Decluttering has officially affected every aspect of my life. Even my novel. Recently I’ve culled this beast down to a two-page synopsis, a two-paragraph elevator pitch, and finally a Twitter pitch. Not fun.
I loved writing TIES THAT BIND during National Novel Writing Month. Creating those touching scenes filled with evocative details of time and place was fun. 112K words of fun in fact. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was merely building a stockpile of raw material from which I could (maybe) craft a novel. What I had created was a metaphorical slab of marble. Not a book–yet–just a massive lump of potential.
I should have known this, after all I used to teach a lesson about the writing process, using Play-Doh of all things. Students molded and mashed, pulled and pinched the dough until they knew what it could do. And what it couldn’t. Only then did they try to turn it into something recognizable. And only after it was created could they add details—in this case bits of different colored Play-doh. Details don’t stand alone. Descriptive details do not necessarily make a story, whereas relevant details can.
Of course, now I’m doing the opposite. Removing extraneous bits—decluttering the narrative—to reveal what I hope is the novel hidden inside. Like a sculptor, I’m removing the chunks of cold marble that don’t serve my characters’ story arc.
The heart of my story is in there–I hope–buried beneath this beautiful mess.
Tidying up my physical world only goes so far. Lately, I find my psychic space being cluttered by the simple act of following the news. So I’ve started tidying up my interior landscape by consciously limiting my sources and consumption of current events.
While I’m still appalled at the hate and fear demonstrated by my fellow citizens, I CANNOT remain in a state of agitation and high-alert between elections. My mental and physical health simply can’t afford the stress of getting (and staying) angry at every little (or big) thing our leaders or countrymen say and do. Ignoring the latest atrocious words that one man or his minions have tweeted is a conscious act of resistance and survival on my part.
First, I reject any “news” source that yells at me or allows shouting matches between those espousing opposing arguments. I click away from inflammatory headlines and name-calling–no matter which side they come from. A little NPR (National Public Radio) in the morning while dressing or the few minutes I spend in the car keeps me up to date. Thank you, NPR for not simply focusing on the latest horrible thing. Thank you for providing context, in-depth stories, and interviews with authors, musicians, scientists, and historians. Thank you.
Secondly, but in the same vein, I’ve decluttered my Facebook feed by shutting down my privacy settings. I’ve hidden or unfollowed posts and people (even a relative or two, sorry) who repeatedly spew hate or misinformation. Name-calling by either side also gets ignored or hidden. And I’ve cut WAY back on reacting to or commenting on political posts, since that only feeds the beast. My friends know where my bleeding heart and I stand. Furthermore, I really (really) try not to read the comments section which is inhabited by trolls who have long-forgotten the basic rule of civil discourse–
“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
A confession: I do indulge my dark side once in a while with a little dose of the snarky humor provided by Samantha Bee or Lewis Black. They get righteously angry so I don’t have to. But honestly, their humor (like others on both sides) strives too hard for gotcha moments that make the opposition just look dumb. I am increasingly drawn to Sarah Silverman’s Hulu series, I Love You, America. And I recently discovered a great podcast with Alan Alda in which Sarah talks about the series and explains her efforts to be more empathetic, even on Twitter.
Unlike some people, I really try to be even kinder on the internet than I am in real life. While I certainly vent among my like-minded friends and family, I don’t want to clutter up the universe with more rancor and awfulness. I know minds are not changed by arguments, but hearts can be changed by empathy.
Finally, I try to let go of things over which I have no control. Yes, I still write letters to my deaf Congressman and Senator, but I know my only real power is to change my response to what is going on. So I take deep breaths, listen to music, enjoy walks, practice yoga, or escape into a good book. I smile at strangers. I am generous with compliments and thank-yous. I vote.
And when the news is especially sad, I’ve been known to eat a few Dark Chocolate Peanut M&Ms. Just to take the edge off, you understand.
Here’s hoping for a week in which I don’t have to hit the hard stuff. Or buy a bigger bag.
Australian archivist Hannah Heath has come to Sarajevo to investigate and conserve a priceless text, an illustrated haggadah. The small book relates the story of the exodus from Egypt and is a common part of the ritual at a Passover Seder.
“…The hagaddah came to Sarajevo for a reason. It was here to test us, to see if there were people who could see that what united us was more than what divided us. That to be a human being matters more than to be a Jew or a Muslim, Catholic or Orthodox.”
This particular hagaddah is special because of its detailed illustrations. It has been sought by warring factions and preserved at great risk by individuals over centuries of conflict. But who made this unique book and why? How far has it traveled and by what means? What stories can be told through the analysis of inks, parchment, and butterfly wings? Through stains of blood, wine and salt? The reader is transported to every place and time that the book has traveled. The surprising stories of each person connected to the book–its creation and its rescue over centuries—make for a compelling read.
“A book is more than the sum of its materials. It is an artifact of the human mind and hand.”
Geraldine Brooks’ research of this hagaddah also resulted in a 2007 article in The New Yorker. So yes, this is fiction, but VERY historical fiction. In fact the story of the Jewish girl protected by a Muslim family is true as are other characters Brooks employs to tell this story. There were and are good and heroic people of all faiths, just as there were and are monsters and murderers.
Because the audio-book was available through my library and the book-book was not, I listened to this book. While Brook’s writing alone is rich and evocative, the vivid voices and accents provided by narrator Edwina Wren worked well to place the me in the scenes. Brava!
“I had to remind myself that Islam had once swept north as far as the gates of Vienna; that when the haggadah had been made, the Muslims’ vast empire was the bright light of the Dark Ages, the one place where science and poetry still flourished, where Jews, tortured and killed by Christians, could find a measure of peace.”
Trust me, this is a good, profound book illustrating man’s historic cruelty to and mistrust of anyone perceived as “other.” However, the very survival of the Sarajevo Hagaddah also demonstrates that Christians, Jews, and Muslims have lived and worked together without fear and hate. Indeed, our shared humanity can and must outweigh the ideologies that divide us. Recommend.