A Puppy is the Solution to Pretty Much Everything

Somehow, getting this new puppy has lifted my depression and made me optimistic about the future. I can’t tell if this is just delusion, or a real lifting of the veil. It’s very difficult to be in that anxious, wheels-spinning place I have lived since last spring (as Drumpf seemed more and more likely to be the Republican nominee) when one has a little fur-ball of unconditional love on one’s lap, or on the carpet chasing his tiny curly tail, or barking at invisible squirrels on the ceiling. Animals live in the present moment. There might be some body memories they carry–certainly I have known dogs who were clearly traumatized by some man in a uniform––but they certainly don’t have a fear of the future. Not this little guy, anyway.

More and more, the election seems a bad dream from which we must, eventually, awaken. When? I don’t know. But I have lived long enough to know that what goes up must come down. How is it that we have this repugnant person as our president-elect? Do you know his approval rating is at 37%, the lowest of any incoming president in history? How can he govern that other 63%, those folks who don’t like him? He can’t. We will be ungovernable, as my friend Jo says. What keeps coming to mind is that image of the Berlin Wall coming down. Hundreds of people scaled it, hurled their bodies over. Apartheid ended in South Africa. The British left India. At some point, the 99% will join together and overthrow the 1%. The Drumpf voters will have buyer’s remorse. The question is: when.

For the first time in years, I do not have a project to work on. My novel is with my agency, my poetry book is published, I am between records. I have some song ideas, but they seem far away, not urgent as they do when they are about to be born. I am reading autobiographies of musicians: Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Keith Richards, Patti Smith. Part of me thinks, “Why should I write another album? We have enough albums.” What does anyone want to hear me say, anyway? I am said-out. Someone else can have a turn. I want to sit back and play with my dog. I felt this way when I first became a mother. I have a deep desire to turn inward, keep house, play pieces on the piano that have nothing to do with my repertoire. Listen to my kids make their own music.

Time will tell what comes next, and I don’t feel worried about it. My guess is that this is a winter of creativity, a season not unlike the one we are all experiencing–in between administrations. Creativity ebbs and flows, as do social movements. But it is an odd feeling to come to the page empty. Someone at my retreat today said, “Passion needs developing.” This is my experience. I need to do the footwork to put myself in the stream of creativity in order for it to awaken in me. I need to pick up my guitar, sit down at the piano, and start by writing some bad songs. Bad songs lead to good songs lead to great songs. I have to give myself permission to be a beginner again. A puppy is a good model for this, both as itself–a newcomer to Planet Earth–and as its puppy mama–a not-inexperienced dog owner who still could learn a few new tricks.

Here is what does not help:

-interrupting my sanctioned writing time by checking my email to see if my agent has written me back
-interrupting my writing time by checking the polls to see if Drumpf’s unfavorables have dropped even more
-comparing myself to Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen or Patti Smith (OK to compare self to Keith Richards, though.)

Here is what helps:

-Showing up.
-showing up to the piano every day
-writing morning pages and really doing it–3 pages, hand doesn’t leave page.
-read whatever interests me–I call this the Hansel and Gretl effect. The trail of breadcrumbs leads, inevitably, to inspiration. So whatever seems shiny  and sparkly seems that way for a reason.
-cuddling dog
-cuddling kids
-cuddling husband
-getting enough sleep
-refusing to listen to the bad voices
-remaining fiercely on my own side.

Update on Day 2

I have a little more of the song. It’s all potential now, which is the best. So far, it’s an idea in my head, and it’s perfect. I just have to go slowly. if I write it too fast, I will kill it. But actually writing the song…well, I always forget this until I am doing it. There is nothing more wonderful that just being in the flow of new life. I have my Martin 018, a computer that works, my songwriting notebook and my little gold puppy. At this moment, I feel completely content.

 

Summer and the Swing

…Death kept following, tracking us down
At least I heard your bluebird sing
Now somebody’s got to show their hand
Time is an enemy
I know you’re long gone; I guess it’s gonna be up to me.

-Dylan, 1974

There have been an unforgivable number of deaths this summer. Maybe it was all the deaths. Maybe it was the drought. Maybe it was the relentless drumbeat of Trumpism. But the cumulative effect for me was that when people ask me how my summer was, I have to force a smile and say, truthfully, “It had a good ending. How was yours?”

In many ways, my summer was great. It included what seemed a family smorgasbord of travel, violin, soccer, theatre camps, Adirondack hikes and a certain kid finally learning to swim competently, thanks to the ministrations of a family friend. Professionally, too, it was pretty sweet, with our two 25th anniversary concerts at the Iron Horse, which included performances by all four of our kids and our dear friends Ben Demerath and Kalliope Jones. Tom and I got to see Hamilton (with the original cast!) which was life-changing and inspiring. I had the privilege of running and participating in two fantastic retreats, one in the ADKs and one at home in Northampton, learning so much from my participants as I always do. And then in late July, Katryna and Dave Chalfant and I started work on the soundtrack to go along with my novel The Big Idea. With the help of our longtime drummer Dave Hower, Dave C breathed passion and life and youth into songs I’d written as long ago as 2002, as well as songs I wrote this past June. I now see a whole different aspect of the characters I’ve been living with for fifteen years. Dave found angles I’d never considered, brought the songs to life in full color animation. At summer’s end, Dar drove up with her daughter Taya and was my character Liv First, singing my new song “The Shame Wars” with her trademark generosity, love and vulnerability. The next day, all three of our daughters sang backgrounds on a new version of “As Cool As I Am” which will be released as part of her Return to Mortal City tour. Afterwards, we had dinner on my porch and watched the kids play soccer in the back yard, caught up and talked about her book on small towns and cities, community building and music, and I felt so deeply grateful for our long, sweet, sustaining friendship. These moments, like luminous pearls on a necklace, are the point. They are the Big Idea.

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But the deaths. The news. The grass turned to straw. I had to scratch and claw my way out of a dark place that had threatened to obliterate these moments, keeping me trapped in my head instead of enjoying my blessed, precious life. I find myself in this place often––I always assume it’s part of the package of being an artist––but it usually doesn’t last so long. This summer, it seemed so interminable I was considering setting up furniture inside the trap. At times like these, I experience others around me joking, bantering, enjoying each other, using words to make connections, and it as if I am in the audience watching a play. I know I am supposed to be up there on stage, but I have forgotten my lines.

Three things usually save me: prayer, honesty and music. For two of the three, I depend on other people. For all of them, I need some element of the Divine. But none appeared to be working by the time I got to the main stage at Falcon Ridge, where I was still in the trap, unable to connect to the music or my bandmates in the way I usually could. We played, my bandmates were incredible as usual, and we tore down, hugged each other, and this time packed up for our next show at the Workshop Stage, an hour plus with one of our favorite other bands, The Slambovian Circus of Dreams. On that stage, electrified by the energy of that wonderful band, and my own drummer, bass player, guitarist and sweet amazing sister, rocked by the rhythms and urgency of “For What It’s Worth,” buoyed by the audience, I came back. I remembered my lines.

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It’s been better since then. I’ve been sleeping more, waking more slowly, being gentle with my creative process, savoring my kids. Up until this morning, I took a long summer break from my 5am writing sessions, trading inspiration and the hit of productivity for sleep. Perhaps I “discipline” over my feelings the way some people eat, drink, screw or shop over theirs. But I have committed to myself and a bunch of other people that I will finish this book, hoping to get the draft to my agent by December. In order to do that, I am going to have to go back to the disciplined lifestyle from which I’ve been blissfully vacationing.

I still haven’t figured out how to live as a creative artist with a family. It seems I’m either courting my muse, in which case my family is mad at me and I am stuck in the dark place, or I am refuting it, in which case I am in the play with my family, saying my lines. But something is missing, then. I don’t feel like myself if part of me is not lost in my head, spinning the scene, writing the song, planning the tour. I seem to go from one extreme of the pendulum to the other, and when I hit the extreme, I go “bonk, bonk” against whatever it is you hit when you go extreme. But now that school has started, and I am back in my routine, up at 5 (OK, 5:45. Let’s start easy…) I’m thinking it’s not so bad. What’s wrong with swinging? Tom says, “You know, I have known this about you since we met. You just have to let me get mad at you and keep doing your art.”

Hamilton, Ambition, Perfection

IMG_4976“What is to give light must endure burning.”
-Viktor Frankl

If, on the night of June 2nd, you heard a bloodcurdling scream coming from a neighborhood in Northampton, that would have been me on learning that, for my birthday, my incredibly generous parents (via the urging of my hugely thoughtful and loving sister Katryna) had bought Tom and me tickets to go see Hamilton the Musical. On June 28. Two weeks before the Tony-awarded cast’s contracts were up. I was going to get to see the original Broadway cast. In person. I screamed for a full 10 seconds. More on that below, but first I have to say that I was going to post that picture of me surrounded by my new Hamiltome (a huge, beautiful libretto with photos, notes and essays on the production), my soundtrack and my copy of the Ron Chernow biography. But Katryna said, “You can’t tell people about this! They will kill you! Plus, it’s rude.” So I didn’t say anything until we actually went. That was still probably rude. But I could not keep quiet.

I am in the Adirondacks right now, writing with my retreatants at my parents’ house. Up on the wall of the kitchen is a snapshot that captures a moment of pure perfection, taken about 4 years ago, of my two kids when they were still in footie pajamas. They are sitting, side by side, at the foot of the stairs, waiting for their grandparents to come down. The morning light shines in on their brown heads, and they are both turned slightly to look at the photographer. One of them has an eager look on her face; she knows the glories that will come when her grandparents descend. The other is along for the ride, because he knows his sister usually has a good plan. They are alert, attentive, on the cusp, sitting up straight and tall, criss-cross-applesauce legs. They are snuggly and delicious, and when I see that picture, I melt. I want to scoop them up and hug them. I regret ever having done anything other than scoop them up and hug them, hold them to my chest and savor this rare period of time. Why, in the face of such wonderfulness, would a person do anything else? And yet I know that during that time, my mind wandered, just as it did (a very little bit) as I sat in the equally perfect production of Hamilton I was lucky enough to see.

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Like most folks who have heard the soundtrack more than once, I am a huge Hamilton fan. I love pretty much everything about it:
-the incredible songwriting (which I think is even better than Sondheim’s because it has so much heart and pathos)
-the fact that Lin-Manuel Miranda got the idea from reading that big fat historical biography of Alexander Hamilton
-the amazing history lesson our kids are getting (mine are obsessed and know every word, ask me unanswerable questions about John Adams and Lafayette, are furious about Washington and Jefferson owning slaves)
-the politics (how much have things not changed???)
-the humor (King Louis’ head)
-the cast that looks more authentically like today’s America than any play I’ve seen
-the cast, the cast, the cast, oh my GOD, the cast!!!!
-the incredible study of ambition that we get in comparing Hamilton and Burr
-the awareness of privilege and class that we see as Alexander rises up from his origins in the West Indies
-the vast scope of the musical’s ambition
-The beautiful, inspiring love story
-the fact that it is the first musical I have been interested in since I was in high school
-the fact that it has made me fall in love with live theatre again
-the way in which L-MM composed the “mixtape” on Logic (what is Logic? How the heck can I learn it??? Can someone help me? please?)
-the references to the Beatles (of course)…

We arrived at the theatre at 3pm, and I was so nervous I was trembling. I was stuttering. I couldn’t believe I was at the Richard Rodgers theatre and that I was about to see my new musical heroes and heroines. I have listened to the soundtrack *nonstop* since my nephew William introduced me to it in April, and I have come to love the cast members the way I loved the Fab Four. I feel like I know them. I can’t imagine seeing Jefferson played by anyone other than Daveed Diggs. Or a different George Washington; who can possibly fill Chris Jackson’s shoes? So I was trying hard to pre-emptively lower my expectations on the experience, since there would surely be at least one understudy taking the place of one of my beloved leads. But when we got there, there were signs up everywhere warning the ticket holders that this production would be filmed.

And. Jonathan Groff, who had played the role of King George III onstage and on the soundtrack, and who had left the show in April, was coming back (*he’ll be back…*) for this performance.

GAH!!!!!!!!! ON TOP OF EVERYTHING, THERE ARE DELICIOUS BEATLES REFERENCES!!! IN THE AFTERMATH OF BREXIT!!! (which I loathe, but anyway, it’s interesting…)

Speaking of the Beatles, I have to say that I haven’t been this blown away and deeply inspired since 1977 when my friend Leila Corcoran introduced me to the Fab Four. But this brings something else up.

As inspired as I am by Hamilton, I am also daunted by it. I am almost defeated by its perfection. I am obsessed by its genius pacing. How did he figure out which parts of that huge book/huge life to include in the 3 hour story, and which parts to cut? He brilliantly tells the first 19 years of AH’s life in a masterful opening number:

How can any songwriter ever lift her quill again in the face of this? How can I even begin to approach my 850 page novel The Big Idea when I have in my head the perfection I witnessed on Tuesday night? My book is not as good as Hamilton. So why bother.

I told my friend this the other day. OK, my therapist. She looked at me and shook her head, as she often does. “Whaaat? You must be out of your GODDAMNED MIND….” No, just kidding. She said, “Um, why are you comparing a novel to a musical? And what does your novel have to do with Hamilton? Who, besides you, would even make a comparison of you to Lin-Manuel Miranda?”

I don’t know. It’s arrogant (*bastard*) to compare oneself to the likes of L-MM; one doesn’t usually compare oneself to Shakespeare or Mozart or even Lennon/McCartney. One just sighs and knows that there are some who achieve a kind of immortality, while most artists, even wildly successful ones, are content to get paid and to bask in the contained era of their fame.

How was the show? I was on the edge of my seat for the full 3 hours. I trembled throughout the first act. I wept all through the second (except when I was laughing). And yet, there was a way in which getting EXACTLY WHAT I WANTED left me feeling a bit…off. I know that sounds horrible and ungrateful. But what I mean is that it’s a strange thing to be fully satisfied,just as I was fully satisfied when I was cuddling my small children in their footie pajamas. And this is itself one of the themes of the play. “You will never be satisfied,” sings Angelica to herself and to Hamilton. These two characters have almost everything in the moment when she sings these words: wealth, success, beauty, love, family (though Angelica is lacking something very particular, of course….) Still, it’s a very difficult thing, even in the very very best of times, to remain fully and completely present. Even in the face of perfection––and an absolutely perfect entertainment experience––my mind sometimes went somewhere outside the Richard Rodgers theatre. (To my novel. To my children. To my concern about driving home after the show in the rain.) Also, and I am deeply ashamed to admit this, a part of me was convinced that this incredible good fortune (of getting to see the show, of getting to see the entire original cast) would not go unnoticed by the gods, and surely I would be smote somehow. So what is that about?

I need to add here that, besides the price of the tickets, there was a pretty significant cost to my birthday night. I sort of smote myself. My bloodcurdling scream seriously wrecked my voice. At the retreat yesterday, I had intended to do way too many things. Among them were to record a demo of Liv First’s song “The Shame Wars” for my friend Dar Williams, who will be singing it for the soundtrack that will accompany The Big Idea. It’s been a month since I screamed that bloodcurdling scream, but I still don’t have the full range of my voice back. I can’t cleanly sing the D above middle C, which used to be an easy note for me. I warmed up and warmed up, but the note is still not there. And I have in the back of my mind, “Payback. For all your good fortune. For getting to see Hamilton.”

I ended up macguyvering my little Casio keyboard (the song is played on piano) to make it a half step lower, and then I was able to sing the song. I sent it off to Dar, and I sent other songs off to the band. The experience of seeing that beautiful work of art last Tuesday stays with me. The songs are in me, the images and the dances too. Certain gestures I got to witness feel intrinsic now to my whole life. Just as the experience of witnessing my two children grow from babies to footie-pajama’d youngsters to the mountain-climbing violin-playing soccer-ball-kicking infuriatingly rule-breaking wonders they are today is woven into my blood and bones. Just as Hamilton and Burr wove themselves into each others’ blood and bones, so that by the end of Hamilton’s life, he has a bit of Burr’s hesitancy and judiciousness, while Burr has some of Hamilton’s go-for-it ambition. Time will tell if I get my D back. I will go and warm up my voice again today and see. If not, I’m willing to *wait for it.*

Post-Iron Horse. Can I Sleep Now? Please?

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After our big 25th anniversary shows at the Iron Horse last weekend, I was so tired I thought I would never recover. As I age, it seems performing takes more and more out of me, or else it takes longer to mop me off the floor afterward. As my friend Steve Philbrick says, “My body tells the truth more these days.” At any rate, I have made a vow not to get up at 5 in the morning for a whole week. Maybe it will extend into a whole month. And then maybe into forever. Who knows?

It’s a strange pull I have to these 5 am wake up calls, a kind of love/hate fascination, sort of like my 7 year old son’s slightly disturbing obsession with Bellatrix LeStrange. At first, it seemed horrific to be woken at that hour. I am generally a fairly early riser—6am for almost 20 years. But last year when my writer friend Molly Burnham suggested I try getting up an hour early to make sure I got my writing time in every day, I balked. Wasn’t 6 early enough?

It turns out it wasn’t—not if I wanted to make sure I made progress on my novel, The Big Idea, a story of a family turned rock band turned family again. In order to pack in my requisite meditation, yoga, family time, violin practice with the kids, run around the park, tidying of the kitchen so that we’re not infested with fruit flies and rats, and then that little matter of earning a living, it seems I really do need to get up at 5. In the past year, I have gone from a hopeless collection of disconnected chapters to a cohesive draft of my 850 page book. It’s still not a Pulitzer-prize-winning novel, but it holds water. If I were to die tomorrow, it could be published, and it might even make sense to a handful of people.

I came to love my 5am writing time. I crept downstairs every weekday, made myself an espresso, opened my laptop and dove in. The house was quiet and peaceful, and my first thoughts poured into the manuscript. Best of all, it seemed to set my inner compass for the rest of the day, informing everything. The characters woke up with me, and I had them as company throughout the day. Most days, I had a second writing session later on, and this was when the best writing happened. But it couldn’t have happened without that 5am primer.

Recently, I have noticed, however, that my chronic lack of sleep is also informing my days. I have been irritable and just plain exhausted, and by about 8pm I am pretty much useless, sometimes verging on tears. And yet, even though my husband had on occasion begged me to sleep in, I am almost incapable of doing so. Even if I don’t set my alarm, my body rises at 5 now. And I let it, sneaking down to my writing spot like an alcoholic to the bar.

I have written extensively in this blog about my severely mixed feelings about the very fact of spending an hour or two a day working on this novel. On the one hand, it compels me. I feel strongly that I will not be happy if I don’t see this vision through, a vision I had while jogging down Sunset Boulevard in 1997 while recording Taxi Girl with Paul Fox at A&M Recording Studio. I have been working on the book and the accompanying soundtrack on and off since that time, though the bulk of the writing happened between 2001 and 2005, and then again between 2012 and the present day. The characters clamor to be heard; they speak to me as I do the dishes, as I pick the kids up from school, as I read other novels or listen to the Hamilton soundtrack. During the years when I wasn’t writing––2006 to 2012––I felt there was a hole in me.

But those weren’t exactly unhappy unfulfilled years. Instead of writing a novel, I wrote literally hundreds of songs, blog posts and two other (non-fiction) books. I wrote sermons, I made friends, I practiced yoga and I breastfed two babies. It would be just as true to say that in these past four years since I’ve hunkered down on The Big Idea (especially this last when I’ve been getting up at 5am) that I’ve had a hole in me because I haven’t gotten to do these things, at least not as much.

It turns out, as Tom and I keep saying to each other, you can’t do everything. Huh. We can’t do everything we want to do, be friends with everyone we want to be friends with, write everything we want to write, eat everything we want to eat, or look like a supermodel if we aren’t spending our entire time working out, eating watercress and tuna fish and drinking fourteen glasses of water a day, and in my case, being elongated on a medieval stretching device. I say this last thing because this came to mind last night as Tom and I were bewailing our mortal status and inability to excel in our careers while simultaneously have a social life, parent our kids the way we want to and also have fun hobbies and a lot of sex. It reminded me of how for more years than I cared to admit I tried to look like a supermodel. “Did you know,” someone finally told me—or perhaps I finally heard––“that those people are airbrushed? Those photos are not actually real people.”

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People really do win the Pulitzer Prize, just like there really was once a band called the Beatles who changed the face of cultural history and wrote 10 amazing albums in 8 years. There is now a musical on Broadway that is having a similarly transformative effect on culture. Every now and then, something comes along that blows us all away, to quote Lin-Manuel Miranda. But by and large, even the Pulitzer prize winning novels get read, get their seals of approval, get bought and then end up on a dusty shelf and forgotten about.

 

What do you want to do with your one wild and precious life? Well, sometimes I want to write my book, write it as best I can possibly write it, put in it everything wise and wonderful I have been taught, make every sentence shine as brightly as possible. Other times I want to sleep. I want to lie on my back on the carpet and look out the window at a blue June sky and gaze at the fading roses along the fence and listen to my son as he takes a bath and tells me about Messi’s assist in the game against the US. I want to fold the laundry. I want to clean out a closet. I want to play the piano badly. I want to hear about my friend’s struggles and drink a can of seltzer. I want to smell the ocean. I want to make a pesto and goat cheese frittata. I want to sleep until my body wakes me up. I want to read an article in the New Yorker. I want to hold my daughter while she cries about her best friend going away to Europe and leaving her behind. I want to know where all the towels go. I want to toss my careful plan out the window and see what the day’s plan is for me. I want to go to bed at midnight and sleep till noon the way I did in summertime when I was a teenager. Maybe one day, I will. Or at least till 6am.

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How to Clear Your Clutter, De-Squirrel Your Attic and Find the Inner Architecture of Your Novel

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We have squirrels in our house. I didn’t want to tell you this, as it creeps some people out and many of you reading this blog have actually come to my house, sat around and maybe even written in the front room with me. The squirrel in question, or at least one of them, was seen here in this room. He’s gone now–Tom shoed him out at about 4am one morning in early March. Tom thought it was a chipmunk, but we’ve since ID’d it as a flying squirrel, and those are nocturnal and colony-dwellers. They come with friends. They are SO CUTE!!

Since then, I’ve heard the tell-tale scritch-scratch almost every morning when I am in the kitchen writing between 5-6am. It’s almost comical. I hear, “knock knock” as if a woodpecker is at the wall next to me. Then something scampers across the walls to the other side of the house.

We’ve had four, count ’em, four different wildlife dudes come to the house. Dude #1 referred the whole job to Dude #2 because Dude #1 said we would always have squirrels on account of our slate roof. Dudes #3 and 4 also pointed to the roof. They said it wouldn’t matter what we did until we got rid of the roof.

The slate roof is 120 years old, is gorgeous, and is the main reason I won’t consider bumping out dormers in our attic to create more space. We need more space because of the bed situation. Remember that? I had been obsessing about how to convince Tom to let us go into debt to make our house big enough to give my parents (who visit 4 times a year) a nice queen-sized bed and en suite bathroom. Right now, they sleep in Johnny’s loft bed. They insist that it’s fine, but I know better.

Besides, speaking of debting, I as a traveling musician (25 years now) feel acutely that I want to pay back, or perhaps pay forward, the debt I owe to the countless folks who have housed Katryna and me and our various bandmates and family members over the years. I have slept in so many beautiful bedrooms over the years. I am amazed at the hospitality I have been offered. I want to provide just a semblance of this for visitors who come through my sweet and wonderful town. (Just this weekend, we got to stay with Abigail’s in-laws in Chicago, and the amazing Jill Stratton in St. Louis. Angels. Haven.)

But where to gain the space? Should I bump out the side to the east? Should I pioneer the attic?

Attic. Home of the squirrels.

Or is there some other brilliant solution that I am not able to see? I need an architect.

I got it into my head that the two great puzzles of my recent months were destined to be solved together.The other puzzle is my novel. Right now, The Big Idea is over 800 pages, and that’s with a ton of darlings killed. I mean, there were a lot of brilliant darlings I threw out, and they were seriously great darlings. I know there are more, but as soon as I highlight a passage and press the control command X button, I waver. I cut, and then I paste it back. I try to do that thing Marie Kondo says to do and close my eyes and ask, “Does it bring me joy?” But the problem with that Marie Kondo thing is that ALL of my crap brings me joy! I am not one of those hoarders who has bureaus full of ugly clothes that don’t fit. I am one of those hoarders who has closets and bureaus and bookshelves and CD shelves stuffed full of things that DO fit, that are great books, that were once CDs I played all the time. AND I LOVE THEM ALL! Just as I love all my writing, every single word.

Except when I don’t. Except when I wish for a book architect to tell me what to do. Should I make a pithy 350 page book out of my 900 page behemoth? Should I start three-quarters of the way through? Or should I make it a three volume series?

Without an architect, that is the direction I am leaning. I am still about 100 pages short of an ending. Since reading the magnificent Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante (which deserve their own blog post), I am sorely tempted to publish the book as a multi-volume event, one book coming out, say, now, and the others …later.

If I am honest, I have to admit that my attic is not filled with things that bring me joy. It’s actually filled with what one would have to just call…garbage. Because that is the kind of hoarder I am: I am the kind that stuffs bureaus and shelves with good items and instead of throwing anything out, I squirrel it away to the attic and basement and barn. (Pun intended.) So my attic is indeed full of useless crap, and also things valuable only to me, like every single item my kids ever brought home from school with their handwriting on it. But also truly worthless things like one ice skate that is too small for anyone in our family to wear; like old papers I wrote in high school, or worse, old floppy disks from college years with no computer on which to open them; like huge baskets full of half-knit projects. And somehow, these things render me paralyzed when I go up to throw them out.

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Plus, there are photos. Photos of the band. Photos of my first marriage. Mixed in with photos of just plain old me from my twenties. I have half a mind to throw them all out, but how can I throw out my twenties, even if I was married to someone who isn’t my kids’ father? I go up to the attic, steel myself, say, “I can do this. I know how to clean and tidy. Start in a corner and work my way methodically in a concentric circle. I know how to do this.” But then I start in the northwest corner (where the squirrels get in) and right away, I’m confronted with this scene: a white photo album–the three ring binder kind–open, with the pages half falling out. Me with brown hair. Me looking like I’m about ten years old, even though I’m twenty-three. Why did my parents let me get married then?? The pages are also covered in the dust from the house’s insulation, which the squirrels have dragged into little nests. I feel a wave of nausea and my nose starts to run and I quickly turn on my heel and leave.

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I call my sister, and I cry. She says, “Of course you don’t want to do this. Who would want to do this?” She says, “You were not a bad person. You should keep those photos.”

She makes me feel better, as she always does. And then a brilliant thought comes to me. What if the way to figure out the architecture of my book is to figure out the architecture of my house? What if the way to figure out which darlings to kill will only come to me after I systematically declutter my house? Maybe instead of devoting my spring and summer to finishing The Big Idea, I should completely get rid of all my attic, basement and barn crap, organize my photos and make scrapbooks of all my kids’ papers?

“Um,” she says. “That sounds like procrastination to me.”

“No!” I shout. “I am going to do it! And I will blog about it and post photos and then maybe write a book called My Cluttery Book, My Cluttery Attic and Me!

She is on the phone, but I can feel her eyes rolling from here.

I still haven’t lifted a finger on the photos. But since we had this conversation, I have sent the first “book” off to my first reader. I have met with an architect. I hired someone to clean out the barn and someone else to organize my photos. And I sent an email this evening to a potential producer for the soundtrack to go with the novel. Oh, and there are some Have A Heart squirrel traps placed carefully around the house. There are no squirrels in them yet, but I have been up for the past two mornings between 5-6, and guess what? No one has come knocking.

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