I tend to move often, which is to say more than most military families but less than your average hobo. (Probably, trustworthy hobo movement statistics are hard to find these days.) For a while, every July found me knee deep in packing paper and boxes. One of the benefits of all that moving is a total lack of clutter. It’s hard to be sentimental about something when you’re unwrapping it for the fourth or fifth time in as many years. All the adorable knickknacks and cute curios become so much sentimental junk. Eventually, it all ends up in the Good Will box, usually just after a move is completed. I find myself unpacking, tired and hot, wondering why I hauled a ceramic chef statue across five states when I don’t even remember who gave it to me.
There’s something wonderfully cathartic about that Good Will box, the way it holds things I no longer have to carry, worries that will cease, and burdens I’ve put down. My unconventional upbringing taught me that you don’t own things, things own you. Being freed from that responsibility always feels so liberating I wish I could do the same thing for my writing.
I’ve always struggled with a metaphor to describe how my writing mind works. While it’s not pretty the closest I can come is a sponge, a white sponge, the kind you might use to clean up the kitchen sink. You’d wipe up some spilled orange juice and the sponge would be tinted orange on one side. Then there would be jelly, adding a red line down the center. By the end of breakfast there’s a smear of black too. (I always burn the toast.) What’s left on that sponge could be transferred to paper, and if you spent enough money on the frame would be art. My writing is the sponge, the events I encounter are the jelly, juice, and charcoal. That frame? It’s editing, polishing, and more than a little hard work.
The problem is the clutter, the things in my non-writing life that get in the way. They’re like a giant pitcher of red kool-aid that gets dumped on the counter. Sure the sponge can take it, but now it’s completely red. Two or three washings later, and it’s still red. Everything is tainted with it. It takes ages to fade.
If I could create a mental Good Will box I’d stuff it with doctor appointments, medical worries, the current financial crisis (the country’s not mine), all my worries about the people I love, and all my fears for the future. I know those events shape me, and I want the power of the emotions they create in my work, but I don’t want my work to sound like a journal of my own issues. I hate thinking someone could pick up my book 15 years from now and say ‘that’s when she had to take the rabbit editor to the vet’ or ‘that’s when she was dieting’.
I don’t mind knowing that it happens. My delightful agent once realized that my character woke up at the beginning of each chapter, just like I sat down to write first thing each morning. I edited the copious mornings out with a smile, glad to know that my life hadn’t overshadowed my writing in the end. And that’s just the way I like it.