With Lydia, my college-age child whose winter break coincides with mine, I am cleaning out our Little Closet of Horrors. It is a home storage area that makes me shudder and mentally throw up a brick wall of denial every time I open it or think about it. Too many bath towels, three aerobeds (why three?), out-of-use curtains, and boxes and boxes of family photos fill this closet.
What most terrifies me is the archive of photos. Although boxed, they have not been organized — it’s clutter! — and they may prompt memories, both happy and sad, that I’d rather keep in deep brain storage.
So, Lydia is helping me. The photo at left is of her in the first minutes of our multi-day project, which started last Monday. We brought all the boxes down from the second floor closet, stacked them, and began.
I originally thought of calling this post, “The benefits of not writing.” In the past several months, I have deliberately set aside Writing — and by that I mean my writing, not the writing I do for work or keeping in touch with people — in order to make extra money through freelancing, fulfill the responsibilities of my primary occupation as writing teacher, and tackle a long mental list of broken or disorganized things around the house that needed fixing or organizing. About a week ago I scrolled through all my iPhone photos from 2015, and I saw evidence of all I had done in the second half of the year:
- cleaned closet and drawers ruthlessly, even giving away a 10 year-old seersucker suit from Talbots I had been hanging onto for the day I needed to bring jaunty and preppy back into my life;
- donated most of the books leftover from both college and grad school because if I need to read Scarlet Letter or Wide Sargasso Sea again, they’re in the library;
- removed and junked the toilet in my first floor bathroom and installed a brand new toilet ALL BY MYSELF;
- earned about $19,000 this summer in freelance income from four projects;
- emptied the attic and basement of both trash and unused items;
- organized the garage;
- replaced the shower diverter in our tub’s spout;
- repaired my garage door; and
- ran and skated hundreds of miles, thereby keeping the body itself in good repair.
I was only able to do these things because I had deliberately set aside writing. Really, I said to myself, “I am not writing now.” In doing so, I put aside the constant anxiety and distraction that a skilled writer feels when she imagines that, by doing a normal thing like raking leaves or making beds, she is wasting her talent. In not thinking about my wasted talent, I accomplished a lot, and Writing was not hanging around my ankles, pulling at my skirt, asking for attention. Let’s say it had been sent away to summer camp or boarding school, and it was having a good time without me.
As of now there are just a few items remaining on the household mental To Do list, and the scariest one has been the Little Closet of Horrors. What a gift that Lydia agreed to work on it with me! That is something to do in life: when terrified of a task, get someone to join you or at least sit with you as you confront it. In this case, a collaborator. Continue reading