Somebody I used to know

(Is that Gotye song stuck in your head now? It’s stuck in mine.)

Now that I have a newborn, I figure it’s the perfect time to take on a massive and long overdue declutter of the house. (Read: It’s not the perfect time.) But I watched that Marie Kondo show on Netflix while rocking a baby to sleep, and, well….

I decided to start with my books. Knowing that this would be difficult (so many old friends!) I wisely chose to begin with my reference books. You know, non-literary non-fiction. Old textbooks. Self-help.

This has been surprisingly difficult. I have not written a computer program in nearly twenty years, but I still have books on algorithms. I have old language learning texts, stuff that predates the invention of Duolingo. I have business books even though it’s been fifteen years since I was in a corporate environment. I have investment books, ones that advocated a ‘set it and forget it’ philosophy, which I have already set and forgot. (That rhyme doesn’t work in past tense.)

I walked away having not touched a single book, and went on to clear out the baby extra clothes. I cried a little over my son’s first pair of sneakers, which are totally worn out and broken, but I was able to thank those red Saucony shoes and let them go. Yet all the books are still on my shelves.

I think it’s because for much of my life, I was trying to figure out who I was, and every time I landed on an identity that sort of half-fit, I’d buy a book or twelve. (Don’t ask me how many writing books I have.) And so my books are a collection of my identities, some of which were a very bad fit.

But it’s hard letting that go. I have some sort of fantasy of people perusing my bookshelves, finding an unlikely book (“Why do you have a math history book?”) and then that sparks a conversation about things I have done, with the end result being that the other person sees that I am not just a writer, I have done other things, and am therefore more intelligent and interesting than they realize.

Writing that down, it reads a bit desperate.

Still, Marie Kondo points out that if we let go of the past, we make room for the future, and somehow it makes me wonder, have I made enough room in my life to write?

Perhaps that something of an easy answer as to why (even though I currently have very legitimate reasons) my writing has been in fits and starts over the years. But I wonder. Have I hung on to too many ill-fitting ideas about what I should write or what I should love?

Did I buy a ton of books that I will never read because I believe the kind of writer I ought to be ought to read those books?

Have I lost touch with the writer that I am, and what I love to read?

I don’t know. Part of the reason for this declutter is to make space in our extremely cluttered third floor for me to have a place to sit and read and write again. My writing desk has been shifted from kid’s room to kid’s room, and has most often been covered by assorted books and papers that never had a home, and is now currently stashed amid further clutter.

If I don’t make space, I’ll never have room. And that means thanking my former identities and letting them go.

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I can’t possibly be expected to write

In February, I decided my novel was dead. In March, my father suddenly died. In July, I gave birth.

Needless to say, I haven’t written much. In fact, given the struggles with my novel, I haven’t written anything in nearly a year.

I tried. In the beginning, I set deadlines. I made pacts. I kept fizzling out. Then, I was pregnant and was too focused on both staying awake and also not vomiting to write. Then dad died and my focus went towards that. Then came the end of pregnancy and most of my attention was swallowed up by how fucking uncomfortable I was.

I’m now in the sleepy land of newborns and toddlers. When I have time–which is to say, during the hours I spend trapped under a baby–I have Netflix.

There’s something good about not writing because you couldn’t possibly be expected to write, rather than not writing even though you have every opportunity to do so but still don’t, even if you weren’t writing when you had the opportunity anyway. It’s freeing to drop the expectation.

I’ve started thinking about my novel again. Sometime around May, in the midst of all the Game of Thrones critiques about exactly why the final season sucked so much, an idea clicked. It was the same idea I had for my unfinished revision, but I was simply thinking about it differently. It all made sense. Everything was going to work.

I still haven’t written. I still think I can’t possibly be expected to write. Not yet.

Right before my dad died, but after I’d given up on my novel, I had a bunch of writing-adjacent opportunities open up. People were getting in touch with me to talk about writing. I had a few paid readings come up. Some work I was particularly proud of came out in print. It felt like a sign. You’re still a writer, even without this novel.

I still want the novel to be a real live novel. I don’t know if when the day comes there is enough space in my tired brain to write it, that I will still want to write this particular novel. Part of me feels that I am now a better writer than this novel warrants, but perhaps not yet a better novelist. Part of me thinks I need to test that theory by like, you know, actually writing.

I still don’t think I can possibly be expected to write.

Not yet.