Rachael Herron's Blog
March 17, 2015
I have to chime in about entering the "real" world -- When I was in undergrad, I was super stressed. There was a reentry student in one of my English seminars who was about 60 or so. I mentioned I was worried about the real world, and she just pulled her glasses down and looked at me: "Oh, honey. The real world is SO much easier than this is."
I took such heart from that, and it's true! Even with writing deadlines making your whole life feel like a homework assignment, it's nothing like school. School is false, created stress (meaningful, etc blah etc). In real life, when you have stress, you can work on managing, changing things. In school, if you're behind, you're just fucked, you know?
I absolutely love what you say about getting comfortable with rejection by continued submission. When I was submitting to agents, I checked my email every seven seconds for about six months, and every time I was rejected, I wanted to cry (and sometimes did). But every single damn time, it got easier, and I would just submit to five more (is five the magic answer? just enough to feel like you're really working? I like it).
How I handle rejection: With a very stiff upper lip. When Harper Collins fired me after my first three books, I told everyone it was fine. Totally understandable, I said. Borders died the week my second book came out while we were in negotiations for a new contract, thereby halving the sales of the first, and there was no recovering from that blow. pathetic. Yep. I would never write again. I wrote sad letters full of self-pity to good writer friends who all told me what I needed to hear -- you'll make it, you'll come back from this, just keep writing, this happens to everyone -- and I never believed them, even though they were right. You're right, it's so easy to cheerlead everyone else, and so HARD to cheer ourselves.
Do you keep a file of positive things? Can I encourage you to do that right now? I call it my mash note file (does anyone else still use that term?), and I have a physical one (that I just went through while going through papers; I found a bunch of nice notes from writers I knew in school reacting to my stories) and an email file. I put the best, most cheering letters in there, saving them for the rainy day when Kirkus pans me and Franzen says something terrible about my womanly morals and I know for certain that my career is over. The most recent one I added was from my dad saying he'd read Splinters of Light and how much he loved it -- and from what he said, he GOT it. He totally got the book. That made my whole life, and in it went to the mash file.
Thus the mash file of notes, hedged against the Very Worst Days. Just knowing it's there is all I need. Did I mention I've never gone into it? Not once. Well, I tried to read some once, but honestly, the notes embarrassed me and I ducked back out like I'd accidentally wandered into the wrong hotel room.
It comes down to self-care, I think. You need to know what you need (I need saved mash notes, days off to not write at all, wonderful books written in any genre but the one I happen to be writing in, and writing friends). And then you need to be willing to give yourself those things. Also, wallowing is allowed. Know how much time you want to give yourself. I give myself about 30 minutes, usually. I like to get back up on the horse. I have a friend who gives herself a day of wallowing when she gets a bad review because that's what she needs. My first major revision letter sent me to a coastal hostel for a weekend.
Personally, I have a couple of friends who pass our 1-star reviews back and forth, trying to best each other with the most shocking and/or poorly written ones, and this amuses the HELL out of us, and takes all the sting out. Oh! Here's a good one from my second book: "Rachael rlghts an interesting story = It is to bad she feels like she has to keep us interested withso much foolish sex."
and to your question, writing about real people: When I wrote my essay collection, that was a huge challenge for me. I did this: If I loved the person, I let them read the essay before publication. They had the right to insist on a change in verbiage if necessary. There was only one essay in the book that was even slightly critical of someone else (all criticism directed toward self!), but I changed his name and location and called that good.
Re: fiction, that's harder. Characters are never based on anything but facets of myself, as all my characters are. Sometimes, though, people insist on believing I'm writing about them. And dude, there's nothing I can do about that belief. I just keep being truthful with them, gently, insistently. I've found this over and over again (and other writer friends have, too -- I think it's a universal): if you do happen to base something on real life or real people, no one will ever notice, I promise you. One of my friends based an awful character on someone we both know, and that person LOVED the book, just gushed over it. If you write a difficult scene/story/character pulled right from your brain, nowhere else, and labor over it to make it really REAL? Everyone will think you wrote it about them. A compliment, really, isn't it?
Success really is, most of the time, just time spent in the chair. Even on my worst day, even when I just move a paragraph out and then back in again, the work has lived in my brain and breathed long enough to continue breathing when I close the window. (Oooh, I like this image. I might not be actively looking into the window, but the characters keep growing while I'm doing other things -- it only works if you give them fresh air every day... feels true.... too much?)
I've promised myself 3 hours in the chair with the internet off today. So right now doesn't count. I've already done one agonizing hour, and the next two won't (can't!) be that uncomfortable, so huzzah. My new best practice is to wake up, get coffee, meditate for ten minutes at the desk before I open the computer, then go to work IMMEDIATELY for 45 minutes before looking at the bigger world. Then I go back in and work some more in 45 minutes chunks. It's been working like a charm, which perhaps, it is. I know it's woo-woo! But it's kind of life changing. I never knew how to meditate, never knew that I could LEARN to still my crazy brain till last year when I took Headspace's free 10 day course. Highly recommended. I actually stuck it in Splinters of Light -- one of my characters is an homage to Andy Puddicombe, the Brit who teaches meditation so beautifully over there... But as I said, based on my experience, he won't think it's him. ;)
March 4, 2015
The launch party for the newly released Splinters of Light was exactly that. A launch party.
First of all, my hair did me right last night. It's amazing what hairspray can do when you buy it for the first time in twenty-five years.
Second, we went to Forbes Island, which is flipping nuts. It's a floating man-made "island" just off Pier 39 in San Francisco. Old Mr. Forbes lived there for 35 years (while he moored it out in the Bay) before he pulled it up next to the sea lions sixteen years ago and turned it into a restaurant.
It has a special place in my heart when it comes to sisters -- my sisters and I went there last year, and we all fell in love with it. I put an important sister scene in that same restaurant in Splinters of Light--Nora feels the roots of her love grow right through the water into the silt below, ready to hold her family in place, no matter what.
So it was natural I wanted to go there to celebrate the book's release. (I had an involved fantasy about inviting everyone I knew and loved, actually having a real, open-house launch party with a book signing and flowing wine, but dude! I looked up the price! Six friends it is!)
First, we got on the cable car at Powell Street.
I may have strong feelings about the cable car. I mean, I love it. It was a gorgeous evening, the sky was that bright blue of a city night, and the full moon hung low over Coit Tower. Completely perfect.
Sophie and I were thrilled to be hanging off the back.
Me and my girls.
THEN GET THIS PART!
We took the launch to Ye Olde Crazy "Island." We boarded and went into the dark, romantic, slightly-creepy-in-a-carnival-ride-way restaurant, and the host spoke to me from the gloom:
Host: Congratulations on your accomplishment!
Host: Your book! We would like to congratulate you on this feat!
Me: *nervously* Did I mention that when I called? I don't remember mentioning that.
Host: We have a bottle of our best champagne cooling for you.
Me: YOU WHAT?
Host: It's from Alice and Diane.
Me: ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh *melty puddle of tears*
The extremely wonderful and inspiring Diane Lewis of Alice's Embrace (both of whom the book is dedicated to) sent a bottle of Dom Perignon. DOM PERIGNON. WHAT?
Um. That stuff is really good, by the way.
I was verklempt.
Then we sat and talked, and we ogled the fish swimming past the cloudy green windows (you dine under the water level), and we watched the chandeliers swing with the tide, and it was gorgeous.
Gigi Pandian took my favorite picture of the night (notice Lala at the very top of the photo--it takes skill to do an upside-down photobomb):
It was a wonderful, intimate night, and I'm so damn lucky to have the people I do surrounding me. THIS is the way to launch a book. Not with nerves, but with excitement and love.
Oh, before I forget, you can read an excerpt here!
And I'm interviewed in the Huffington Post by Holly Robinson!
And you can listen to the Splinters of Lights soundtrack on Spotify!
Grab it Now!
February 27, 2015
I’ve had a minimalism revelation.
I’ll never get there.
(Duh, right? I’m always the last the know.)
The idea itself? Is awesome. Essentialism (a better term for my way of doing all this culling than minimalism) has been saving me money, something I hadn’t realized until recently. Example! Normally, when confronted with a new-to-me coffee device (Aeropress!) I would buy it, hoping for a revelatory coffee experience that would part the heavens and pour sweet caffeine over me in a non-wasteful drip-irrigation method. Then I really thought about it, and what it meant in terms of what I've been striving for. We have four other coffee making methods in my house: the pot, which is used everyday; the French press, which Lala loves; the Moka caffettiera, which I love; and a Melita drip filter which comes in handy all the time.
All of these we use. All of these bring us joy. We’re keeping all of them. These are our “essentials.” But I certainly don’t need another one. So I spent a couple of hours happily reading coffee maker reviews, and then I closed the browser tab, satisfied. (BOY, do I love reading reviews online, especially of luggage*. It’s a thing.)
This is what I've been doing: getting rid of the extras. I've been tossing the things I'd kept because I thought I had to (misplaced sentimentality) or because I would need them (even though I never have and won't). I have much less now (and there's more to go! I'm going into the bedroom closet soon! That space is a horror show!).
We have extra. We don't need extra. But getting rid of it isn't simplifying my life.
See, I was heading down the path of minimizing hoping desperately that when I got there—when my office was empty of everything except space and light and the few things I love best—I would finally not be overwhelmed by choice. I'm pretty much there. The only two books I have on my bookshelf right now are Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson because it's the most perfect book ever written, and Bread and Jam for Frances because it's the second best book ever.
I wanted to minimize to reduce choice. Isn’t that a ridiculous luxury? How entitled is that? I have so very much that I want help in narrowing down the things I spend my time on. I am, quite frankly, irritated with myself that I thought I could effect this change outwardly. Silly me.
It's not going to change. If I sit in my office with one book and nothing else, I'll still have to make the choice between reading and napping and meditating and going bzzzzzzzzzzzz with my lips until my face is numb. Choosing, the stressful part, is sticking around.
I’ve been approaching it from the wrong direction. Or, at least, it’s been a direction that wasn’t quite right. I wanted to make things be simpler in my life by eliminating clutter. I got rid of books I wasn't going to read and yarn I wasn't going to knit. That has absolutely helped me by making my surroundings quieter and less stressful.
But nothing can make life simpler. It’s messy and cluttered and busy and frantic and overwhelming, and that’s just the way it is. Sometimes.
Other times, when you sit with that feeling and just let it wash over you, not trying to do anything about it, not getting mad at the feeling or yourself, it gets pretty damn simple. I really like this post by Leo Babauta: You're Not Doing Life Wrong.
I will never get all the interesting articles on the internet read. I will never catch up on Twitter or Facebook. I will never just look around the house and think, Oh, nothing else to do but rest.
I have to choose to rest. To read. To make. (I don't choose to write--I not only have to but I have to, you know?)
And that's a gift, really. That I get to choose. I'm grateful for it.
Oh, speaking of what I've been reading, I've really enjoyed The Map of Enough: One Woman's Search for Place by Molly May (affil link). A self-proclaimed nomad, May finds out what it's like to grow roots as she builds a yurt in the middle of winter. She has a gorgeous way with language, and I'm sad that I'm almost done with it.
* Oh, man, luggage. I think my obsession with packing for trips possibly began with Frances! The way she packs her lunch at the end! I also love salt like she does! Or more!
** Suddenly, I find myself going to Scotland in May. DUDE. All I can think about is packing for the week in my half-sized suitcase which I love even more than salt. I'm so excited!
February 21, 2015
Totally enamored of Poorcraft.* I'm about ten pages in and I love it. It's about living frugally but AWESOMELY. Hello, everything I'm all about. There's one issue for frugal living and one for frugal traveling!
I've tootled You Need a Budget's horn before (I know it's supposed to be tooted, but tootled was a much more fun typo), but wow. Daily, that application helps us out. Day. Lee. ($6 off that link there, if you wanna try it, because that's how we roll, yo.)
From YNAB, I've learned things I didn't want to know, but that we needed to know. The next panel after the one above points out that you can't do anything to help yourself until you figure out exactly what you're buying, and how much each of those categories costs a month. If you'd asked me--before we started using YNAB--how much we spent on the animals a month, I would have guessed about $150. If you'd told me it was almost $500 a MONTH (including food, flea treatment, and vet visits), I would have smacked you across the mouth for lying (no, I wouldn't have. But I might have tootled you smartly).
We're spending almost a hundred bucks an animal, per month. Holy crap. To be totally honest, that helps with the essentialist kick I'm on right now. Recently, a sweet little kitten ran in front of my car, held up his teeny little paws and said, "STOP IN THE NAME OF LOVE." There's no way I normally would have been able to relinquish rights on a baby kitteh. But thinking to myself, "If this guy lives for sixteen years, that's a twenty-grand investment..." Well, I figured two cats were enough. (For now. No guarantees for the future, mind. You never know when an asshole like my Digit might show up again.) But now the kitten we saved is named Crowley and lives with my darling friend M and plays video games all day!
Crowley's face is all business.
We know how much we spend a month for all the categories, even the rather silly categories, like What Rachael Spends at the Cafe While Writing and What Lala Buys for Lunch. And that makes all the difference. When the electricity bill goes up, I start snapping off lights. When we spend too much in groceries one month, I make sure we cook more at home the next month. I know how much we need to live, and I know what our discretionary spending goes to, because it's all in the plan, man.
It helps me sleep at night.
(I can't repeat this too much: If you're broke, that doesn't make you a bad person. If you're spiraling downward in debt and feel shame about it, talk to someone. Email someone. Say the truth out loud: "I don't know how much I owe, or how much I need to live, or even how much I make, and I'm too scared to find out." Say it. Then say it again to someone who can help. The only way to climb out of the shame pit is to speak the thing you're scared of. Speaking cures shame. And then you'll be able to take the steps (and there are steps!) to pull yourself out. Email me if you need to practice on someone. Even better, leave a comment here so people can read it and support you, cheer you on. You might not hear it, but I bet you'll feel it.)
Hey, did you get my letter? I've been sending out TinyLetters, and they're kind of a new way for me to blog, flying right into your email inbox. You can view the letter archive and/or subscribe here. I'm loving this way of communicating.
* Affiliate link 'cuz I grab my money where I can
January 30, 2015
Dear darling readers,
Preorders mean a lot to authors. They help the book stand out (to bookstores and Amazon, etc) before it even hits the shelves, and to entice you into pre buying the book that means the most to me--the one I love the best--I have some awesome treats to tempt you with:
To order from my local bookstore, Diesel Bookstore, call (510) 653-9965 or email oakland @dieselbookstore.com -- they'll hook you up with a signed copy, a note from my character Ellie and the beach glass!
Order anywhere else? With any proof of purchase sent to Dana at firstname.lastname@example.org, everyone is entered to win one of the ten jars of my marmalade or a pair of hand knit socks, made just for you by me.
I'm super excited about this. March 3rd will be here in a heartbeat and I can't wait to hear what you think about this book of my heart. xox
Winners from Cate's drawing: congrats to DeAun for winning the patterns and Valerie gets the kit! (You've been emailed.)
January 23, 2015
Sometimes very talented, lovely people reach out to me and send me presents, with no catch. Cate Carter-Evans of Infinite Twist sent me Opus because she knew about Lala’s obsession with cephalopods.
This is Opus:
She sent it to me as a spinner's kit, with green fiber because that's what I wanted, and look at what I got:
All the notions and EVERYTHING. It's gorgeous.
But you know what? I know what’s on my needles now, and I know what I have queued up. I couldn’t find time to work this in, as awesome as it is, and I couldn’t just donate it along with my cotton dishcloth yarn, you know? Not Opus.
So I asked her to answer a few questions (she’s fascinating! fair-trade spinning, dudes!) and then, with her permission, I’m giving it away, as is, with all the notions needed to get starting spinning and knitting your own Opus. Not only that, but she’s throwing in a full set of all the Cephalopods patterns (Horatio the Nautilus, Tako the Bobtail Squid, Opus the Octopus, and Inkling the Squid) for a 2nd prize.
So, Cate. Your yarn is spun in China by women who are provided training and mentoring, and who are able to work from home making a living wage. That's pretty amazing. What's that like, to be involved in something like that?
It’s been a fascinating journey. I started out doing spinning training in some very remote corners of China, only to find talented spinners very close to my home in Shanghai!
Hand-spinning is an endangered craft in China, and I suspect that it will be gone entirely within twenty years. China is in the middle of the largest rural-to-urban migration in human history. Spinning, along with other rural women’s work such as weaving, making baskets, and making traditional shoes and hats, is neither urban nor modern, so it’s a craft that isn’t being taught to the next generation.
I am deeply honored to be able to provide jobs for these amazing craftswomen, and to share their yarn with knitters who appreciate the time and care that goes into every skein.
Taken while Cate was training spinners in Qinghai
Cate in Qinghai
2. How did you start knitting?
I’m proudly bistitchual, and my path to knitting started with crochet. My mom was an avid knitter (as well as a quilter and tailor), and made treasured sweaters for my dad and I from yarn spun by my grandmother from her flock of Romneys, but she died before I was old enough to figure out how to manage two needles at once.
I earned pocket money in elementary school giving crochet lessons during recess, and a friend taught me to knit to I could make a Christmas stocking for a wholly undeserving 7th grade crush. Unfortunately, my friend taught me to knit into the wrong leg of all my stitches, which meant I twisted them all - it took a number of years before I figured out what I was doing wrong!
To enter: Please leave a comment telling me your favorite sea creature and whether you like it in the ocean or on your plate! I'll draw two winners next week! Thank you, Cate!!
Another Clutter Clearout update!
There are some of you who are passionately loving reading about this! I’m getting emails that there are lots of us doing this, GETTING RID OF ALL THE THINGS.
I’m at a strange place in my decluttering now. I didn’t predict this. As I explained in previous posts, I got rid of the majority of my stuff. I’m just guessing, but I’m thinking I got rid of 60-70% of what I owned. (Gobsmacking, right? Damn.)
Here’s the strange thing. I kept stuff. Of course I did. I kept the few books I can’t get rid of. I kept the first copies of all my own books. Some knitting tools. Various things that I love just because I love them. Those things are all boxed up on the front porch, waiting for me to make a place for them. I think there are four or five boxes, all told (not including boxes of things like photos and writing that have to be digitized). I bought shelves to hang above the picture rail in the office, to make use of that usually unused space.
But I’m completely loath to get moving on bringing stuff back in here. I have nothing hanging on the walls. I have empty space in the closet. And there’s this huge part of me that wants to keep it that way.
Yo, I think this is my mid-life crisis! Don’t laugh — I think it really might be! Surgically-hormone free since 2012, I don’t have to worry about peri- or actual menopause. I’m past all that (it was rough, getting through it in six months at 39 rather than over ten years, but I think it was worth it). So that’s not what this is about. I don’t want a Ferrari or a bigger house. I don’t want things. That’s the whole shift.
I want more time, both for myself and to spend with my family and friends. I want more space. I want more words, all the words in all the books. I want music and laughter and impromptu picnics (who does that? I want to do that!)
I’m just not interested in stuff, that’s all.
I like it. It feels right. So I’m moving forward (and I'm trying not to listen to that little voice that says “Get rid of the porch boxes. Take them to the thrift store without opening them. Do it, Rachael, do it.” Never fear, I won’t do it. I’ll look first. Probably.)
So in time-honored method of Putting Things Off, I’ve been tackling other parts of the house. No, I’m not getting rid of Lala’s stuff, not when there’s so much of mine to get rid of! But there’s a lot of “our” stuff that crept in while I wasn’t looking.
Corner of the kitchen before, mostly cookbooks and crappy Tupperware:
A whole new counter to use! Roy Rogers is much happier now. I got rid of stuff in the cupboards above and stored the cookbooks we like but rarely use and got rid of all the raw cookbooks I’d bought during a time when I'd lost my damn mind.
And here, the laundry area before:
We use old towels for cleaning, and while I love that we do, somewhere I’d internalized my mother’s belief in never ever ever ever getting rid of a towel. HELLO. They had to go. (I had an entire contractor’s bag full of old clean towels that I took to the SPCA where Clara came from! They need them there!)
And the fire extinguisher? This is true: once I took a 911 call of a dryer fire (which is very fun to say - dryer fire dryer fire dryer fire). Dryer fires scare me. They do happen. (Don't run your dryer at night, please.) But by the time the fire department got on scene, the fire extinguisher the resident kept on top of the dryer had exploded from the head and PUT IT OUT. Since then, that's where ours lives.
Onward! To the porch! Don't forget to leave a comment to enter to win either the handspun Opus kit or Cat's patterns!
January 11, 2015
Rachaelista JeanH got me thinking.
So, here's my question, not lightly asked, how do you deal with "gifts" ? Those from people who are no longer among us physically are easy. The ones from people I see frequently are tough. I look at things I've been given and just want it gone. But how do I justify getting rid of the kindness and thoughts? I surmise my issue is if they ask where X is, do I just tell them, given to charity, trash, etc?
This is such a great question, and a big quandary for most of us. I’ve only figured this out for myself in the last couple of years, and I thought sharing my own method might help some of you.
Gifts are tricky. You bring them in your house, try to make them welcome, try to use them well enough to honor the gift giver who gave it to you, but sometimes they just don't fit.
It comes down to this: What is a gift?
A gift is a token of affection, a physical item meant to convey the love the other person has for you. (This, by the way, is why most presents, even extravagant ones, can sometimes feel a little thin to either giver or givee. No physical item will ever be able to live up to that expectation (This is how I love you. Wait, THIS is how you LOVE me?), and yet, somehow, come birthdays and Christmas, we expect them to convey everything we feel in our hearts.)
The person who gave you that gift was thinking specifically of YOU when she bought it or, even better, made it for you. The gift should make you feel good. It should make you feel great. Even if aesthetically you hate on sight what you’ve been given, even if it goes against every design principle you hold to be true, you can feel the love, right? You might inwardly groan and wonder where it’s going to live in your house, but shake it off. Let yourself feel that love.
That’s the intention of a gift.
And right here, right now, you won’t have to suffer through this again. I’m giving you permission to get rid of all the gifts you’ve ever been given that don’t bring you simple, uncomplicated joy.
Really. All of them.
You can get rid of the gifts you thought you'd have to keep forever.
The gift was given with open hands, to show love (if it was given with ulterior motives, you can do nothing about that. You don’t have to worry about that). Your only job is to receive the present gratefully and thankfully. You need to smile and hug that person, and feel cherished.
That present doesn’t even have to come into the house with you when you get home. If it’s a handmade item, take a photo of yourself wearing it/using it, and send it to the giver. Leave a box on the front porch of things you’re going to donate, and chuck it in there. Sell it on Craigslist (unless you live in a very small town, then that might not be a good idea. Aunt Sal doesn't want to see the macrame hanger she made you going for three bucks).
There. You’re done. Both the giver’s and your jobs are done.
Give the item to someone who will use it and love it, the way it deserves to be loved.
And as you put the gift in the box or the recycle bin, try this silly thing because, astonishingly, it actually works: Say thank you, out loud or in your mind, to the giver, and then say a thank you to the item itself. (I told you! Written out, it’s just silly! When you do it, though, it allows your hands to open to release that thing that’s been mentally weighing you down.)
But...but...Mom will notice if the bacon-jam isn't on the countertop and ask me if I ever use it, even though I’m a vegan!
First of all, she won’t notice. And if she does notice, she won’t ask. And if she does ask, just be honest. It’s great to be honest. Brutal, embarrassing honesty is real and true, and it disarms people. “God, I hoped you wouldn’t notice that. But you did. Wow. I’m embarrassed. But that thingie-bob was so awesome, and I hated that I wasn’t using it, so I gave it to a friend who needed one, and who will love it as much as it deserves to be loved. I thought you’d like that.” (If you put it in the trash? That’s completely okay! But honey, LIE. Say you gave it to a friend. You get complete absolution for that lie, right now, in advance. Just because we’re truthful in most things doesn’t mean we have a license to be assholes. If you're a bad liar, like I am, make sure you DO give the thingie-jammer to someone who will love it.)
If Aunt Marge gets mad at you for moving her gift to a better, more worthy home? Well, you probably already have bigger problems with her than just giving away the elk horn bugle she carved you (but Jesus, give that to ME, because that would be AWESOME). Worst case scenario? She’s mad at you for a while. Maybe you won’t get the matching elk horn flagon this year. (Don’t worry, you’ll get the tankard next year.)
Need bigger guns? Here you go: I give you permission to blame me. No, really. Say you read this blog, and the gal who writes it told you that you had to get rid of every single polar-fleece vest in your closet, and that it’s completely my fault. I can take Aunt Marge. And your mother-in-law. Even your coworker who makes that incredibly stinky raspberry soap. Send ‘em my way.
Heirlooms, granted, are trickier. Honesty's the best route with that one. "Hey, Mom, you gave me that full set of Gramma's china, but I never use it, and it's so pretty that it's bugging me that it's just stored away. Would you rather me donate it to charity or give it to someone you know who would make better use of it than I am?"
But honestly. A person who cares about you wants you to be happy. Period. Full stop. If the stuff they give you isn’t making you happy, getting rid of it is what they would want you to do (if they could get over their hurt feelings, which is a hard thing to do sometimes. Which is why it’s not something you have to announce to them. “Dear Aunt Marge, I’m giving away the elk horn things. All of them. They suck. Happy New Year!”)
And dude, if you’re part of one of those weird families who give generic gifts along with gift receipts? That’s awesome! You have permission to get what you want! DO IT. Get something useful, something that you love! Don't keep the turtleneck! Unless you really like looking like 1995!
(And if you get gifts that are intended to make you feel badly? Fuck 'em. Smile, say thank you, and do a rim shot when you toss it in the trash at home. Three points! Love YOURSELF first.)
Bonus: You know how getting rid of things opens up your life to other things? In going through possessions, I've seen some awesome things that were getting lost in the clutter. I’ve realized my dad makes useful, hardy things. I love the spoon. And the knife. And the next time I see Dad I’ll remember to tell him, “Hey, that lamp you carved from the sycamore (was it the front yard sycamore?) is amazing in our living room.”
Keep what sparks joy (per Marie Kondo's advice). Ditch the rest. Be happy.
January 5, 2015
Something has shifted inside me, and I’m not sure where or when it did, but it happened, and I don’t think it’s shifting back. I’ve never felt this before, not even as a child (I've always been a clutcher—I wanted my THINGS. I understood impermanence and I hated it. I enjoyed feeling nostalgic for moments I was actively participating in. I still do that).
I’m seeing clutter for what it is, to me. And I want to make clear that this is all what it is to me. This is not what YOU should do. This isn’t what Lala should do. I don’t want to move Lala’s stuff (it was a requirement when we bought our house that we would both have an office), and I don’t even want to purge much of our shared stuff (there are a few things in the kitchen like old Tuppers-ware… but no, honestly, I’m focused on my stuff).
A lot of my stuff just isn’t important.
And it’s not that things have changed. That’s the really interesting part to me in this. Nothing I own has changed. I haven’t woken up and suddenly “seen the light" although it may look like that from the outside.
My stuff didn’t get less important overnight.
It’s just this: A great deal of my possessions have been unimportant for years. For decades, literally.
So many books, released. I thought because I loved them, because I’d learned from them, that I had to keep them. Nope. They’re already in me, and I don’t tend to reread. Gone.
So much yarn, released. It was collected thoughtlessly, with no plan, and over many years, it had never come in handy for even one single project I’d gone stash-diving for. Gone.
So many clothes, released. This was easier, because I learned through a couple of years of Project 333 that living with fewer, nicer clothes is magic. I’m better dressed, more fashionable, and more ME because of it.
So much junk, junked. It’s unreal how much stuff I’d held onto over the years.
That said, I’ve kept things. So many wonderful things, things that strike joy in my heart. The eye from my beloved teddy bear. The 11-year sobriety chip my friend Bob Cranford gave me when I quit smoking. My mother’s journals. My own. The quilt my grandmother knit me. The Love Blanket that you knit me. Lots of lots of wonderful stuff, kept.
This is how I’ve done it, for those wondering. These are the questions I ask of each item (seriously, I touch every one):
1. Do I use this regularly? (Not could I use this, or would I use this given the right circumstances. Just do I or don’t I.) If yes, keep. If no, move on to next question.
2. Does this spark joy? This is cribbed from Marie Kondo’s book, mentioned in the last post. Prior to reading her book, I was asking questions I could fudge my way around. Do I love this? Sure! I love everything! Does this make me happy? Of course! It’s a fountain pen! Fountain pens make me giddy! But this specific question, “Does this fountain pen you’re holding right now spark actual JOY in your heart?” It’s like flipping a coin. You know the answer when it’s in the air. “No, this fountain pen makes me think of the person who gave it to me, a person I don’t enjoy thinking of anymore.” And just like that. Dithering over selling the pen for years, decided easily in a heartbeat of finally asking the right question. If the answer is yes, keep. If no, donate, sell, or recycle.
And now that I think about it, now that I’m typing, I’ve figured out that this simple question about sparking joy has been the thing that made this quiet click happen within me. I do care for so many things. I’m prone to loving things and people and television shows and vegetables and just about anything that falls within my range of vision. That was my proble when it came to holding on to things.
But so many of my things, though they were nice and worthy of love, didn’t spark joy. I’m culling down to just the things that do, and one day, I’ll look around and have nothing near me that isn’t useful or brilliantly joyful (Lala! the animals! my spinning wheel! the pressed tin Madonna I bought in Venice!), and hoo boy, I can’t wait for that.
The whole process of simplifying, which just a week or two ago was overwhelming and tedious and really, really frightening, is now exciting and honestly FUN. I don’t need the other stuff.
I never have.
That is WILD, yo.
December 30, 2014
So, minus the cold-from-hell that had me down a few days, I’m progressing well through the Move Toward Minimalism. So well, in fact, that Lala has asked me a few times if I’m leaving her. She pointed out that would be incredibly embarrassing to trick her that way. “Well, yeah," she would have to say to incredulous friends. "Sure, she packed everything she owned in boxes and got rid of mountains of stuff, but she said she was becoming a minimalist.” Shrug. “Why wouldn’t I believe her?”
But I’m not leaving. Emphatically, no. I'm still focusing on how I want my reading/writing space to look (and I have to point out that sick time is very good Pinterest time. I’ve never really been into it before, but when you’re daydreaming about a space while on cold medicine, there is little more satisfying. My dream office board is here, if you want to check it out).
First, let me tell you what I did.
I got rid of a full (huge) station wagon of stuff.
I took most to the Depot for Creative Reuse (there should be some hella fine yarn there, Bay Area knitters) and the rest to Out of the Closet. (Oh! I gave up the idea of the garage sale. I wouldn't have ever recouped my loss, and I'd already enough time, energy, money, and storage space to these things. It felt good to let go.) I gave away a ton of books in a frantic culling of author copies on Facebook and Twitter. I boxed everything I have to keep, but I bet not all of it will find its back way in from the boxes on the porch.
See, I got rid of the storage. I got rid of four large Billy bookcases and two small ones, bookcases that had been storing my crap for twelve YEARS. I shoved yarn, sweaters, photo albums, knitting patterns, books, memorabilia into those shelves like the boss of storage I was. I got rid of 20 Sterilite drawers and boxes that were holding things.
My whole office looked like this. Then I got rid of all the storage.
I don’t have anything to store things in. The closet is lovely and empty. I challenged myself with the "I have one of those already" statement. (Is your heart beating faster, reading that? Mine did. "I have one bag." ARE YOU SERIOUS I NEED EVERY ONE OF THESE THIRTY BAGS FOR DIFFERENT REASONS. I took a box and labeled it ONE. I put the extra things in there, just to think about themselves. I promised myself I wouldn't get rid of the box. Then I did. And it felt good. (I still have about five bags because that's impossible, yo. This one is my travel bag, this one is my knitting bag, THIS IS MY MOOP, this is my cute-night-out bag.)
The room I’m sitting in right now will have four pieces of furniture.
My beloved desk that my friends bought me when I got my agent will stay, holding my printer and a lamp.
My new (used) rolltop desk will hold everything writing related: pens, ink, Post-its, the all-important Thinking Gum). (Augh, the delirious joy of this desk. I’ve wanted one my whole life. Hasn’t every writer?)
A chair. Will use the one I have till I find the right one. I hate this old ripped Ikea chair that I've always had to use a back bolster with, but it's my lowest priority.
A reading couch. I’d prefer something antique and Victorian and old. Basically, I want my office to feel like Juliet Blackwell’s house, you know? But comfortable is the highest priority for the couch. I want to be able to read till the book falls out of my hand. I want room for all the animals to pile of top of me. I want to be able to stretch out. I’m taking my time. I’ll find my couch when it’s time.
I have a guy coming in tomorrow to quote how much it would be to pull up the carpeting and build a good, sturdy bookshelf (not a Billy! No!) because even though I got rid of shelving, a girl still needs a few shelves for books and the really beloved things that should be seen and treasured, not hidden. I'm going to paint, also -- a darker color. Most of the things I love on Pinterest are dark, cozy, and inimate. Curated, not cluttered.
Right now, the office is almost empty. It echoes. Music sounds amazing.
It makes me a little nervous, too. I’m reading Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and she says: If you can’t feel relaxed in a clean and tidy room, try confronting your feeling of anxiety. It may shed light on what is really bothering you. When your room is clean and uncluttered, you have no choice but to examine your inner state.
Well, yeah. I know exactly why I’m doing this. I’m almost done with a first draft of a book, and this is the hardest part of writing for me. At this point, I’m always convinced that what I’m writing is the worst thing ever written in the history of the world. It’s so hard, in fact, that I took the last week of the year off from writing entirely, to let myself… Well, okay. I just let myself off the hook, which was good since I worked a couple of killer weeks at the day job followed by this sick thing. But mostly, I’m avoiding going back into the book.
The book is cluttered. The book is noisy and messy. The book needs to be edited, and it can’t be until it’s done.
So I’m attracted to thinking about quiet, about simplicity, about minimalism. Every time I look that right in the eyes, stare into the truth of it, I feel calmer. I’m getting back to the book one week from today. I’m ahead of schedule, not behind it. Lying creatively fallow for a couple of weeks feels right.
And in the meantime, I’m enjoying paring down my life to only the things that bring me joy, which is Marie Kondo’s whole premise. Does the item thrill you? Give you joy? Keep. If not, release. Why spend your life around things that don't thrill you? And oh my gosh, I LOVED reading her account of being a child obsessed with organizing. I thought I was the only kid who carefully read and saved ways to use toilet paper rolls to organize your makeup drawer, who memorized stain-lifting recipes, so impatient to try them I’d sometimes make a stain on purpose, just to see. I loved the penny-pinching tips in Ladies’ Home Journal and Mother Earth News. I was obsessed with making things neat and tidy and lovely.
She also points out that “storage experts are hoarders.” Takes one to know one, I guess. That sure resonates with me.
I’m enjoying this trip.
December 26, 2014
So I start the minimizing today. Appropriately, it’s Boxing Day and I’m about to go to U-Haul and buy boxes to pack up my stuff.
I’ve been thinking about nothing else for about a week. GETTING RID OF THINGS. I’m watching every TED talk I can find on the topic. I’m reading Everything That Remains by Joshua Fields Millburn (I'm really enjoying it, by the way). I’m watching Tiny House Nation (which is, counter-intuitively, strangely focused on getting new stuff, new wingy-dingies that spin, hide, expand, contract, but that’s another conversation).
Today I’m feeling like a startled cat; that fear is making me hiss and spit as I get closer to actually going to get the boxes and then, to start filling them.
It’s hard for crafters, isn’t it?
Crafters Have Stuff. Lots of it.
I’m not sure I’m going to be able to do it. I’ve gone through this room so many times before, getting rid of the things I could get rid of. I’ve already been ruthless. The things left in here are what I need to live.
Except that’s not true. I need very few Things. I just WANT all this other stuff, and the thought of it—the look of it—makes me feel heavy, sluggish, and stressed. I’m tired of it.
So I’m going to tell you my plan, and maybe putting it here will remind me how much I really want to do this. Because it would be a lot easier to just stay in bed today, on this day off, and read all day. (The deliciousness of lying in bed reading about minimalism while not moving toward it can't be overstated.)
The place I’m really getting stuck, of course, is on keeping the things I really love, the things that add value to your life. How do you pick between them? I love everything in my office! I do!
I found a great piece of advice on Courtney Carver’s site, on identifying treasures and finally letting go, and I’m using it. In my words:
1. List the things you’d run into a fire to save. (The 911 fire dispatcher in me says, NEVER GO BACK INSIDE, the gasses are what take you down and kill you, not the fire itself, are you CRAZY?!) But let’s think about a metaphorical fire, shall we?
In this metaphorical fire in my metaphorical house, I would save:
These are the only answers that make sense. But say I had twenty extra seconds. What would I risk my own life to save? There aren’t many of them. I only came up with:
Mom’s journals (I love to hear her voice)
My journals (not that I ever, ever reread them, but they’re important to me)
The afghan my capital-K New Zealand grandmother knitted for me
Photos (which are going to be digitized and soon will all be on the cloud—let’s talk about this again soon because I have no idea how to approach this and will do a whole post on it soon - would love your ideas if you have some)
2. Keep the things you use everyday. This, also, presents a problem for me. I know, obviously, what I use a lot. My computer, Post-its, pencils, etc. But what about all those things I think I will use someday? Like the stapler? Good god, I haven’t stapled papers together in twenty years. Why do I stubbornly keep that thing, when I’m actually going entirely paperless? That’s it! The stapler goes! But you see what I mean.
I got a great tip from Millburn's book (above). He uses the 20-20 rule. If you're torn about getting rid of something, and the item can be bought for less than 20 bucks in less than 20 minutes, then toss it. HELLO ALL THOSE LITTLE CORDS. They’re all going. I’ve never EVER had to find one of those, but I couldn't throw them out. Until today.
3. Keep the things you love that bring you great joy. This could be art, or a book, or that plastic elephant you bought in the market in Marrakech right before you danced all night. Note: this means the things that DO bring you great joy. Not that you think COULD or SHOULD bring you great joy if you just got around to using them/looking at them. (Tea towels, anyone? Last night we went to a party and I used one of my favorite tea towels (a 1967 calendar spinning wheel towel!) that had been languishing in my office waiting for inspiration to strike — I wrapped it around the bottle, tied it with yarn, and there you go. It did bring me joy, in fact, to give it away, to a spinner.)
This doesn’t mean keeping the things that you think you should keep, that you think SHOULD make you joyful, but that actually make you uncomfortable when you think of them. Read Getting Rid of Things that Make you Feel Bad. I’d kept old love letters for a long time, thinking I would like reading them when I was old. Know what? Even when I’m 97, I’m still going to feel a little foolish for staying in those relationships for so long. I got rid of the letters years ago and haven’t regretted it once.
This step, though, I think will give me trouble, so I’m going to box everything I can’t immediately say I would ache not to see everyday, things that aren't as important as the Things I Will Keep, like my signed Elizabeth Zimmerman that Janine gave me. That’s something I love seeing every single day. That won't be boxed.
4. Let everything else go. Box it all. Sell it at the garage sale. This will include:
All pattern books (when was the last time I used one? Years and years. Ravelry has solved this. I love that my patterns are kept on their server!)
All yarn that doesn’t have immediate plans for use, excluding favorite handspun and cashmere, of course.
All sewing fabric without immediate plans for use (which is to say all of it)
All jewelry making supplies. Hahhahahahahaha. Remember the time I thought I’d make jewelry?
All half-finished projects. They’re half-finished for a reason. I’m going to keep on the needles one big project (sweater), one pair of socks, and one piece of lace. Everything else goes.
5. When it doubt, box it. Leave for 60 days. If I haven’t been compelled to fish it out, then I’ll donate the boxes, unopened.
Luckily, I just redid Project 333, so I don’t have to worry about clothes. Thank god. (If you haven’t tried that, TRY IT. It’s life-changing.)
So this is the plan. Now I’m going to put on jeans and a favorite T-shirt (because all I have left are my favorite clothes) and go buy boxes. Then I’m going to box. Happy Boxing Day.
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