I sometimes forget I’m a writer. I get out of practice, and then it doesn’t occur to me that, to be true to who I am on any given day, I should be playing with a few words. Sometimes I forget that wrestling hands-on with my experiences and my past is what makes me the person I am, and it’s best undertaken in writing.
But it doesn’t always need to just happen on the page. My Sunday was an infinitely illuminating day, and just the beginning to what I think will be a strange but profoundly fulfilling experience.
I’m undertaking a MASSIVE restructuring of my home. My goal is to pare away some 20-30% of what I own. Simplify. Let go. Move on in a physically obvious way.
This began yesterday when my organizational guru, Terra Atrill,* came on by to assess my State of Disaster for where we’re headed, the “Land of Ahhh.”
We walked into my bedroom and she looks up in the closet and goes, “So, what’s in the filing boxes?” I looked at her, laughed, and said, “Actually, I don’t know!”
Five minutes later, I’ve gotten the three crammed-full boxes down. One was correctly labelled, and the other two were way off-base. What were they? About half of the journals/notebooks I’ve ever filled (I have about 25-30 or so kicking around, and haven’t written in books in about 7 years), all my childhood report cards, college assignments, every report paper ever written from grade 4-10, scrapbook clippings, little silly things I had no idea my mother saved, ideas for a novel I might write one day — two massive folders filled with notes on that alone, random pieces of fiction (which I never write anymore), correspondence from friends and family from my Yukon-living year, and more. My mother saved these things, I just unloaded them from a filing cabinet into some boxes one dark day after her death.
Like, how could I not love the letter she saved, that I had no idea still existed, that I began writing Cyndi Lauper the summer before my 12th birthday, when “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” was my dream-life-song. “Cyndi, you’re one of my idols! [insert effusive prepubescent gushing here]” It’s too nauseating and silly to share with the world. (Tee hee.)
Or my little hand-coloured flyer from when I was 12, trying to advertise for “neighbourhood services” like pet-walking and garden-watering, in which I included a poll asking respondents to “please print real neat” and how often they might use “our services”.
But most of what I found were various pieces of writing — whether I was eight and making a cute little poem, or 20 and railing against injustices — of pretty enjoyable levels.
I laughed a lot last night. I had thought the experience would be a sad one. Even when I came across copies of my mother’s memorial card and the eulogy I wrote for her, my mood didn’t really come tumbling down like I thought I would when I took a nosedive deep into my past.
Instead, I sort of remembered how I got from A to Z in my journey of becoming Steff. Through words. Always through words. No matter what destructive or empowering forces have traipsed through my life over the years, words have never forsaken me. (Well, there’s the six years of writer’s block, but I suspect that’s as much my fault as it was the words.)
I was surprised to discover that I was a more competent writer in college than I remember. I didn’t have it in me, I didn’t have the time, to really read much. Just a line here, a passage there. But I’m less scared of going back there to experience it now.
It’s funny, I’d been talking to Terra during a little chat break, about how I’d been so scared to actually step into my storage area. There’s ONE box in there I know is filled with Mother Things (and by “filled” I mean “some stuff is in there, but probably not even a majority of it is related”), but I somehow made it feel like my entire storage area was Mom Stuff I needed to go through. In reality, it’s maybe 10%, if not less.
It’s funny how our brains seem to like to gang up on us. “You got fears, huh? Well, I got Exaggeramagic™! We’ll take your fears and multiply ’em! Welcome to Death by Procrastination.”
I’m scared of one box, thus scared of the whole fucking room. I am human, hear me whimper.
It’s ironic, though, that I read a short passage on my friend Tia’s blog (she’s a lifecoach) yesterday morning, in which she’d written: “Physical objects have residual energy in them from when you were in a certain experience. And it’s only by letting them go that you can clear the energy around your current space and be fully present and IN it.”
I started wondering if maybe it’s true. I’ve tried to get rid of more and more Mom-related stuff over the last year, keeping things I actually value of hers, as opposed to just keeping everything.
And, sort of on a whim, since I did ask OrganiziGuru Terra to be kinda militant with me when going through things, the idea occurred to me while we chatted that this one table I had smack-dab in the middle of the storage, that I’ve been hanging onto for five years in there, never really ever using it. The trouble with this table I loved the look of? It’s the last piece of furniture my mother bought before she died. She had Plans for it. Plans that never happened.
So, with that whim, the decision was: Turf it. As soon as Terra left yesterday, I slapped a note on it and put it in the lobby, and an hour later, it was gone.
I thought I’d be filled with regret today. My dead mother’s dream for that table of hers will never come to be now. But somehow, it’s all right. Because, the reality is, that’s been the case for 10 years, and I just didn’t want to accept it.
The most difficult moment of the day for me, though, was when I was pulling a bunch of metal rods out off the floor in the corner, and an index card was stuck in the pile. I pulled the card out, and, in Mom’s writing, it read, “What if this is as good as it gets?”
What was the card? It was this phase my mom went through in the year before she died, making little notes, filing them off.
Well, Mom… It was as good as it got. She died shortly after that card.
Me, I took the card and set it alight. Burnt it in the barbecue. And then I carried on, my mood barely changed, just resolved more to make these unexpected moments not happen again. She’s been dead 10 years and I find the card NOW?
The past, it turns out, can only hurt us if we let it. Maybe this purging thing is more healing than I realized.
I’ll never escape my past, but at least it looks like I’m more equipped to accept it than I might have imagined. Maybe now that I have the bravery to go there, maybe now I really can put it away in a little box, and respect that it belongs in my life, but always in its place.
*Terra’s services will be available to YOU in Vancouver soon, too! She’s founding a new company, Manic Manipulation, which WILL have its own website soon but is under construction, where she’ll come save your untidy, unkempt ass with organizational solutions that work for your life and your way of coping. I pride myself on being pretty creative with the solutions but she surprised me with many of hers, which she made once she knew what my needs and goals for my space were, complete with having to have workout space in front of my TV. I’ll share before-and-after photos with all y’all over the next month or so, as we completely reinvent my living space.