexible though, since writing really is an individual activity. Several writers that I know of, myself included, are using the month to continue- and hopefully finish- the first draft of a work already in progress. I’m still writing the book I was writing last November, a literary memoir. I’ve been tapping out the words, day by day, but nothing tethers my attention to it like NaNoWriMo.

My preparations include simplifying everything I can in order to ensure the most productive month of writing that I can. The fact that I have an idea for my next book tugging at me is a reminder that I need to bring my current project to completion. Instead of completely suppressing my new book idea, I started a file of notes to refer to later. I refuse to give this much attention though, until my current project is complete. By nature I am not a multitasker and therefore focusing on two big projects at once is counterproductive.

So it is with a sense of urgency that I will be caught up on all pesky chores, and my surroundings will be organized. For me, the days leading up to NaNoWriMo mean cleaning out a closet, dusting my writing table, doing every last stitch of laundry; phone calls are returned and emails are answered. Shopping is done, plants are watered, and rugs are vacuumed. I’ve mentally scheduled in yoga classes and walking my dog. Habits that free up my creativity will be as important as food and water.

Because approaching National Novel Writing Month requires more than a book idea. What it asks of writers is to clear up space, both physically and psychologically. It demands that our creativity take center stage in our lives, if only for thirty days. I am always amazed and impressed with people who successfully tackle this month on top of a very busy schedule. They inspire me to be a more disciplined writer, which is a stretch for someone who requires so much space that I can get writer’s block just from the sound of someone else chewing.

Here’s to November. I look forward to the inspiration, the camaraderie and hopefully, finally, the finished draft. I am excited to complete this project I’ve birthed, and launch it out into the world, however difficult that particular launching road may be. Like an adult child who hasn’t left home, my current book needs a little push and National Novel Writing Month can do just that. So I’m returning my library books, sweeping my floor and generally getting things in order. Like so many others who will begin investing extra time in their writing on the first of November, I’ve invited in the muse and the spirit of the month to come through all open doors and empty spaces. Bring it on, November. The writers are ready.

Simplify your way to a healthy weight

Clutter makes you fat. I came across an article with this title, and it instantly made perfect sense to me.  Peter Walsh, professional organizer, writer and media personality, writes about why a cluttered life and home can make you overweight and unhealthy, and what you can do to change that. I recommend his article to anyone who struggles with eating habits.  If you detest the idea of a diet, or simply want some tips on how to permanently change your lifestyle, read on!

The main points that Walsh covers are these:

* We live in a “more is better” culture and this is reflected in our overstuffed schedules, crammed drawers, and skyrocketing obesity rates.

*Clutter accumulates because we are out of control, and if you let it invade your home you are much more likely to mindlessly stuff your body as well.

*Chaos and disorder are often reflected in the physical space, mental space and the body. One affects the other and if you clean up one, you begin to clear up the others as well.


Without darkness, we wouldn’t know light. And without winter, how would we know spring? The sun is out, the wind and snow have relented, at least for now, so bring on the spring cleaning! I am so ready to shed layers and dust and stuff. It’s not truly spring cleaning until we can open the windows, but I’m going to start somewhere.

A donation truck is coming through our neighborhood tomorrow, so that gave me extra incentive to get started now. I personally like to start with my bedroom.  Yesterday, I went through every piece of clothing, and even tried on the questionable ones until all that was left was what I really wanted.   It brought back the memory of when my daughters were little and I’d have them go through their clothing at the start of each season, figuring out what still fit and passing on what didn’t to their younger sister, or donating it. They used to call this the fashion game, and they had fun with it.  This sorting became a seasonal habit that stuck with themLast week, one of them told me her college sent an email to the students, suggesting they bring home some winter items when they leave for spring break. “It’s like my mother talking”, she said. Of course she was planning to go through her stuff and bring home her winter items. 

Seems there are always those clothing items that sit in a drawer, untouched.  Yesterday, I finally let go of my camisole tanks.  They’re pretty. I like them. Except that I never actually wear them. These camisoles are meant to be worn under other tops. That makes two tops, plus an undergarment. That’s three layers.  I really just don’t like layering. And if you are going out, you probably need a coat or a sweater. There’s four. How can we ever get to the important stuff of life if just getting dressed requires four layers?  I can hardly stand to put on my winter coat, in fact, which is a bit of a problem in New England from, say, November through March. (It has been my mission to find the thinnest possible winter coat that is still warm). So after offering the camisoles to my daughters, (can you believe they turned them down? I mean, who doesn’t want their mother’s clothes?!) I put them in the donation bag.  I also purged a purse and a few tops and jeans that really never fit right and a pair of shoes and a few other things.  Oh and I finally got rid of my ski pants. I loved these ski pants at one time in my life-the time that I skied.

My shorts still sit in a bin in my closet, and I think they’ll be there for quite a while longer. But the clocks were moved ahead today, and spring beckons.  It was actually somewhat comfortable outside and there is a collective sigh of relief, almost joy?  Once my clothes were bagged up, I dusted and vacuumed and changed the sheets, and voila. Master bedroom, check.  Next time, the kitchen.   If you clean it, spring will come.  That’s my motto this month.