Object Lessons: Rantings of a Lone Pamphleteer
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My Sister's Organizational Hints

This is my sister's e-mail reply to my Mission Impossible blog. Maybe I should start a comments field, like Jon. Probably not.

She makes me laugh... usually at myself. With her permission....


Just looked at your Blog... You have way too much time on your hands!!!!

When you have time to clean your house and tell the world in excruciating detail the manner in which you organized your garbage bags, it's time for you to breed. I mean, spit out some offspring... That'll cure ya.

HOLY COW!!! Listen up chickadee, you have to spend a few nites over a sick child, go through 7th grade homework again, make Dr. appts and pick up another kid within one hour across town without getting busted by the fuzz, prepare a meal (several for picky eaters), bathe and tuck in the offspring… while making sure that you don't lose the bid on e-bay, doing laundry, and unloading a dishwasher, then make it to bed in time to get up in a cheery, non-evil manner in an effort to do it all again, only faster the next day because you have multiple appointments....

I spared you the first two-thirds of my day. Geez, Ruiz... either get out more or.... no, just get our more. You need material.

And, hey, that raises a question: you mentioned "stuff for NC… “What the hell is coming out of your closets to my non-existant ones?!” Come clean or I'll meet you at the border. And don't even think about it unless it includes that painting that I've coveted for years. You could get it copied by a starving artist and surprise my for my 15th wedding anniversary. I will need such a present. Not just a hint, dear, it's a COMMAND... AH-hahahahahahahha.... [swoops cape and wafts away].

Sorry, just another little manic, weird-happies moment brought to you by our sponsor, “exhaustion”

kissies -- Mia

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New Week

Jon got home Sunday, really Monday morning. Chel noted that I'm "different" when he's not around, "dimmer" somehow. I know I shifted gears into solitude last week, staying home (a non-working auto helped) and writing. Now that he's back... I'm still writing.

Obsessed is what I am. I've pulled all my thesis poems for substantive rewrites. Last week, I got 7 poems to a state where they're either finished, or ready to show to my writing partner. Might not sound like much, but a poem a day represents about 28 hours' work.

Having a writing partner is not a new idea, but it's a good one. Think Keats, Shelley and Byron. Or screenwriters, who often work in pairs. Some of the benefits are feedback from someone whose skills you trust, once-weekly deadlines to spur you into action. It's been a real blessing to have Sarah as a writing partner. We read published poets and share our insights and perspectives, share information on publishing, buddy-up for readings, and share letter templates or matrices of publishing houses.

Working with Sarah was a natural choice -- we have similar backgrounds (MFA UMCP, her Army Brat status matches up nicely with my businessman-child travels), and respect each other's skills. I'm looking forward to meeting with her once I get my car fixed.

Yes, there's something else wrong with my car. Probably a strut.

I think I prefer the escapism of writing.

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Mission Impossible

This week I've been writing, cleaning, and watching TV, mainly Deep Space 9 and Mission Organization. The latter is inspiring, ladies (and gents -- you could benefit too, you know).

I'm not naturally organized. Stan Plumly once noted I "give the impression of organization without actually being organized." My kindergarten teacher made a similar comment on my permanent record.

"Mission Organization" follows a comfortingly predictable pattern, beginning with a client with one room so messy, I feel much better about my home until I remember our basement. The show varies from a major reorganization of a well-decorated, out-of control room, to complete overhauls. The show encourages me to handle just one room at a time, clearing corner-to-corner. Their plan is usually:

Throw out trash (after widening your definition of trash)
Collect misplaced items for removal to their proper room
Create ergonomic, logical workspaces, and group items together.
(MO likes baking areas, for example, or bill-paying desks)
Buy bins, drawer sorters, dressers, a system for your needs
Reorganize, keeping work areas clear

My favorite episode so far: A daughter hires a pro organizer who, it turns out, is her 65-year-old mother. Yikes that was a scary show. The daughter bit her lip a lot. Imagine your mom going through all your stuff and telling you how to organize your life? They did well, actually. The mother just kept repeating "You'll be so happy when it's done." and "see, here, you need to just get rid of this."

Standard Operating Procedures...

I labeled bags for everything from Magazines for recycling to donation Books; Upstairs, Downstairs, North Carolina, wherever it's going. And a laundry basket for stuff that’s in the wrong room. Once set up, it's easy to go throw everything that doesn't belong into the basket, straighten, clean, and reorganize from the drawers and shelves out. Then I unload the collection basket.

I’ve finished three major rooms. I've also reorganized our unbelievable mess of books, two-deep on the shelves. I’ve cleaned, sorted, and managed my To Do list.

It "tickles" Chel that I'm maniacal about my lists. Lists are reliable management tools. I keep a detailed To Do list on my laptop (which I download to my ZIre 21) digital 'cause I'm a nerd. It’s comforting knowing what’s on my radar.

The danger is that it's easy to confuse planning the work with doing the work, a classic procrastinator tactic. Still, it's effective to devote a few minutes three or four times a day to review and plan.

My other procrastinator tactic is losing track of time. Solution: Timers. I have two. The downstairs one’s cheap, no clock. The kitchen model has three timers and a clock. I set it for a bearable amount of time. Kitchen clean up? 30 minutes. Heavy cleaning of a big, messy room? 1 hour. I never schedule more than one hour for cleaning. When my timer beeps, I finish what I'm doing, pick up the crap that's leaving with me. This week I've taken breaks at the beeps, restarting the timer as often as it takes to finish the room.

It seems impossible, but I think I may actually make it pretty far down my list this week. I have to.

After all, I’ve chosen to accept the mission.

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Writers Here & Now

A week ago, Sunny and I were antiquing with Sarah in Frederick. So many beautiful things to collect. I remarked to Sunny that I always wanted to start some kind of collection, but had never hit on the exact right thing for me to collect. That day, I was toying with the idea of collecting perfume bottles. We saw a lovely one, dark green, Depression-era or earlier, with a silver filigree base. Truly collectible.

It was only later in the week, as I tried to find a home for the books I'd bought at Bread Loaf that I realized I have been collecting since Wake.

I collect signed (preferably first edition) books by literary writers. Now, most of these writers are not what you might call popularly known nationwide, but many have been Poets Laureate in various states, and are well-respected literary writers. Note that the Writer's Market groups "Literary" with "Little."

I have signed books by Gerald Stern, Carlos Fuentes, Kate Daniels, Deborah Pope, Michael Chitwood, Linda Gregg, Michael Collier, Alan Shapiro, Ron Carlson, Jay Parini, Michael Lowenthal, and backward to the first signed book I remember. Cousin Pam gave it to me, years ago. I have no idea where that book is, but I remember it was signed; the title escapes me. Hermana Mia got one too. Something about a cross...

I added to my collection last night at the Galway Kinnell reading, this year's kick-off for the Writer's Here & Now series at UMCP. Kinnell, State Poet of Vermont, read from his most recent collected works (such as Blackberry Eating), and read some new, as-yet unanthologized pieces.

An austere and charming elder gentleman, Kinnell was sometimes difficult to hear. He had trouble hearing himself. But I spoke up (extrovert!), and introduced myself as a graduate of the program, and expressing interest in
"Insomniac," which captivated me; it was published in the New Yorker last March, the author told me as he signed my copy with a pen dipped in an inkwell.

I plan to skim it over what is sure to be a lonely week. Hubby's traveling, best friend and writing partner is visiting a friend. It should be a good week to read. Books are such good company.

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The Writer Interviews Herself:

What's been up lately?

Let's see, got the settlement on my car's wreck. I'm keeping the car, and still have to get it fixed. My cold has slowed me down.


I've finally recovered from my cold, with the help of Biaxin and Albuterol. The inhaler was an interesting experience. I understand now, a little how it is to be asthmatic; you have to carry your inhaler everywhere, or have limited breath. When I was singing as a kid, I learned how to inhale deeply, "with the diaphram" as Mrs. Brenda told us. I seriously felt the lack of oxygen.

As Jon says, it's all material. Maybe one of the characters in my novel will be asthmatic.

Yes, novel. My little novela is growing up.

It's maturity is one of the side effects of meeting with successful writers and editors-at-large at Bread Loaf. Everyone said, "Novellas don't sell." and "Present tense sounds like young-adult fiction." So, my present-tense novella/story collection is now a past-tense novel with 16 chapters.

I've also spent a lot of time on the couch, working on my poetry chapbook. FYI, that's a "small book or pamphlet containing poems, ballads, stories, or religious tracts." The fall contests are coming up, and I'd like to shoot for the brass ring.

Getting back to the writing, the work, is ... fun. There's no other word. It's the only activity I can sustain; it's the only one I keep coming back to. All because it's fun to me.

But putting your little epistles out there is akin to sending your child to school for the first day. (I feel your pain, Chel.) At least, that's the closest I've gotten to the feeling, yet. Imagine, if you will, sending your kid to school with the possibility of having her returned to you, a pre-printed note pinned to her saying only that she's been rejected, rarely with a reason why. Occasionally, she will return with a tantilizing, hand-written addition explaining (in 10 words or less) how she might be improved to try again.

Still, you have to keep sending your kids to school, rejection or no. So you keep plugging away, sending out your little poems to markets, reviews, and online pubs, hurting a little each time they come back, unpublished and unsung.

So why write?

Well, writing is its own reward, but it's no fun writing in a vacuum. Writers ultimately believe they tell a good/meaningful/worthy story, and want it to be heard. It's hubris, really, to think people might enjoy hearing what we have to say. (Introvert and extrovert writers alike want to be heard, an interesting bridge between extremes.) For me, the answer to the question why try to publish is academic: "Why not?"

The lifestyle appeals to me, and it's the only thing I'm really trained for.

Now that I've devoted some time to writing, I want to devote more. I even took my work to my first 'Skins game Friday. I just couldn't leave it at home. Not that I actually had time to work on it. Can't read well in the car; hermana mia knows why. I just couldn't let go of it.

And that's a good thing?

Absolutely. My attachment to it is exactly what sustains my determination to keep at it. Somehow, though, life keeps creeping in.


Now that I've no reason to "apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair," i.e., my cold, I've got to get back to the housework piling up around me. Not to mention the work on the house.

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