What to Leave In, What to Leave Out
I love editing. There is something about cutting unnecessary words and reordering sentences that gives me pleasure. It’s an art form to make things simpler, cleaner and more lyrical. Of late I’ve needed to apply those same skills to my life, especially when I find myself drowning in too much information or too many nuisance tasks. What gets left in? What gets deleted? What gets rewritten to make more sense?
This week, I re-read a favorite writing resource, On Writing Well by William Zinsser. He advocates clean, expressive writing. I’ve been doing a lot of muddled writing lately and it is reflective of my muddled mind. I have a lot of authorial clutter – a list of what this blog and my novel should or should not be. It’s gathered slowly, but progressively. Create content, be a web presence, write everyday, write what you know, find your voice, be interesting, be funny, be, be, be…I’m shaking it off, clearing away the “shoulds” and getting back to creating work that gives me pleasure.
I took some time off from blogging. I went to my local library and selected a pile of random books. I strolled up and down the aisles. I grabbed Bernard Heinrich’s Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival, Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg, Hochschild’s The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin, and A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poetry. I’ve been spending the last few days falling in love with reading again. It is slow and I can rest in between pages, re-read lines that strike me, be amazed and thrilled at well-crafted sentences. Hours slip by and I am somewhere else.
My physical space needed to be edited as well. There were remnants of this week’s hastily put together Valentine’s classroom party and my taekwondo sparring gear waiting to be cleaned. My desk was covered with draft work production reports and manuals, mail that I haven’t gone through, empty photo albums that I pulled out last week to start filling. I couldn’t see a clear surface anywhere. There was no room to be creative or start with a clean slate. There were chores piled up everywhere, my guilty conscience in solid form.
I realized, too, that I had to re-claim my time. I didn’t answer the phone. I didn’t surf the internet or answer emails. I didn’t run about on one errand or another. There were moments of sitting intentionally still, staring out the window at snow-laden trees and daydreaming about a spring garden. I thought about what we could do for summer vacation. I imagined walking with my family through Golden Gate Park or visiting Graceland or camping on the Boundary Waters up north.
I’ve been listening to a lot of noise unintentionally, catching tunes on the radio while on my way to school, getting people’s ringtones stuck in my head, hearing too many talking heads on the big brother televisions that are everywhere. I sought out silence and quieted the crowds in my head. I sat and listened to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Chills ran down my spine. I had forgotten that music can do that.
I am not a highbrow person. I love pop music and movies where everyone happily rides off into the sunset. I read everything I can get my hands on or my eyeballs run across online. But when I lack inspiration, it becomes desperately important to step out of the mainstream into places where I am a tourist. I need to listen to classical music, read an academic tome, look at art that isn’t in a poster frame, see an independent movie, allow my mind, if only briefly, to challenge itself, to imagine that I, too, am capable of creating higher art.
I am clearing my physical space, leaving it open once again for breathing and movement. I am clearing my brain clutter, by doing menial tasks without the expectation of perfection, but tasks that have a satisfying beginning and end. I am quieting the stream of disparate information. I am staking a claim on hours at a time. I will sit still and get lost in the sound of my own voice on paper. I’ve missed it.