Tuesday, November 17, 2009

ORGANIZE my thoughts? Have you gone mental?

OK, so here's the deal. I've been bursting at the seams to write lately, but when I seriously focus my mental energy on it, nothing appears in my mind's eye. There are no topics floating around in my pool of ideas. My pool has been drained, there are dead leaves and branches, little by little, filling the dry cracked concrete. My pool wishes for summer and to be filled with refreshing, cool water - a breeding ground and welcoming place for ideas.

See, just like that... what is that? "My pool?" That's rubbish, or is it? I could work with that, write a metaphorical piece about writer's block, etc. Yeah, right.

It's weird, but the thing occupying most of my mind recently has been my hefty research paper and organizing my stuff. Probably because that's what I've been doing. Researching, writing and organizing. So I guess it's not that weird. The thing that spurred me to organize my stuff, I think, (besides my mom's sweet, persistent nagging) is the fact that the contents of my mind are so cluttered. Maybe it's easier for me to approach the file-drawer-turned-upside-down that is my brain when I'm sitting in a clean room that smells of glade scented candles, where everything is neatly folded and put in the right drawer. Dressy shoes have to be in the shoetree, boots on the left side of the closet, flip-flops on the right, please. The third drawer down is for t-shirts only, Ellie, please don't mix them up again. (Ellie complies because she knows this, organized phase, too shall pass.) Don't get me wrong, I can live with clutter. The unorganized accumulation of too much stuff is a well-practiced hobby of mine. When every faculty of mine encounters clutter, though, my mind says, eh, uh, no. Clean at least one of these things up, or I will go crazy. So my mind is happy to focus on cleaning out my dresser, closet, boxes and bags of stuff for a day or two. I'm content to ponder how many different ways my furniture can be arranged, letting my entire consciousness be taken up by deciding if putting the bookshelf next to the bed is the most efficient use of space. It's good and productive on one hand, and an escape of sorts on the other hand. I'd rather have mental clutter than physical, though, especially in regard to my writing. When someone says, "I just need to organize my thoughts," I think, "What? Uh... organize your...? Um, do people, can people really...? Is that even possible? Organize your thoughts? Are you crazy?" A book I just began reading, entitled, "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott addresses this issue in regard to perfectionism in writing, which I equate to complete and total organization of the mind. She says, "Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and your [really terrible] first draft. [...] Perfectionism will ruin your writing, blocking inventiveness and playfulness and life force. [...] Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground - you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip. Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it's going to get. Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation, while writing needs to breathe and move."
Maybe that's why I wait so long to organize my stuff, because I'm a perfectionist. If I can't do it right, I won't do it at all, just like I feel sometimes with writing.

Bottom line, I'm glad my room is clean right now, but there's no way it's going to stay that way. I will let it get to a point where I will once again have to choose one area of my life to be sorted, and my stuff is the easiest to get a grip on, so that's what usually ends up being cyclically organized. In regard to writing, I know I write better when I write first, organize later. Hopefully I can always remember that and just plunge into the mess.

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