Saturday, August 29, 2009

57) clean up your writing

the literary life 8/29/09

We cleaned out our fridge today. It had been a while between cleanings. How long exactly is not something I'm willing to admit. I will say, in our defense, that we tend to organize and clean parts of the fridge somewhat routinely. But a huge cleaning, where all the shelves are emptied out and scrubbed is not something we do often enough. The results, posted above, were beautiful. After throwing out a bunch of stuff, we realized we had less edible food than we expected. Still the mind felt scrubbed as well, each thought temporarily baptized in the holy water of clarity. I get why people compare cleanliness to godliness. Maybe like the fridges in our homes, our writing folders necessitate a massive cleaning from time to time. I mean, I have file folders brimming with old abandoned stories and project ideas. I've got shelves and boxes and drawers filled with old journals, piles of poems, and potential manuscripts. And it's been a while since I've looked at my entire output of rough drafts and cleaned things up. I clean up my fridge more often (and we know how that's going). Granted, it's easier with cleaning a fridge. The condiments and cartons of eggs come with clear expiration dates printed neatly in bold, blank ink. Little thinking is required. And while the palate might mourn an unfinished chocolate cake that is no longer edible, replacements are just a short supermarket drive away. With our body of work, our forgotten manuscripts, and potential ideas, there is more emotional involvement and no clear expiration date. But while I don't mind a bit of mess, and I think that a little mess can inspire unexpected creative connections, I'm feeling this intuitive sense to organize. I think I've become a bit of a hoarder with my writing, with piles of documents printed out multiple times in multiple stages. In the "study" room of our two bedroom apartment, I often find myself tiptoeing around a poem or an old journal from 1998. And I can't help wondering, am I in control of my writing or is my writing controlling me? Sometimes I feel a sense of confusion or indecision about my work. What do I want to do next, what do I want to do now? Maybe this indecision is tied to the piles, both visible and hidden, that are pointing in different ways, clinging to older selves. I want to make a commitment to clean out my writing folders in September. This doesn't mean I will throw out old journals or discard poems that highlight a certain period in my evolution as a writer. I'll keep the stuff that's valuable. But I'd like to get things into labeled folders. For instance, I've got three shelves of hanging files in the study. They are cramped up with writing and work related stuff, but also with articles related to the person I once wanted to be: a religious studies professor. Now I teach high school literature, spend my time writing and baking. I aim to embrace the good life, to taste the seasons, and dig deep into the poems and novels on my shelves. I want to ritually make sense of the old, so I can embrace the potential of new.

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