Popular wisdom on writing is that it comes before any non-life-threatening chore. That makes it second to my ‘real’ job, and the needs of my family. The question then becomes, ‘What constitutes a qualifying need?’
After attending Janet Hulstrand’s writing workshop in Essoyes, France, I was ‘on fire’, to quote Ladette Randolph’s description of me after we spent a few moments discussing what I had been doing since returning home in late October of last year. But it was followed by a difficult time of year to be glued to my desk with four family birthdays in November, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, and three February Birthdays, as well as a superbowl party, lots of bad weather to deal with, tax season, and caring for two cats and one old dog.
The first thing I had to let go of was my perfectionism.
Did every dish I presented for parties have to be a work of art, or even made by me? Was it really worth the extra effort to wrap gifts with more than a little flair? What would happen if I didn’t string lights on every tree and shrub in the yard? How often must I change the sheets? Could we eat take out for dinner more than twice a week?
The first thing I regrettably relented was the grueling workouts I had been doing and replaced that time with writing. I am rethinking this one, especially as summer is nearing.
The next thing to go was my penchant for cleaning. Does a little dust on the mantle really matter? Clothes had to be laundered, the floors swept, counters wiped clean, dishwasher emptied, but if I didn’t wash out the inside of the refrigerator once a week would we die of the ring on the glass shelving where a milk bottle rested?
Such were my little dilemmas as I squeezed in as much writing time as possible.
Yesterday, I gave in to the call for organization and cleanliness. I wanted to spend the day writing, but the basement needed cleaning, the porch was beneath thousands of cat paw prints, and my son chastised my every growing pile of clothes requiring ironing.
When I asked if he needed me to press the shirt he intended to wear out with his girlfriend, he replied, “Why? You haven’t ironed anything in at least a couple of months!” He was right. I pressed twenty-seven shirts for him, at least a dozen for me, a few for his dad, and flattened the turned-up pocket flaps on pants that looked like wings. Maybe that will buy me another month.
With porch mopped free of prints, and everything back in its place, I still felt like something needed my attention; something besides the glass globes around light fixtures that I didn’t wash and the plants that fail to have the glossy sheen I like but that requires each leaf to be handled individually. Then I realized what it was.
The basket we keep beside a reading chair was overflowing with newspapers and magazines that had gone unread. Like an elephant graveyard, they waited silently, their spines hanging on tenaciously. O magazines, The Record, More, Vogue, Writer’s Digest, Traveler, Budget Travel, First, Traditional Home, Southern Living, and others, piled so high that they rested against the side of the chair in order to prevent falling onto the floor. It looked like clutter. But is it okay to have a little clutter in an otherwise orderly room?
The perfectionist in me said ‘no’. The realistic, said ‘sure’. I can’t bear to throw them all out, unread. So, it’s another thing to release. Maybe I’ll throw one or two in my bag to read while I wait at the hairdressers’, or in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. And if anyone comes to visit and leaves with a bad impression of me because of that pile of clutter, well then, is spending time with them really worth it?
It is the question I keep asking myself; what is really worth my time and how do I really want to spend the time I have? So friends, if paw prints, stacks of periodicals, wrinkled shirts, and take out pizza bother you, maybe we should meet at your house. I’ll bring the wine.
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I’m trying to stay firm on not renewing some of those magazines and newsletters and I even toy with reclaiming my money from the unused portion of my subscription. Oh, and the piles of books that are stacked on top of the bookcase, on my nightstand, even on my bed since I have only cats sharing it, in a big box on the bedroom floor, and now, inside my Kindle. The trouble with writers is that we’re also readers, I guess.