Tag Archive: clutter

Reschooling Tool #20: Ritual Bonfire

I’ve decided that there’s no better way to say goodbye to your past than to commit it to the flames. Ancient cultures like the Celts used bonfires for purification and consecration, and it turns out that knew what they were doing.¬†Tonight I had my first ritual bonfire, and I feel an unexpectedly strong sense of closure.

My sister, Gill, and I are both visiting our parents this week and made a pact to clear the clutter from our childhood bedrooms. Items like clothing and even books weren’t so hard to sort through, but it was the paper clutter that was more challenging to deal with. We each had boxes or drawers full of handwritten notes, term papers, and report cards. Going through these one by one would be time consuming and would bring up old emotions, so we had put off doing it for years. Now was the time.

Late in the evening, Gill and I emerged from our bedrooms with armfuls of papers and stacked them on the living room floor. Gill took a pile of her folded-up junior high notes from friends, skimmed a couple of them, and placed them inside our long-neglected family fireplace. She then struck a match and dropped it on top of the carefully folded pieces of binder paper, watching the paper ignite. The orange flames licked the corners of the pages and curled up the edges. They began to crumble into black ash.

“Ahh, that felt good,” she said. “Your turn.”

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Reschooling Tool #19: Touch the Past and Let it Go

I spent last evening sitting on the living room floor of my childhood home, letting go of hundreds of pages of old letters. This is something that I never thought I could do.

For most of my life, I have been exceptionally sentimental. I suppose it comes with the writer’s temperament, because you’re always collecting experiences to capture in words. And once you write about them, there they stay, preserved forever. Romanticizing and immortalizing the past makes it harder to let go.

Darren‘s mom, Jill, pointed out to me that Catholics may be especially likely to hang onto physical representations of the past. Much of the Catholic ritual centers on sacred objects: the Communion wafer, the priest’s vestments, or relics from the Holy Land. Unlike the Buddhists, whose monks may travel around with only a robe and rice bowl, Catholics bundle up much of their meaning in things. Do the math: Cradle Catholic + romantic writer = memory packrat.

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Five Things to Do Every Day

Today I had a breakthrough. I ended up doing many of the things that I want to incorporate into every day.

1. Catch up with friends.

Weeks ago, I’d logged out of Google Talk instant messaging, so I could focus on my writing without chat windows popping up every few minutes. Unfortunately, this also coincided with my moving back to Sonoma and unknowingly waving goodbye to my social life, so I was left without even an e-friend to call my own. (This is where the world’s tiniest violin begins to play just for me.)

Today I signed back into chat and caught up with several people. Ahh, Google, organizing the world’s information AND making me feel loved? You anticipate my every need.

In the past few days, I’ve also spent time with a few real humans. Until now, I’d been relieved to have a break from my social calendar, but not watching Friday’s debate with friends put an end to my life as a hermit. I decided that it was time to hang out with people who have never seen Hannah Montana or High School Musical, and I called ‘em up.

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Plugging In

plugged inI refer to the years from 2005 to 2008 as my “dead zone.” Prior to 2004, I had subscribed to the daily San Francisco Chronicle and the Sunday New York Times, watched a couple of films each week, kept up with the latest TV shows, and read celebrity gossip magazines as a guilty pleasure. In 2004, when I began the process of starting a nonprofit organization, my contact with the world outside my immediate circles began to dwindle. In 2005, the year Spark started running programs, communications ceased altogether. The program launch coincided with my moving to an apartment with no cable and no newspaper. I think I watched just a handful of movies that year and read an article or two online. I just got out of the habit of keeping current and didn’t have much time to spare.

Things only worsened as Spark began to grow. My brain grew so full of work-related logistics — student histories, school site details, strategic plans — that when presented with even the most innocuous information, it freaked out. My brain didn’t want to hear about the general election in the UK or protests in Uzbekistan. When it also ignored the Ethan Hawke-Uma Thurman breakup and the birth of Britney Spears’ first baby, I should have had reason for concern. But I just chose to stick my head further into the sand. When people would ask if I’d heard about a current event, I shrugged and said, “I haven’t been following the news lately.”
brain
“Lately” grew into “during the last few months,” which somehow grew into “for the last three years.” Now, in July 2008, a month after leaving Spark, I’m finally beginning to make room for new information. I’ve slowly let go of most of my responsibilities and even my work laptop. I now actually have the mental bandwidth to hear a new song on the radio instead of listening to the same CD on loop for the 50th time (I’m not joking), and I can glance through the news headlines without my mind shutting down. It’s as if my brain were a computer hard drive previously at maximum capacity. Self-centered as it may have been, I just didn’t have the mental energy to care about anything outside the people and events in my immediate experience. Once I started purging old and outdated information, however, there was suddenly space for the new.

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