Surviving the KonMari Method

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It all started when my husband and I watched the first episode of the new Netflix series: Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. I realize now that this might not have been the brightest idea, seeing as how I am susceptible to absorbing too much of what I watch (which is why I avoid scary movies and programs).

Then we made the even more egregious error of watching a couple additional episodes: more cluttered closets, more mounds of clothes on the bed, all that Tupperware and those stacks of books, and oh those Christmas decorations—a whole room full! And, eek, so many boxes in the corners of rooms and in the garage. Who uses their garage anymore for cars? Not these people. The garage has become a storage unit, plain and simple. I watched families bicker and throw their hands in the air and blame but also find understanding and peace as they swam through their ocean of junk together.

Finally, it was one episode too many, and I couldn’t stand it anymore. You watch enough of these and every little pile in your home starts to glare at you when you pass by. Okay, I thought, I will just start with clothes, as Marie Kondo advises. The idea is that you progress from the categories of things that are easiest to sort to the ones that are hardest. I have been needing to clean out the closet and dresser anyway, how hard can that be? Well….

I wanted to be the good student, the way I always was when I was actually in school, so I tried to abide by Marie’s strict rules: Take all the clothes from everywhere in the house! Yes, ALL of them! And pile them up in one place! Now!

Except I couldn’t make myself lump in all of the carefully ironed hanging clothes with everything else. Was Marie going to come over and iron my clothes for me when this was over? I don’t think so. I decided to make a secret pact with Marie: I’ll pile everything except the hanging clothes in phase one, but I pinky swear I will do all the hanging clothes in phase two.

Thus, it began. The clothes pile, I realized as it grew and grew like a bad pimple, was meant to horrify. Mission accomplished. I felt overwhelmed by it, to the point where I tried to find anything else I could do to avoid working on the pile. Does someone need something at the store? I can do that! Isn’t it about time for that walk? I think it is. And didn’t you say that someone needed to count the number of staples we have left for the staplers? You didn’t? Well, I’ll do it anyway. 

That’s right. I avoided. But eventually, because I wanted to actually inhabit that room again, I returned to the scene of the crime. I picked up each item one by one, as instructed, and considered it. I sorted and hemmed and hawed, and I gave away and I put back, folded correctly unlike how I have been folding all the decades of my life. Who knew my parents had incorrectly taught me how to fold? This could have saved me years of therapy. 

Because I had pulled everything out at first, it allowed me to change where I put things away (I’m guessing that’s the point, too), to rearrange my system. This of course means that now I have no idea where to find anything anymore, but I’m not sure Marie cares about that.

I’m not telling Marie about some of my cheats: I forgot to say thank you to every piece of clothing I gave away. I didn’t always use Marie Kondo’s “Does it spark joy?” measure (I mean, do my athletic socks spark joy? Not exactly, but they sure come in handy every day). I did, however, give away the clothes that did spark joy but no longer fit me. I think Marie would give me two gold stars for that, as long as I agreed to put them in a little box and label them properly.

And I did do phase 2, just as I promised.

As overwhelmed as I felt at the start, I feel equally satisfied with the result. This surprised me. I also understood, only after the clothes part was over, that perhaps Marie Kondo has you start with clothes because somehow that magically kicks you into gear for the next four categories of things: books, papers, komono (bathrooms, kitchen, garage, miscellanous items) and sentimental items.

The books are done, and I’ve skipped papers for now (as a writer, this might be the hardest of categories for me), but the bathrooms are sorted, and the kitchen is in full war zone mode. (On the bright side, however, I did discover the freezer still has a bottom. I thought that had disappeared years ago, but I guess it’s because I hadn’t seen it since the Dark Ages.)

See the little lotus picture I used for this post? That’s gonna be me eventually, right? Peace and harmony and all that stuff. Right??? At this moment, my peace is buried under a can of food that expired in 2011.  

Now if I could just find the key to the house. I know I put it somewhere.

The Light to Move You Forward

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I’ve been trying to get back into running ever since Thanksgiving, and for the most part, I’ve succeeded. My pace is slow, and sometimes I don’t run more than a couple of miles, but my heart is getting its workout, and I always feel better after pushing myself to go a little faster.

I’m determined, like so many other people that I know it’s a cliché, to focus on my health this coming year. So before I could talk myself out of it, this morning I went for a run. I wanted music to accompany me, so I put on a song mix of some old favorites, and I went down memory lane: “Cowboy Take Me Away,” which reminded me of a man who broke up with me a few days after Thanksgiving and who I wished back so hard I cried for days and then weeks and then months until he finally showed up on my stoop one summer morning and asked if we could try again; “Halfway to Heaven” which reminded me of living in Oxford, Ohio and of nighttime in my little sad apartment and of wanting my life to be different and thinking for far too long that someone might make it different instead of finally realizing it was up to me to make the change; and “Iowa,” which reminded me of living in Chapel Hill and packing into a car full of friends and driving to Winston-Salem on Tuesday nights to go contra dancing, an act that saved me countless times from loneliness and heartache.

I’m glad to be where I am now, and I’m so grateful for all the lessons I learned along the way to get me here, and for the people who taught me, who helped me, who shuttled me from one point to the next. I have two friends right now who have been going through a particularly dark time, and I think of them both every day and hope that they are finding the steady light they need to lead them out. 

And to all of you, my readers, my subscribers: May you find happiness and peace in the coming days and year, may you push yourself in whatever ways your life is asking you to, may you be there for the people you love, and may you always find the unwavering light you need to move you forward.

A Small Press, Some Big Dreams, and a Dash of Courage

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This is really a story of two stories. I’ll start with the first:

A while back, my father and I sat down so he could hand over to me (and Sam Eckenrode) the small press he established years ago, Cimarron Books. This had been his baby for what felt like eons to me, and he had tended to it for countless hours over weeks and months and much, much longer, ensuring he did everything right to make it succeed. Eventually, he gave me a bunch of manila folders and papers and a thumb drive with all the most important computer docs: the ISBNs, various colored and black-and-white logos, registrations and files and records, and it was a big kind of gift, the kind that feels both delicate and heavy in your hands, the kind you know you must handle carefully.

I knew I had a lot to learn. I wanted the first book I published as editor of Cimarron Books to be my own book, so I could learn how to be an editor and learn what it takes without possibly botching someone else’s manuscript and dream. I can see now that I had no idea how challenging it would be.

But what book of mine? I had no idea. I figured the answer would become clear in time.

The second story:

Last spring, I wrote the first draft of a very short manuscript that defied any category I knew. I called it: 36 Things You Don’t Know When You Are Sixteen. It was one of those rare pieces of writing that feels like it falls onto the page, as if it didn’t really come from me but more through me, as if I had no choice but to write it.

I worked on it over weeks and months, still unable to say exactly what genre it was. What if this became the book I published?, I wondered, but because it didn’t fit neatly somewhere, I didn’t know whether to really do it.

Still, I worked on it. I took out some things from the 36-item list; I added others; I rearranged the order, trying to determine what made most sense, what order would convey an arc of sorts. In other words, over months, I did the more tedious and meticulous work (that I happen to love) of making my little manuscript all hold together. I changed the title over and over until it finally felt right as 52 Things I Wish I Could Have Told Myself When I Was 17

And then I played the what if game. What if I chose to publish this book? What would people think? What if they didn’t like my mini-book, or didn’t understand it? Fear made me pause. 

But since I was playing the what if game, I fooled around with online design tools and tried to make a decent cover for the book, just in case. I also tried—quite unsuccessfully, I might add—to do the formatting. I had not anticipated how hard any of it would be—both technically and design-wise—to lay out a book. It seemed that with every page and every nut and bolt I needed to use to get a book built, there was a new set of decisions I had to make, and I didn’t have most of the answers. Still, I wasn’t committed, so what did it matter?

Then, one day, not so long ago, the latest issue of the Writer’s Chronicle came in the mail, and in it was an article by the writer George Saunders. He talked about deciding, after many years of trying to emulate other writers’ voices (he called this “plodding up Hemingway Mountain” and later “Carver Mountain, Chekhov Mountain, Babel Mountain”) before finally giving up and writing his own way, a way which didn’t seem like anyone else’s. He wrote, “I looked over and there was this little. . . . shit hill. . . . And I thought: ‘Well, o.k.—it’s a shit hill, but at least it’s my shit hill.’” His words made me think about how what I wrote didn’t look like what I typically saw out there, but it was what I had wanted to write—felt moved to write—exactly as it was. It was my own voice, and it was own little manuscript, and on that day, I decided I wasn’t going to let fear hold me back.

And so on that day, I decided to commit to publishing 52 Things I Wish I Could Have Told Myself When I Was 17 under Cimarron Books. With that commitment came the easy decision that if I was going to really do this, I needed to, as they say in the South, “hire it done,” meaning I had better hire a fabulous designer. I did just that: Peter Barnfather took my idea and my pitiful little book-cover rendering and transformed it into something else, something I love. He did the layout and all the formatting, and I trusted his expertise to figure out all those design decisions that had stumped me. I’ve faced other bumps on the road to birthing this little book, ones I won’t go into here, but I wanted to learn about the publishing industry, and I definitely am—the hard way but also a great way. 

52 Things I Wish I Could Have Told Myself When I Was 17, the first Cimarron Books under my editorship, comes out today in paperback and on Kindle and other ebook formats.

My official book launch event is The Book Cougars podcast (!!!), which you can listen to here.

If you read The Going and Goodbye, this book is not that kind of book. This book is what I am calling a little gift book meant to inspire at any age. Here’s the book’s description:

If you’ve ever wanted to go back in time and talk to your younger self—to give advice, to say what you wish you had known then that you know now, to promise that even when it gets bad, it will get better—then this book is for you. If you are still young enough that most of life’s lessons stretch ahead in front of you, then save yourself a heap of trouble and read what’s on these pages. 

I wanted to be proud of the first book I published for Cimarron Books. I wanted my father to be proud. 

I am. Let’s hope he is.


To learn more about 52 Things, click here

Book launch event: The Book Cougars podcast

The George Saunders’ excerpt is from The Writer’s Chronicle, September 2018, page 42.