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 

A short, hot Iowa story–

     We can’t beat this latest blast from hell that has beset much of the upper Midwest’s weather pattern for far too many days . . . so some of us write about them. 

     Below is one of my short stories that published a couple years ago in Julien’s Journal, a marvelous regional magazine that touts all things Iowa, historic and Mississippi River-flavored in the Dubuque, Iowa area. 

    We’ve been through these summer heat drills before; eventually they do move on. (And Iowa is more than ready to have this one move on!!) 

A Fickle Lady

        Hades was no match for East Central Iowa the summer of 2005. We were a third of the way through August when I heard the weatherman announce that our area had sweated through twenty days over the 90 degree designator as compared to only two days the previous summer for the same timeframe. Add to that grief the fact that the Rain Gods hadn’t blessed our part of the state with sorely needed rain, and it felt like ‘The Summer That Wasn’t.’

        In Iowa we wait and wait . . . and wait for any little sign of spring that suggests our interminably long winter is coming to an end. Frost danger passes by mid-May and it becomes a contest to see who can open their windows first, get the garden tilled, plant lettuce and onion sets, and hose off the patio furniture because summer is peeking around the corner.

And then She arrives.

And so does 75 . . .80 . . . 85. . . 90 . . . and that’s just the humidity. The temps aren’t far behind and a great many of us turn on the air conditioner, and then we’re right back to where we started. The little wheel on the electric meter whirs round and round in an attempt to make it to Mechanical Heaven ahead of schedule. The energy bill arrives in the mail but lays unopened for a week because we’re afraid to face the damages.

        Inside, with the windows locked down, we scrutinize the Weather Channel hoping for a cooling Canadian flow to come through and whisk the terrible temps and oppressive humidity off to the East. We’re anxious to get back outside “to summer” so we can swat mosquitoes and gnats away from all major arteries and veins as we toil to rid the flowerbeds and garden of yet another invasion on man’s summertime tranquility–weeds; those hardy, healthy looking nemesis of gardeners everywhere that don’t mind 105 degrees in the sun, minus five inches of subsoil moisture and rock hard top soil. They actually seem to love those conditions.

        There is one steadfast way to deal with such a heat wave, however: ice cream. Why is it a red light lasts longer when the temperatures “on the outside” soar to the upper nineties? Even a pale colored car seat, if allowed to sit in the sun long enough, will provide a free-of-charge derma peel. (I need to remember to lay a terry cloth towel over the seat!) The hot black smell of fresh asphalt accosts me as I leave the ice cubed air-conditioned car to take my place in the long line at Dairy Queen, entertained by the heat mirages rippling off the paving as I wait to order a Blizzard. Creamy cold treat in hand and not ready to go back into A/C lockup, I head for the park–the one with the aqua painted pool, and look for a shade tree to sit under while I drink my Blizzard. The warm smell of chlorine water rises as dozens of brightly colored bodies bob, jump, float, cannonball and lounge in and around the perimeter of the cement swim hole.

        Back home, my curiosity overtakes me and I actually break an egg on our patio just to see if there is any truth to it being able to cook on a surface parched by the sun. Do you know how hard it is to clean warm, slimy raw egg off red patio brick?

        The turning point of summer is announced by the arrival of the “wheeza-wheeza” bugs, as my daughter calls them. Cicadas would be another name. Folklore has it that from the time you hear the first of them, you have six weeks before first frost. I assure you I have actually clocked this possibility on a calendar and we had far more warm season left at that six-week mark and well beyond, before first frost actually happened. Half the fun of folklore is putting it to the test. This was the same year I broke a sweat while wearing shirt sleeves as I hung Christmas lights on the front bushes.

        The first crisp morning in September will pull us back to reality when Mother Nature says, “Guess what? The 90’s really are over!” And for brief moments, people will consider the question: “Where did the summer go?” But we will settle in for the warm balmy days of early fall with its cool nights, smiling with gratitude as we think back to the last hot, hot days of our Iowa summer. And the truth is–most of us wouldn’t have it any other way.

The impromptu glass of Sangria and breathing lessons.

Sangria and summer were meant for each other.


“We are always getting ready to live, but never living.” – 

 [Ralph Waldo Emerson] 

The pool area was quiet except for the gentle gurgle of the water filter doing its job from the shaded corner near the hosta bed. The summery ice blue color of the pool’s liner issued a friendly summons to wade, jump, dive or dangle toes. 

On the small patio table sat a large antique silver tray filled with rice crackers and cream cheese/chive spread, freshly baked sweet potato chips and a bowl of honeydew melon, its sweet pale green a stunning contrast to the carroty orange of the potato slices. Lime wedges floated on a thick layer of ice cubes that chilled purple-red sangria in a crystal pitcher as three large-bowled wine glasses waited for someone to pour. 

I would have missed all of this had I let my Type-A Shoulder Demon Angel have her way. 

Our usual Thursday night meeting had been canceled, so my friend Mari called me and suggested I stop by her house around 4 o’clock for a little impromptu pool time. Sue, our other friend who’d suddenly found her evening calendar cleared, was also coming over.  

I hemmed and hawed to myself, remembering I’d already reassigned tasks for myself since our meeting was canceled, and thought I really should pass and stay home and work. Fortunately, It Who Knows So Much Better What Is Good For Me, nudged me: “Don’t be an idiot. Tell her yes.” And somehow—I managed to listen. 

For two delicious, calming, water-cooled hours we three friends munched and drank those beautiful snacks while mingling with that refreshing water in that beautiful pool. We shared childhood swimming lesson horror stories, and before the afternoon was over I came to understand the ultimate importance that breathing plays in the process of learning to swim. (I’d had several years of American Red Cross swimming lessons while growing up; passed every class—and to this day—cannot swim. Slabs of granite can swim better than I do.) 

My heart rate slowed, and that felt good. It had been acting a tad bit hyperactive for the past couple of months, what with my new column and regular deadlines and then the novel coming back with major cleanup required. Do not misunderstand: I love where I am on the path, what I’m doing and all of these opportunities. 

Somehow, though, I forgot about the zit words I was supposed to be gleaning from the novel manuscript, the interview tapes that needed transcribing, the hostas waiting transplanting, the tree line clean-up work, the ironing, the laundry folding and blah, blah, blah. It never ends you know. It never will. 

I watched a leaf make its way from one end of the pool to the other, carried by the filtering current. Steady, calm and gradual. 

When I returned home I told my husband I could not remember how long it had been since I’d done anything that spur-of-the-moment, and it felt shocking to realize that I let task lists and notes/plans on the calendar ride herd over me to the extent that they do. I assure you I do enjoy life and a good many fun, entertaining activities, but I had to give myself a failing grade that evening as I realized how often, and even worse, how easy it is for me to deny myself some ad hoc downtime and fun for the sake of what I think I must/should/have/need to be doing in place of it. I really thought I was smarter than that. 

The extemporaneous pool/sangria moments didn’t interfere at all. I missed no editorial deadline; I did get a few more zit words killed off in the manuscript. The laundry didn’t get up and leave, and neither did the hostas.  

That sacred time we allow ourselves every now and then to throw off the daily numbered task list sitting on the kitchen island is the best gift we can give ourselves. That Emerson guy was so dang smart, wasn’t he. 

Thanks, Mari, for reminding me how easy it really can be. Maybe next time I can practice my new breathing lessons. 

Mari P’s Delicious Sangria

(as it appears in the Cedar Rapids Garden Club’s Recipe Book) 

1 bottle of Iowa wine (such as White Oak Vineyard Country Road Red)

1 can of Mendota Springs Lime Sparkling Water

Slices of one lemon – or – 1/2 lemon and 1/2 lime

Secret ingredient: one box of Berry ‘Juicy Juice’

Put all ingredients in a glass pitcher.

Stir to blend ingredients. Add ice to fill. 

(Additional note from Mari: I used 1 cup of regular grape juice and a fruity wine from The Wide River Valley Winery from Clinton, IA this time.)