If it’s fixed, should you break it? Revision and the magic wardrobe

Printed papers cut in all different sizes and laid out in order on a colorful carpet. With a box of chocolate cookies for motivation.
Cutting apart a manuscript to find the story. © Laurel Decher, 2016.

A writing and interior design metaphor. My life unintentionally provided me with another writing metaphor this weekend.

We moved to Germany three years ago and kind relatives gave us two huge cupboards to hold our camping, photography, coats, linens and suitcases.

Closets are rare in Germany so wardrobes without magical countries are the norm. The cupboards helped us a lot but didn’t exactly fit in the space we had for them so when our family heard that a refugee family needed them, we decided to give them up.

Breaking up is hard to do. We now have ‘broken” the system we had for storing everything and it causes the usual sorts of “Why can’t I find my lens cap?” sort of pain that you get whenever you move into a new place. I’ve been missing my pocket compass for a couple of years.

So, was that dumb?

The new vision. Maybe. I hope we find a new way to put things together so we can use them and make our apartment more hospitable. I have a vision of everything put neatly away in some brilliant solution à la Apartment Therapy. Or of more joy in our daily life as promised in THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING UP.

When it’s worth it. I may never create the order I hope for, but a fresh attempt usually makes the apartment feel more like home.

Revision. The thing is, I get this same question from my internal editor whenever I’m re-working a piece of fiction. My internal editor can’t see my vision. “You’re going to make it worse.”

When it’s worth it. But attempting a revision of my novel is worthwhile if I can make its heart shine through.

Forgotten treasures. When I rearrange a story and cut it into new pieces, it helps clear out the underbrush. After we emptied our cupboards, my sister-in-law found my compass clipped on a bag I planned to give away. I’m famous for getting lost and I’ve really missed it.

It’s so nice to get a sense of direction. Re-seeing what’s in front of you can help, both in writing and in re-organizing a home.

How about you? Do you have rules of thumb for when it’s worth making a mess? What’s the tipping point for you? Have you waited too long to “break” something? I’d love to know how this works for other people.

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The Power of the Silver Pen: Journals, Photos, and Collections Help Order Our Lives

Stacks of journals with dates on bound edge

Marie Kondo’s THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING UP explores the benefits of de-cluttering at a level I can’t attain but it reminds me that things help us find out who we are. The things I like and don’t like, need and don’t need, are like mirrors that reflect information back to me and help me plot a course for the future.

Yesterday, I was inspired into action by three different work surface danger zones (and maybe by a bit of NaNoWriMo-related procrastination).

A pile of St. Nicholas’ Day surprises and Frankfurt Book Fair papers cluttered one. The others were the usual tangle of electronics, a confused mix of health insurance papers, coupons, “good” Bible verses, book and restaurant recommendations, and notes for current writing projects.

I didn’t expect to descend into the 10-year-old child, re-organize-the-desk-drawers level. When my children were that age, they each got to sort binder clips, markers, and other desk-y things scientist Grandmas keep, to create great organizational beauty.

In the course of swapping epidemiology books from the near bookcase for writing books from the far bookcase, I came across my collection of filled journals. I usually have a pocket-sized one with me and a book-sized one for writing that needs more elbow room, which means I always have more than one journal going at a time.

When I moved to Germany three years ago, life was so disrupted I wrote in whatever was handy. To normal people, this wouldn’t be a problem, but it made me feel lost. After a pocket journal is filled, it looks just like any other pocket journal, so if I needed to know something later about this time of upheaval, I wouldn’t be able to find it.

Since my inner child was in charge, a silver pen was just the sort of bullet I wanted to re-store the chaos of my pocket journals. I printed the date range on each one. The dates overlapped in all kinds of messy ways, just as I knew they would, but the shiny months and years captured them for me.

My journals had sections for my children’s funny quotes. I showed them to my youngest who chortled over the wisdom of 4-year-olds. That inspired the resident photographer to sort slides and we ended the evening with a home slide show.

We are grateful for our life here and we also still grieve for the life we left behind. According to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

Photos and journals help us process our grief, make time for gratitude, and give us courage to move forward. They help us re-visit the beloved people and places we left behind.

For us, the change was voluntary, but violence and hardship have forced refugees fleeing to Germany to a much greater upheaval. I don’t know how they will process their traumatic losses or if silver markers will offer any comfort, but I wish them healing for mind, body and soul. For us, I hope we will be able to offer help when called upon.

Have you tried organizing your own personal space recently? What unexpected dividends came to light?

Are you more of a journal person or a photo person? What medium helps you to re-group?