Clothing vs word editing: How brave are you?

"You really want me to get rid of most of these?

“You really want me to get rid of most of these?”

"Some of those are brand new!"

“Some of those are brand new!”

It looks like we had a break-in at our house, doesn’t it?

We didn’t.

I snapped these photos after my hired image consultant put my entire wardrobe through an official “closet audit.”

A few weeks ago I wrote a business article about a local personal image consultant, Dulcet Style.

Intrigued with the image make-over process, I decided to give it a try and signed on for colors, style and silhouette analysis. The closet audit was the next piece of that process once we’d established my basic fashion roots according to how I prefer to dress, what my body shape and style is, and what colors appear to work best with my skin and hair coloration.

Color-wise, I am an autumn. Didn’t surprise me a bit. That is how I saw things for me.

The good news is that, instinctively, I’ve been making pretty good choices about me, myself and I for a long time. Mostly.

I had an article to write the afternoon she came, so I gave her free range in my bedroom to go through everything.

I could have stood by and watched her work, but with a deadline approaching, I decided it was more efficient if she did what she does, and I did what I needed to do. We agreed to meet up after she’d finished her sorting and analysis.

The psychology of the responses to all of this from friends and family have been as interesting a study as was the whole process itself. Many were defensive on my behalf over some of the things suggested to me by this consultant. They needn’t have been; this lady doesn’t make a living by insulting people, and she and I had a good time together throughout this process.

When you go through such a process you are willing to become vulnerable. As a writer I face that every time I submit a story or an article, and by now it doesn’t scare me nearly to the degree it did in the beginning.

The agreement stood between us, however. We’d do  the closet audit, but I would have final say on what did—or did not—get chucked into the donation bins. As it should be. These are my personal clothes, after all, and I am the one who would pay for their replacements.

I left her in my bedroom and I returned to my computer to finish the article.

Two and a half hours later you see in these pictures what I saw when I returned to my bedroom. My closet was substantially barer than a couple hours earlier. While she explained to me which pile was for this reason, or that reason, and why she made her decisions and choices, I listened.

There was probably 20% of my original wardrobe left hanging in there, and I did like the things she decided should stay, but it took my breath away for a moment. And I admit—as I glanced through some of the piles I noted things that I knew I would not be leaving in said “discard” piles, but would be hanging back up in my closet.

"Where have all my clothes gone?!"

“Where have all my clothes gone?!”

My article that was due could only be 800 words. I’d talked to three sources for my information before writing. 800 words isn’t much time. When I’d finished my initial draft, I had nearly 1300 words. No way could I turn that many words in, so I did my own word-wardrobe culling process.

I read and re-read, cut and pasted, moved this here, that there, took things out completely and put them into a CUTS zone at the end of the document—in case I changed my mind later—and trimmed the article down to under 800 words.

When I had it sitting on the page like I thought it should be, I handed my husband a red pen and a print out and asked him to give it a read through, marking anything that seemed out of whack.

An editor—like an image consultant—is a big help in seeing what might be wrong right before our eyes, but that we cannot see because our eyes were part of the creation process.

People told me I was brave to let a virtual stranger go through all my clothes. They said they’d never do that, but what I took away from the wardrobe revision was a sense of relief, and I honestly hadn’t expected it to feel as cleansing as it does. The consultant told me I would feel that way when it was done, and she was right.

I liked the idea of a cleaner, more efficient closet. I liked the idea that the jacket I hadn’t worn in 10 years was going to be out of my way. And that sweater I bought 5 years ago?–and now realize was a spontaneous purchase for some reason I cannot even recall, well . . . life is going to go on just fine once it goes to Goodwill.

It was so okay to be vulnerable that day.

That closet process is exactly like a writer’s words in their early drafts. That time comes that we have to send some of our words on their way. It’s because there’s no room for them in a piece, or they provide a redundancy that makes a piece sluggish, or they aren’t the right fit for what we are trying to accomplish.

At first it feels like we’ve wasted our effort to write them, but we’ve had the time with them; the writing practice. They did serve their purpose.

I’d typed in an additional 600 nicely written words for my business article, arranging my interview resources’ quotes ever so neatly about the article. But on two and three reads through it after the consultant departed, and my eyes having been away from them for a while, it didn’t take long to see what had to go.

I cut, rearranged and finished the piece and sent it on its way.

The next day I took a fresh look at all those piles and stacks you see in these pictures. At the end of my session my husband and I lugged 63 pieces of clothing to Goodwill and a ton of old belts, long ago too small, too worn, too outdated. I figured it was about a 60/40 split. Sixty-three pieces went out, and that last 40 she thought I should let go of, stayed.

Welcome to the world of editing. This is how it has to be with your words. If we open our minds and our ears, we know instinctively that we really don’t want to keep every single one.

It’s a good thing to learn that we can let go. We are so much better off for it.

Words, or clothing--it's all about compromise. Meet my new closet today!

Words, or clothing–it’s all about compromise. Meet my new closet today!

“Sure sign of spiritual growth: You want more freedom—and less stuff”  – Lisa Villa Prosen 

The time has come the Walrus said . . . to speak of many things . . .

You're showing to the rest of the world, whether you know it or not.

You’re showing to the rest of the world, whether you know it or not.

Writing, I think, is not apart from living.

Writing is a kind of double living. 

The writer experiences everything twice.

Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind.    – Catherine Drinker Bowen

The 2014 Life Journaling Class I began in early January has concluded–and damn–it felt good to participate.

I achieved my goal: To return to that deep state of unrestrained, concentrated paper-talk that I’d been missing.

All of the different prompts that session leader Susannah Conway offered to us 5 days out of every 7 fascinated me, even though I did not do them all, nor did I do them in order. The choice was always ours, as it should be.

Many were incredibly imaginative, and some downright dangerous and way too exposing, but staying parked in the SAFE ZONE is no place for serious writing.

I must admit to this one here and now: as it’s been one of the coldest, snowiest and toughest winters we’ve had in Iowa in several years, I could not get enthused about trying the one exercise of laying buck naked, spread-eagled across my bed, contemplating the various parts of my body and then writing about said personal revelations. It’s hard to think straight when your nibs are freezing and begging for a blanket.

Please don’t be offended, Susannah. I did understand the purpose of that one, but dang, woman–it was simply too cold for compliance! (Maybe next summer when the cat is busy watching birds out the window and the hubby has gone out for a solo Harley ride or something . . . we’ll see–)

She offered us one final list of prompts to carry forward as we move away from the group, and there are both gut-wrenching, difficult suggestions as well as light-hearted, fun directions to go. I am grateful for such a list.

It contains 50 solid, honest questions and prompts, and they offer vast amounts of fodder not only for personal journaling work, but for creative essays and stories–fiction and non-fiction alike as far as I’m concerned.

As I read through them a lot of thoughts began coagulating for me:

Have a conversation with your 90-year old self.

Write a letter of appreciation to someone who annoys you. (Oh, hell no! . . . but a good writing exercise if ever there was one . . .)

What turns me on? (Is this something you want your kids to read after you’re co-habitating with the earthworms? I wonder how many people would have the guts to write this down in a notebook and not destroy it.)

The secret I could never tell anyone. 

Write a letter to your first love.

The things I’ll never do again are . . . (oy.)

If I dared to say what I really think . . .

I chose the following from her list to close this post out for today:

10 memories I’d like to revisit – 

  1. Sitting on that old wood bench in Montgomery, Iowa on a July night watching the free outdoor movie with my family. There were stars overhead, crickets chirping in the grass, my folks–lighthearted and relaxed. There, of course, is ice cream before we drive home.
  2. The night I was married. I believe I forgot to tell my folks thank you for my wedding. Damn. All family and friends that we cared about were present. That doesn’t happen very often.
  3. Shopping in Wright’s Five and Dime with my kid sister. I want to walk down each aisle and remember all those fun things we used to wish we could buy. And I want to stand over that penny candy counter one more time.
  4. I want to pause inside the big doorway to my dad’s welding shop and watch him repair those colorful farm implements again, and then I want to drive home to supper with him. Our family of 6 always sat at the table and ate meals together. I remember the pecking order; it wasn’t always peaceful, but so what.
  5. Saturday nights in July and going uptown to take in all the happenings, and eating cheeseburgers at the Sunnyside Café with Mom—and one of those thick REAL chocolate malts.
  6. Christmas Eve 1960. Christmas was always good for me.
  7. The winter of 1962. Snow days—lots of them that winter. My sister and I baking and sledding and feeling warm inside our house—and sleeping late in the mornings. “No school again today!” I can hear my dad saying it.
  8. The summer of 1969 at Pike’s Point. Warm breezes blowing across Lake Okoboji and going steady. The life of a pampered teenager and loving it all.
  9. Girls’ week in August at my mother’s house. The four of us. Fresh peaches and cream for breakfast. Shopping and ordering pizza and watching rented videos. Nothing but play time. A week’s worth of harmony.
  10. Drinking Constant Comment tea with Mom in her living room until the wee hours of the morning, and catching up on everything and anything, and laughing until we dang near wet ourselves sometimes!

So . . . for those of you who think you’re  too smart, too busy, too talented, too sophisticated to spend any time with yourself, a pen and a lined notebook, I dare you to give it a try.

I don’t believe any one person couldn’t find something of merit in a little time spent examining where they’re standing now, where they’ve been—or what they think might be waiting down the road for them.

No one is that well put together. No one.

Just what Do You Believe?

Is there anything out there?

Is there anything out there?

If you had to tell someone in 300-500 words what it is you believe–could you do it?

We are nearing the end of our 6-week winter journaling session with author Susannah Conway, and that was the challenge she offered us in yesterday’s session.

“What is it you really believe?”

Seven years ago, a dear friend offered me the same challenge, but I didn’t take it on at the time. She’d written her short essay and submitted it to the NPR folks in 2007. She gave me a copy of one of their published anthology books titled THIS I BELIEVE, and I enjoyed reading the diverse philosophies presented by many well known, and not so well known, people.

National Public Radio (NPR) ran the “This I Believe” writing essay program for several years before deciding to discontinue reading the essays over the air in 2009. The essay program continues on at http://thisibelieve.org, however.

The exercise is dedicated to engaging America and the rest of the world in writing down one’s core beliefs and then sharing them with neighbors, friends and family hoping people will come to understand each other a little better.

Late last night I put my thoughts on the question into my journal trying to come up with one defining thing that I believe in. I figured the only way to really get into it was to draft a working list.

I believe in a ton of things. How to mine it down to the one I might consider explaining in a 500-word essay?

The list looks like this:

  • I believe in being good to people; yes—being nice.
  • I believe in smiling and laughing–a lot.
  • I believe there is a God, even though I cannot tell you what he/she/it looks like, or where to go or how to find the entity.
  • I believe It doesn’t care a fig about our man-made sanctions and rules concerning It.
  • I believe God and the Universe are one and the same; God is Nature. I crave Nature.
  • I believe God speaks best in quiet and solitude, but not only that way.
  • I believe in an existence in another dimension beyond this one because otherwise why should we even bother? Earth is nice—for some of us—but hardly enough for far too many. There has to be something more and better. Just has to.
  • I believe in simplicity.
  • I believe we have to maintain hope, but I also believe that gets harder as we age.
  • I believe we each have a part to play for our being born—good or bad.
  • I believe this is one of the most complicated things to understand and reason through. In fact, I know it is.
  • I believe having expectations will lead to disillusionment.
  • I believe for some reason I was born lucky, but I couldn’t tell you why.
  • I believe standing still watching the sun, listening to birds or studying how snow falls is hardly wasted time.
  • I believe the practice and value of writing should be a life course taught to children as soon as they can print words and continue until they graduate from high school.
  • I believe in synchronicity.
  • I believe in sincerity.
  • I believe you should always try something new; no matter how big or how small.
  • I believe you should like yourself.

You see that it’s not an easy task. It was getting late and I needed to stop for the night.

Today I realized the first item on my list came onto the page without effort. That’s probably a pretty good indicator.

We should be good to one another. And I don’t mind if someone tosses the word nice in my direction.

For those who find this a boring concept, I offer this . . .

Tough.

“I don’t care” days.

"Caring."

“Caring.”

I rented the first season of the Downton Abby series on my way home from church yesterday. I’ve been meaning and meaning—and meeeeeaning to do this.

Last night I crawled into bed, with a slice of my husband’s birthday cake waiting on my nightstand, and proceeded to indulge myself.

The first episode appeared mean spirited and dark as I observed how all the service staff were sniping at each other and it felt grim, and I thought—uh-oh . . . maybe you aren’t going to get into this as much as you thought you would. But I hung with it, of course.

By the end of the second episode I was catching on. By the third episode I was hooked. Cake finished, I watched the fourth episode, at which time my lightly snoozing husband woke up, looked over at me and said—‘you know . . . maybe you could turn it off for tonight?’ Usually he doesn’t mind if I watch TV in our bedroom, but then it was past 1:00 a.m.

And to be honest, if he hadn’t woken up, I know I would have watched all three DVDs of it last night—and then gone to sleep. Monday morning needs be damned.

It is that level of freedom and focused intensity that I made my goal for the month of January.

I cannot wait to resume the watching at some point today.

I have journaled a ton of pages since last week’s blog posting. After the end of the holiday season I declared the month of January, “Bec’s month. Only.”

Yesterday’s started like this:

“I’m having an ‘I don’t care day’ and I like it! I recommend it to anyone who feels the need or desire for such a day as this. 

There has been so much sad news this week—friends with advancing cancer, a friend burying her all-too young husband this week because of cancer, more dementia turning up in people I know. Every phone call or email brought sad news, and no matter how much I cared, or how hard I tried to find the right words to comfort these people, I couldn’t help any of them. 

I heard an ad on the television tonight: “Farmers always look forward.” (Thank God, they do, or the rest of us would get terribly hungry in a short amount of time.) 

This 6-week journal project has had me doing a lot of looking back and re-examining, but I expect to satisfy some as yet undefined need for doing that—and then I expect to be more than ready to stop it. And I will know when that moment arrives.” 

I don’t care days are a rare treat for me, but I plan to take more of them, and I wonder that all of you might enjoy exploring the benefits they offer as well.

I caught myself humming to myself the other day. Whoa. Involuntarily humming. I didn’t choose to do it—my body simply let it loose.

I’ve chosen to consciously observe how I was spending my days. Oh, my . . . the repetitiveness of it all. Make the bed, clean out the cat’s box, check today’s task list—make those calls—get that paperwork signed today!—scope out some more story resources, clean the cat’s box (again), start the washer, we’re out of milk (again), send out that meeting notice, make airline reservations- or not?, those bills HAVE to go today or they’ll be late, what was that submission deadline? (you missed it) . . . meh, meh, meh.

Believe me, it doesn’t mean I stop caring; it means I recognize when the ol’ Care Meter has gotten too full and is about to burst.

I acquired a new journal this week, its pages populated with sayings of the Buddha. I find Buddha sayings to be fully accessible to the reader because they are clear and concise. (Whose purpose does ambiguity ever serve?)

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.   -the BUDDHA

I started this Monday morning off with another piece of chocolate cake. And I’ve made a date this afternoon to park on my nice big bed and finish season one of Downton Abby.

All my other stuff will get done at some point. My friends and family know how much I care about them and their heartaches, and my own mind and body have been telling me how much they appreciate that I wised up this particular winter.

I do like this living in the moment stuff.

How about you?

“I see you!”

What are you seeing?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think you see in this wintry window?

The other night I watched David Feherty interview former President Bill Clinton on the Golf Channel. They obviously talked a bit about golf, but Feherty’s interviews are so interesting because he covers a broader spectrum of topics with his guests.

One topic they covered was the work funded by the Clinton Foundation, which is working to bring humanitarian aid and economical education/training to areas such as Haiti and parts of Africa.

Mr. Clinton noted that while in Africa his hosts took him up into the mountains, and the roads along the way were dangerously narrow and treacherous at times.

When another traveler approached them his hosts would call out to them, sawabona, which means, I see you.

Instead of the customary greetings we here in America use, such as hello or hi–it was simply I see you.

The response came back, ngikhona, which means, “I am here.” It is more involved than that, however. It tells the other person that you feel you have been seen and understood and that your personal dignity has been recognized.

That’s a rather neat trick, don’t you think?

I had to read more about this, of course. The members of these African tribes go about their day with this personal validation from all they encounter. Everybody is being seen by everyone they meet.

That must feel good.

Back to the interview. Mr. Clinton said he wondered how often during the course of our day, our lives, do we fail to see others because we either don’t want to, i.e., the panhandlers on the sidewalks, the homeless sleeping on park benches, or someone we don’t want in our social group because of their ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc, or because we are so wrapped up in our immediate lives, we can’t be bothered to look another human in the eye and acknowledge them in one tiny moment.

It is a point well taken, and not a comfortable one to pose to ourselves.

I’ve come to realize that journaling is like that. It is seeing yourself on the page. And it doesn’t necessarily go to rampant neediness, although we all have a level of that, but I believe it points us to greater aspirations and deeper self-realization.

Before I finally decided to vacate the standard business world and turn to writing, I felt like I’d become invisible; not only out there among that every day, supposedly normal business world, but definitely to myself. It was not a good feeling. The fact is, I learned that women who approach that 50-something mark, one day find themselves not quite as highly valued in the American workforce. I can’t speak for other countries; no experience. Sorry.

I’m glad to say I finally figured my way out–the hard way. If you aren’t living your days doing the thing that matters most to you, you are going to get soooo lost to yourself.

Sooooo . . . . my online journaling class/exercise I signed on for these 6 weeks turned a wee bit a’challengin’ this week. I confess I am behind on some of the prompts due to other required writing I had to finish for a deadline, but I kept up with what the group was called to attempt.

I realized that journaling is greeting yourself on the page. And I’m not a newbie to this pen and paper act, but after listening to the Clinton interview it dawned on me that frequent journal writing provides a chance for me to say, I see me today.

What the hell–answer yourself back while you’re at it. It’s nobody’s business but yours.

And as one of my journal mates commented: “I feel calmer when I’ve finished.”

That is not a bad way to start—or finish—a day.

I’ll close with this:

If I handed you a sheet of paper and told you to make a list of 100 things you like about yourself, could you do it?

“J” is for Journal; “T” is for Thawing

Image

“Out of clutter, find simplicity.”

-Albert Einstein

In last week’s blog post I told you about the 6-week long journaling class I’m taking with writer Susannah Conway, and I promised I’d offer up “bits and bobs,” as Susannah puts it, of the experience.

Six years ago, a writing friend introduced me to the trendy idea of choosing a theme word for each New Year, as it related to our writing life/goals.

My log list reads thus:

2008 – persevere

2009 – believe

2010 – continue

2011 – expand

2012 – push

2013 – (no word chosen)

2014 – reassess

That blank in 2013 is probably the reason I signed on to do this life journal class. I can’t tell you why I didn’t choose a word last year, and frankly, it wasn’t until I started writing in my classy new journal for this session that it occurred to me. Life turned bizarrely hectic, messy and sad in 2013. That I didn’t have presence of mind to choose my word is proof.

Susannah provides us with many prompts and suggestions each day from which to work in our journals. Journaling longhand is not a new concept for me, as I have a number of them in process on my shelves. But the idea of working in a cyberspace classroom with 79 other women from around the world in a common vein added the touch of discipline and connectivity I realized went missing last year. That came out in my writing this past week.

It’s startling what your mind and hands lay down on the paper while you look on, and honest journaling will take over like that when you finally cut yourself loose.

Little wonder then that my gut chose the word reassess, because clearly there was a need. (I still can’t believe that I didn’t at least try for a word in January 2013. Ah, well.)

You see the colorful, but messy array in the picture? That’s my creative notebook journal in process. That is the second part of this winter adventure. Others are calling their notebooks their creative dream journals.

I have a pretty good handle on what my dreams are. It’s these blasted U-turns and detours life keeps handing me and mine that need sorting through.

My 3-ring journal will be titled, Life View, and it will contain pictures of family and friends, pets, beautiful party tables, skies (I love sky pictures), food (of course!), ticket stubs, handwritten notes and cards from friends, journal fragments, and various other bits of my writings; even some of my poems. Elizabeth Bishop I am not, but, hey—this is my journal after all.

I’m not real artsy-fartsy when it comes to the paper crafts/ scrapbooking concept, and I was not even going to try this 3-D part of the course, because after all—I am a writer. I was planning to dive back in with one ink pen in hand, and two more in my back pocket and give it everything I had. But Providence evidently thought it would be good for me.

Allow me to report to you: I think Providence was right, and I think I’m in love.

The play time with my 3-ring binder and all those doodads, stickers, fancy scissors, multicolored card stocks, and the drawing up of page layouts all while looking at pictures of my family, my friends, all those fun times we’ve had already . . . I mean, come on! It’s positively engrossing. Not to mention, cheering.

Observing where you’ve come from goes a long ways in helping you reassess where you go from here.

And then there was this revelation: the other night, as I wrote and played, it occurred to me that my head, heart and soul were thawing out.

Whether we freeze up to protect ourselves from the hard times, or to make ourselves be strong role models for the sake of those around us could be a topic for debate.

All that I can tell you today is that it feels good to have the ice breaking away, and I owe this to a new journal, a group of honest, like-minded women on the other side of the pond, and a whole lot of brightly colored clutter scattered all over my dining room table.

I know there are people who think they don’t need to do any of this self-examining journaling crappola, but people, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

You may never be the same.

Einstein nailed it. Out of my clutter, I am finding simplicity, and from there I will be able to reassess.

Talk to you next week–

Pens–not guns.

IMG_6322

My 2013 WordPress report card summary begins like this:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,300 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 22 trips to carry that many people.

In 2013, there were 9 new posts . . .

And this is where I owe you a bit of an apology and an explanation….only 9 new posts last year. That is awful.

2013 grew increasingly tougher as it progressed, and frankly, I’m glad it’s gone.

As a freelancer I kept up with the paying work, because if I didn’t, it would go away. It’s hard enough to get that work these days. No matter what’s going on, a writer must work to keep it.

But my writing—that personal, deep stuff I love to dive into—and this blog–were sorely sidetracked due to life opening up on my family, and my soul has missed it.

In a nutshell, I found myself scared breathless by a life-changing medical diagnosis for my husband, along with an aggressive cancer diagnosis for our favorite fur-face kitty, while monitoring with great concern the ineptness of the building contractors for our youngest daughter and her family’s unfinished house—which left them with no place to live. All of this on top of literally finding myself standing in septic-tank-contaminated, hot-soapy-sudsy water one lovely warm September morning last fall; water that destroyed the oak flooring on our first floor level.

Want to hear more? Both my husband and our lab grandpuppy were attacked and bitten by unruly neighbor dogs. Neither neighbor offered to pay for the emergency room visits.

All. In. One. Month’s time.

We all grew afraid to even stick our feet out of bed in the morning.

I’m happy to report I’ve got my chutzpah back, in spite of it all. And I. Am. Eager.

A friend and I are going to take on a 6-week personal journaling class called JOURNAL YOUR LIFE with British writer Susannah Conway .

Angels come in all shapes and sizes, and my friend Cynthia who mentioned this class to me, is one of them. The graphic with this post today is what I’ve picked out for this session. My sister had the Cross pen inscribed with my nom de plume and gave it to me a couple Christmases ago.

It’s become obvious lately just how much anger—and heartache—I’ve pushed down deep so no one else would have to see it. Including me. Several unhappy incidents lately forced me to see how astute I was at accomplishing that, and how not smart that is.

There is no more room at the Inn called Suppressed Emotion.

It feels good to write that to you today, and this upcoming journal project has me on fire.

I cannot say this enough: If you are hurting, don’t pick up a gun. Don’t pick up a bottle. Don’t pick up a syringe.

Pick up a pen.

Find yourself.

Write whatever you want to. Scream, rant, cry, swear, berate, accuse . . . cry some more. And if you see a glimmer of Accept trying to peek around the page at you . . . maybe—just maybe—let it sit down. Give it a spot all its own where it can remain with you.

I believe, eventually, we come to feel better, or in the very least, stronger.

Author note:

The new oak floors are installed and gorgeous. Lexi had to lose her front leg, but her blood work indicates she is healthy and the cancer most likely gone. The kids are moved into their new house, but their contractors remain inept baboons as far as we are concerned. Neither of the dog bites turned serious.

And most importantly, we are all learning how to make every single moment in the now count, because once a person’s memory starts fading, all we can do is face it.