We Have To Do What We Have To Do

I’ve been thinking about the prompts (jumpstarts) I’ve been adding to these blogs. They are meant to be little exercises for limbering up the writing muscles. If I can do one of these a day for ten minutes, then in one week I would have seven pages of a notebook and seven more observations or details than I would have if I ruminated about my writing and waited for an inspiring idea to float into my brain.

Yet I often hear myself saying: “But I don’t really want to write about parakeets (see the last post) or whatever the prompt might suggest.” A little moment of rebellion starts up in my brain. Some voice is asking, “How is this going to help you write what you really want to write? That novel, that short story, that great poem?” Another one says, “It’s too late.” Another one says, “You have too much to do.”

imagesRecently I started taking piano lessons again. When I said to Hannah, my new teacher, “I don’t think I can play that. Maybe when I was twelve and just learning, but now my brain feels like concrete.” She stopped me. “All you have to do is try the six things I write down in your book each week. It’s my job to take you to the new place,” she said.

So where is that writing teacher who will take me to the next place? Right here, inside of my own head. There is another voice that says: “Tell me everything you have to say. I want to hear it. And by the way, hurry up! The clock is ticking.” That voice also says: “Once you get some words on paper we’ll work on it and get it to be that novel, that short story, that great poem.” That voice keeps saying, “You know you told me you want to do this. Let’s go.” (Maybe it’s my dad’s voice. He used to stand in the dining room listening to me practice the piano and then clap like crazy after each song.)

If we can listen to the voice that questions why we would write for ten minutes every day about some topic, then why can’t we believe in some of those other voices (like Hannah’s) that say, “Just do this. I’ll help you get to the next place.” All I have to do is try a prompt or jumpstart and write for ten minutes. It adds up.

It’s like practicing the piano, who knows where I will be able to go?  Maybe I can play “To a Wild Rose” for my brother by the holidays.

Wait! I can hear him groaning in the background. He had to hear me practice that piece for months for my first recital. I won’t let that stop me. It’ll be fun to torment him again like when I was twelve, and he was eight. Sorry, Glenn, we have to do what we have to do!

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If you’ve forgotten how “To a Wild Rose” goes, here’s a version played by someone who can really play.  (Just click on the highlighted song title.)

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Writing Jumpstart: For ten minutes, write down what all those voices are saying about how you shouldn’t be writing. Then rip up the page or mark through the words or simply turn to a new page. Now write down all those other voices that are saying, “Go for it.” Listen to them and write what they are saying, for another ten minutes.

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dirtylove_coverP. S. Also if you don’t really want to write, then go do what you really want to do. I had a chance to speak with Andre Dubus III at the Sanibel Writers Conference last year. When I told him that sometimes I’d rather just go watch the sunset on the beach and not write, ever, he said, “Well, do that. Forget about writing, if you can.” That last phrase says it all.

(Andre Dubus most recent book is on my list of books to read. Great reviews!)

Going Home and Leonard Cohen

Last week our family, all twelve of us, returned to my home in southeastern North Carolina. We stayed at Wrightsville Beach, one of my favorite places in all the world. I grew up in Wilmington, N. C., only a few miles from this beach. So this would be a time to come together with family to celebrate my mother’s life and to scatter her ashes in the ocean.

Wrightsville Beach, N. C.

Wrightsville Beach, N. C.

She used to fish in the surf next to the house we would be renting. It turned out to be a beautiful, hurricane-free week. Yet as much as I wanted it to be the same beach, the same place–it all had changed. Now my mother was gone, and I had become the matriarch. I missed sitting around our dining room table eating her home-cooked food. I missed the house I always returned to when I came to visit.  I missed that sense of life going on forever in a certain way. Not to say, that we didn’t have a great time. We walked the beach, swam, laughed, and enjoyed a great week. But I had lost my anchor to this place I loved so much.

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen

In his song/poem “Going Home,” Leonard Cohen lends his distinctive voice and intellect to the idea of home. Cohen, our Renaissance man, is still writing and singing at age 79. In this poem, another voice enters:  “I love to speak with Leonard/He’s a sportsman and a shepherd/He’s a lazy bastard living in a suit.” In the song, Leonard becomes a conduit for this greater voice of wisdom that says: “Going home/Without my burden/Going home behind the curtain/Without the costume/That I wore.” This voice takes the idea of “going home” and lifts it out of a literal place and out of real time. It made me think about how my mother’s ashes looked when we tossed them in the surf on a moonlit night. It made me think of home in a different way.

Here is Leonard Cohen’s poem as it appeared in The New Yorker (1/23/12):

Going Home

I love to speak with Leonard
He’s a sportsman and a shepherd
He’s a lazy bastard
Living in a suit

But he does say what I tell him
Even though it isn’t welcome
He will never have the freedom
To refuse

He will speak these words of wisdom
Like a sage, a man of vision
Though he knows he’s really nothing
But the brief elaboration of a tube

Going home
Without my sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow
To where it’s better
Than before

Going home
Without my burden
Going home
Behind the curtain
Going home
Without the costume
That I wore

He wants to write a love song
An anthem of forgiving
A manual for living with defeat

A cry above the suffering
A sacrifice recovering
But that isn’t what I want him to complete

I want to make him certain
That he doesn’t have a burden
That he doesn’t need a vision

That he only has permission
To do my instant bidding
That is to say what I have told him
To repeat

Going home
Without my sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow
Going home
To where it’s better
Than before

Going home
Without my burden
Going home
Behind the curtain
Going home
Without the costume
That I wore

I love to speak with Leonard
He’s a sportsman and a shepherd
He’s a lazy bastard
Living in a suit

–Leonard Cohen

Listen to  Cohen sing/speak “Going Home” in his inimitable way. (Click highlight.)

 
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I wrote the following poem before my mother died. It is about an earlier visit home when she sat beside me at the same beach and sketched. I remember her saying that she needed an eraser. Even then I was feeling “erased” from this landscape that had been home to me as a child.
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Erased

“By now, I think I have been entirely erased.”
–Henri Cole, “The Erasers”

Time was when this piece of an island
(the blues of rolling surf,
the whites of shifting sand
its language with words like in the beginning
and holy, holy, holy
that stopped at that ridge of sand dunes)
owned me;
and I, it.

Today the dunes are feathered
with sea oats waiting
for the summer sun to fan their seed pods.
I smell fried chicken cooking for Sunday dinner
and hear Southern voices
and the birds—yes the birds.

I have forgotten this language, their language,
while these flitting, floating birds continue to speak
in the same codes—a genetic path that I cannot seem to find again.

I have been erased—the she who spoke this way
disguised now under a blue hat behind purple sunglasses.
I wear turquoise—only turquoise.

My mother starts her sketches in pencil
I need a good eraser, she says today.

And I am the one erased from this landscape
(the child running through the surf,
the young girl in love,
the good daughter,
who knew the language of wind
and of hurricanes and these birds.)

–Vicky Lettmann

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Writing Jumpstart: As you go about your life today, notice all the ways you see “home.” Then sit down for ten minutes and write as fast as you can using “home” or “going home” as your base. Try not to analyze or to write something “good,” just write first thoughts and observations. Leonard had to let another voice speak. It said, “He doesn’t need a vision.” Go.

Note about Jumpstarts: The idea grew out of my Sanibel writing classes: “Jumpstart Your Writing.” They are a way to stay in touch with your writing self. All you need is a notebook and a pen. Or use them as part of some writing project you’re working on. (For example, if you’re writing fiction, you could riff on a character who is going home or a character’s home.)

The Vertigo of Possibility

I enjoy the daily audio poems I receive via email from the Poetry Foundation because I can listen to them unencumbered by words on the page.

In “Prelude,” A. E. Stallings carries us along as we wait for the moment at the end of the poem when she reveals why she is moved by art and music.ae-stallings

Listen to the poem here for the sheer joy of it:

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/audio/Prelude.mp3

Did you notice the rhyming? The beauty of the language? A. E. Stallings is a contemporary poet who works with rhyme and forms.

Now that you’ve heard the music, read her poem below and note how she uses original rhymes and creative line breaks to give the poem a definite structure. I also

Monet's Water Lilies (MOMA)

Monet’s Water Lilies (MoMA)

like the way she writes about tears while avoiding clichés (i.e.”tears gushed from my eyes”) as her poem reveals how moved she was by the possibility of creativity.

On our recent trip to NYC, we visited MoMA and saw Monet’s huge triptych, “Water Lilies.” When I remember my feelings as I stood before the painting, I can understand “the vertigo of possibility” and some of what A. E. Stallings was trying to convey in “Prelude.”

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Prelude

Lately, at the beginning of concerts when
The first-chair violin
Plays the A 4-40 and the bows
Go whirring about the instruments like wings
Over unfingered strings,
The cycling fifths, spectral arpeggios,

As the oboe lights the pure torch of the note,
Something in my throat
Constricts and tears are startled to my eyes,
Helplessly. And lately when I stand
Torn ticket in my hand
In the foyers of museums I surprise

You with a quaver in my rote reply—
Again I overbrim
And corners of the room go prismed, dim.
You’d like to think that it is Truth and Art
That I am shaken by,
So that I must discharge a freighted heart;

But it is not when cellos shoulder the tune,
Nor changing of the key
Nor resolution of disharmony
That makes me almost tremble, and it is not
The ambered afternoon
Slanting through motes of dust a painter caught

Four hundred years ago as someone stands
Opening the blank
Future like a letter in her hands.
It is not masterpieces of first rank,
Not something made
By once-warm fingers, nothing painted, played.

No, no. It is something else. It is something raw
That suddenly falls
Upon me at the start, like loss of awe—
The vertigo of possibility—
The pictures I don’t see,
The open strings, the perfect intervals.

A.E. Stallings

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Writing Jumpstart: Think of a time when you had difficulty writing or talking about an emotional moment. Use this line as a starting point:  “No, no. It is something else.” Then go for ten minutes saying (as best you can) what it is.

Never Too Late

I’m back in Minnesota now for the arrival of spring. Spring is late coming here. We’ve had two snowfalls in the last couple of weeks. So finally. Spring.

Return to Minnesota

Return to Minnesota

Today I walked and noticed the sky and the trees: how the clouds seem more open, how the trees are fresh and light today, how the dark ribbons of the branches are still visible. Like bones. As I walked farther along the path,  I saw a huge tree branch that had broken off, and I thought I could see the dark outlines of a woman in its shape. Her head and arms were reaching down; her legs transformed below her into dozens of branching incarnations. It made me think of my mother who died last June. The green leaves of surrounding branches softened the dead branch. But still it looked strong and forthright, claiming its space.

Broken Branch

Broken Branch

I soon came to a pond where three turtles sunned on a log. One jumped as I came closer and swam away. I remembered how I had promised myself a few weeks ago to observe and record one amazing moment every day.

Oh Turtles...

Oh Turtles…

In all the busy-ness of returning to Minnesota (seeing family, getting the house in order, going to plays, dusting, catching up on dentist appointments), I haven’t noticed much.

But it’s never too late. It’s never too late to pick up a pen and begin. It’s never too late to notice the sky, the trees, the turtles. The bees.  It’s never too late for spring.

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Bee! I’m expecting you!

Bee! I’m expecting you!
Was saying Yesterday
To Somebody you know
That you were due—

The Frogs got Home last Week—
Are settled, and at work—
Birds, mostly back—
The Clover warm and thick—

You’ll get my Letter by
The seventeenth; Reply
Or better, be with me—
Yours, Fly.

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Writing Jump Start: Write about coming home to spring. Or coming home. Or go for a walk, come home, and write about what you saw.  Go for ten minutes. (I’m collecting these 10-minute writings. So feel free to send me yours. I’ll post a few along the way.)

The Real Me?

A couple of days ago I decided that I needed an “About Me” page on the website. As most of you know, this is standard procedure for websites and blogs–a place for the creator of the site to say a little about him/herself and to state the purpose of the site. So I added one.

A Turtle Nobody

A Turtle Nobody

Now I’m having second thoughts. I need to clarify that what I wrote is not “the real me.” The real me is sitting here in her bathrobe trying to put thoughts together. The real me struggles every day to write. The real me spends an awful lot of time reading the paper in a comfy chair on the deck, where the real me stops reading to listen to the birds. (Today the real me is watching a stalwart swallow try to build a nest in the recessed light fixture.) The real me wastes a lot of time. But can I say this on my “About Me” page?

Several years ago when my friend Marge Barrett and I started teaching our classes at the Loft in Minneapolis, we decided not to spend the first class having folks go around saying their names and introducing themselves in the usual way because all of that ended up taking the entire first class period. In the long run, it isn’t that important what we did, or even wrote, before the class started. The main purpose is to get down to the business of writing.

By now, if we’ve lived long enough, we all have a lot to say about ourselves, and for the most part, much of it is in the past. So that is the reason I’ll probably take down the “About Me” page. It feels so past. It reveals such a fraction of who I am or even was. (“I’m Nobody,” says Emily Dickinson. “Then there are two of us./How dreary to be Somebody!/How public like a Frog….”)

The Real Me?

The Real Me?

Oh, and in case you haven’t guessed, that photo on the “About Me” page isn’t the real me. Here’s a more recent one, which since I hardly ever fish, isn’t the real me either.

The point I’d like to make: Let’s not compare ourselves to others (including those writers we see on book jackets) or even to our alternate or past selves for that matter. Our time is better spent simply writing–or fishing (another metaphor for writing.) Maybe being a Nobody isn’t such a bad thing–it allows us so much more freedom.

The poet William Stafford (“A Ritual to Read to Each Other”) has said:

“If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.”
― William Edgar StaffordThe Way It Is: New and Selected Poems

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Writing Jumpstart: “The Real Me?” Go for ten minutes. Try this in your writer’s notebook for several days and see what happens.  (I’ll continue to add these jumpstarts to the posts.  What’s “ten minutes” in a whole day? If you feel so inclined, send me one of your ten-minute writings. See contact page of the site.)

 

Crow School

Kay Ryan has a way of getting right to the point. I’ve been subscribing to Poetry Foundation’s Audio-Poem-of-the-Day. So each morning I get to hear a poem read to me. It’s a good way to start my writing time.

A Draft of a Kay Ryan Poem

A Draft of a Kay Ryan Poem

This morning “Felix Crow” was in my ear. It made me think of my last post, “The Secret.” So far (it has been only a few days now), I’ve been good about looking for that moment during the day when I see something new or beautiful or amazing.

Kay Ryan’s “Felix Crow” calls attention to those things we don’t always see as beautiful, like crows. We tend to over-look certain creatures who don’t meet the standard definition of beauty. Here in Florida, we certainly ooh-and-aah when we see the roseate spoonbills or a tri-colored heron. Not so much, a crow or buzzard. imgres-1

“Felix Crow” called me up on that. So I’m opening my eyes a little wider today. Thanks to Kay Ryan.

Here’s the poem. Just click to hear the reading.

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/audio/FelixCrow_byKay.mp3

P. S. For those of you following my earlier posts on writing prompts, the poem (and crows)   made me think of another writing prompt.  Today look for something others might not think of as beautiful. Later when you return to your notebook, write for ten minutes or more about what you saw.  

Felix Crow 

Crow school
is basic and
short as a rule—
just the rudiments
of quid pro crow
for most students.
Then each lives out
his unenlightened
span, adding his
bit of blight
to the collected
history of pushing out
the sweeter species;
briefly swaggering the
swagger of his
aggravating ancestors
down my street.
And every time
I like him
when we meet.
________________
Kay Ryan
Source: Poetry (November 2004)

The Secret

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could, once and for all, grab onto that one bit of advice that will make all the difference? In a recent New York Times essay, “The Art of Being Still,” Silas House writes:

02DRAFT-blog427

I was a young, naïve, foolish writer who was searching for my way. I swallowed hard and asked him [James Still] if he had any advice on how to be a better writer. He didn’t answer for a long minute, gazing off at the hills as if ignoring me.

But then he spoke, and I realized that he had taken that moment for quiet thought. “Discover something new every day,” he said. That advice changed me as a writer and as a person.”

The narrator Paul Chowder of Nicholson Baker’s novel, The Anthologist (one of my favorite novels), says:

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 And then a man of forty or so, with a French accent, asked, “How do you achieve the presence of mind to initiate the writing of a poem?” And something cracked open in me, and I finally stopped hoarding and told them my most useful secret. The only secret that has helped me consistently over all the years that I’ve written. I said, “Well, I’ll tell you how. I ask a simple question. I ask myself: What was the very best moment of your day?” The wonder of it was, I told them that this one question could lift out from my life exactly what I will want to write a poem about. Something I hadn’t known was important will leap out and hover there in front of me, saying I am—I am the best moment of the day. . . . Often, I went on, it’s a moment when you’re waiting for someone, or you’re driving somewhere, or maybe you’re just walking across a parking lot and admiring the oil stains and the dribbled tar patterns. One time it was when I was driving past a certain house that was screaming with sunlitness on its white clapboards, and then I plunged through tree shadows that splashed and splayed across the windshield. I thought, Ah, of course— I’d forgotten. You, windshield shadows, you are the best moment of the day. “And that’s my secret, such as it is,” I said.

― Nicholson BakerThe Anthologist

What’s your secret, such as it is?  What advice would you give? Or what have you learned from someone else?

Let me know.

In the meantime, I’m going to try to write or photograph (or both) the best moment of each day. Or something new. Right now, it is this quiet moment before our house guests arrive. (We have a lot of them here in Florida.)

A Note in a Bottle: Sending Our Writing into the World

During the last five weeks of our writing class (“Jumpstart Your Writing”) here on Sanibel, we’ve used the metaphor of a “note in a bottle” to talk about writing: the note as the words we write and the bottle as the container for the words. This bottle can come in many shapes. It could be in the shape of a single poem, story, or essay. It could be a collection of poems, stories, or essays. It could be a novel or a memoir. What about a blog entry? an editorial in a newspaper? a carefully constructed letter to a granddaughter? So the bottle is the shape we give to our writing.
images-2

When we’ve written and shaped our pieces into some sort of container, it is time to toss that note and bottle into the sea. (This is particularly apt because Sanibel is a slip of an island on the Gulf of Mexico.) In other words, it is time to send our writing out into the world.

The very act of bringing our shaped final piece to the class, then reading it, and passing out copies to each other is the simplest and most basic way of throwing our bottles into the sea. We’ve taken our words out of the notebooks, shaped them into some form, and sent them on their way.

Some of us may send our “notes in bottles” beyond a class or writers’ group. Maybe we’ll publish one of  our poems or short essays in the local newspaper; maybe we’ll send a piece to our families; maybe we’ll submit our writing to a contest or a magazine. We don’t always know where our writing will end up, or who will read it, for that matter.781sunderland_Janetheadshot

Janet Sunderland, one of the contributors to the anthology, When Last Mountain: The View from Writers over Fifty, is about to toss her note in a bottle into the sea. We’ve stayed in touch since the anthology was published, and she wrote to tell me that her chapbook of poems, At the Boundary, will be forthcoming from Finishing LIne Press. She writes: “That goal [of publishing a book] has been elusive to me and perhaps for a good reason. Perhaps I simply wasn’t ready to take on the daunting task of marketing and selling a book. As writers, we love to write. Marketing? Well, not so much.” So sometimes it takes a bit more of an effort to get that bottle out there. But Janet has done it.product_info

And so have the writers in the class.

Getting our work out of notebooks and into the world isn’t always easy, but then we can move on to create more notes in more bottles for more people to discover.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” –Maya Angelou

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To find Janet’s book, go to Finishing Line Press, PREORDER FORTHCOMING TITLES You can read her bio and reviews of her chapbook. Congratulations, Janet!

The Lost Umbrellas

Martha Varzaly
Guest Author

It was pouring raining when I came home from school, and neither Truman, my pug/cairn, nor I cared to walk.  It was still raining in the morning, but Truman’s urgent bark sounds like “Up!”  I’m not sure where he learned that sound but it surely wakes me up.  This time I knew that going out was essential.

Truman with Martha’s Umbrella

I pulled on yesterday’s dirty clothes and reached for the flowered umbrella that wasn’t in the umbrella stand.  It wasn’t in the hall closet.  It wasn’t in the garage.  Nor was it in the car.  How can one lose a wet umbrella in a condo?  Surely other umbrellas were in the back of the hall closet . . . the big black one that can cover three people, another flowered one that I bought in Target during a thunderstorm, a red one that I’ve had for years, and a sky blue one that collapses. All the while Truman demanded that we go naked in the rain   By the time we’d chased the water down the street gutters, waited for Truman to sniff every bush and peed on most of them.  Eventually we meandered home, and I dried him off before he shook the water on the carpet.  Exchanging my soaking clothes and grabbing a cup of hot coffee helped my mood.

Losing umbrellas is not the only lost thing in my life. My life seems confused like my condo . . . junk mail has spilled from the file cabinet to floor.  One day, I’ll write an article about the unwanted stuff that fills my mail box.  The clock over my desk needs a battery.  I got it off the wall, but haven’t gotten the kitchen stool so I can put it back nor can I find a battery. I must have at least half-dozen pairs of cheap reading glasses, yet there’s never a pair to be found when I’m in a hurry. There are always dishes in the sink; although, I’m sure I cleaned the kitchen last night.

It’s even worse.  I can never remember whom I have told someone something.  It may be just a joke or something important.  My children give me that look that says, “Mom, you’ve told me that already.”  Isolation and silence seems the best since I can’t upset others by repetition. I help shuttle the grandchildren to and from all sorts of activities, and my daughter sends me a weekly calendar.  For her calendar, I am grateful.  Otherwise I never know where and when I am supposed to be.

A year ago when I went to the doctor looking for a solution to my losing memory, I saw my primary care physician and a neurologist.  I took all their tests and nothing showed up – or at least nothing bad showed up.  There was no indication of memory lost, but I couldn’t remember things. Last semester I had trouble remembering my students’ name. Now walking into classroom is frightening.  The doctors will most likely blame my confusion because my husband died this spring.

But this year, I’ve done my homework. I will fight to awaken my brain and find those umbrellas!

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About Martha Varzaly: “I teach Composition at Johnson County Community College, am a prose editor for Kansas City Voices, and have recently found a new voice for me – writing with a chuckle about serious things such as cataract surgery, encounter with a skunk, and memory loss. I wrote as stringer for the Lynchburg News in Virginia (and I got paid by the inch) when I was 16; and 50 years later, I’m having a ball. Just call me ‘Grandma Martha.'”

Piles and Files

By Janet Sunderland, Guest Author

In a 21st century family saga too long to tell, amid economic ruin and children back home, my husband and I moved out of the large office we shared and into my small corner writing room. It’s been a process, as they say.

We cleaned out bookcases lining the walls of the big office (hereafter called BO) and got rid of books we no longer needed. We even ended up with empty shelf space, an early-in-this-move miracle.

What do you do with an empty shelf? I collected all my various completed projects, films I’d worked with and publications I’d published in, and put them together. They filled the shelf. I was amazed, since feeling failure is far more common than feeling success. The dates on said projects go back more than thirty years.

Janet’s Big Office (BO) before the move

Son and his wife moved into BO. It suits them. He constructed a wardrobe where there was none and utilized the room’s tiny closet for shelves. His very large desk is against the bookcases; so if I have to find a particular book on a non-visible shelf, I squeeze between desk layers.

However, what I also discovered in this gigantic move were files and files and stacks of papers.

We culled five file cabinets down to two, tossing and condensing partly empty drawers. My husband isn’t ready to part with notes from his graduate school days, but those are boxed in the basement for some other year.

I also have too many journals, which I’m unwilling to part with, but I organized them, year by year, and numbered them. And thankfully, at least spacewise although not so lucky memorywise, in years past, I didn’t write every day. Now they grow exponentially because along with writing every day, I also save newspaper clippings. I’m becoming my mother. But I had an empty bookcase.

There are still stacks of paper. I can’t get to my writing desk, it’s covered; so I’m sitting here with the laptop on my lap, looking around our newly refurbished and painted little office (LO) and it’s “cozy” as my husband says.

In fact, it’s lovely. Jacaranda blue walls and lots of white trim. It’s a happy room. One thing about sons coming home to live is they know how to build and paint. I still have stacks of papers. And boxes of old family photographs in a closet. However, and this is the point, we’ve shed pounds and pounds of paper, and been forced to look though files.

And in the midst, a “duh!” moment arrived. I could scan and save. That’s my latest project.

I begin with the top page on a pile, scan it into the computer, and toss the paper. Now my files are digital and clearly labeled. I can add new ones without worrying about taking up space. It’ll take time, but it works.

I’m doing the same with photos. I can’t toss the old photos, but I can donate them to the historical society. Not all of them, but many. And I can, eventually, make online photo books for my children, using Shutterfly or Blurb, and then they are keepers of stuff rather than me.

A great anti-virus program and online backup are key to this endeavor. And flash drives. I’ve also saved the contents of flash drives to the computer desktop, which saves them to online backup. There may be an easier way, but I can only absorb so many learning curves, and saving them to the desktop is easy. The backup program does the rest.

And you know all those scraps of paper and Post-It notes? I gathered them, sat with a small flip notebook, looked at each one, and either transcribed or tossed. I’ve discovered Post-It tabs, so organizing the notebook into sections of ideas, books to read, stellar quotes, etc. was relatively simple, and I’ll find them when I need them.

I used to move every three years or so, and moving forced a clean-out, but then we settled into this old, big house, and stayed put. But this summer, chaotic as it is and not really allowing head space for writing in the usual way, I learned new skills as a writer.

One is to appreciate what I have accomplished in my mad dash through the years, but the other is to train a jaundiced eye on my research and re-evaluate what I need as hard-copy and what can be digital, including my own writing. I don’t need two, or three, copies of everything, and while hard-copy habits are hard to break, they are breakable.

You just need a nudge.

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Janet Sunderland is an actor, a writer, and with her husband, co-pastor of a progressive liturgical community. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications and venues, including, proudly, When Last on the Mountain. Her blog can be found at janetsunderland.wordpress.com.