Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Time, Dirt and Money

by Elizabeth

I first read Olive Ann Burns' Cold Sassy Tree about a dozen years ago, and liked it well enough to dig a bit deeper (or maybe it was just end notes) into the history of the book. Turns out Burns' originally titled it Time, Dirt, and Money. Apparently she, or a character, anyway someone, once said those were the only three things married couples fight about. Just those; all arguments boil down to that. (Burns was a product of the twentieth century, so a potential fourth, which will go unmentioned here as well, surely wasn't up for discussion until around the Summer of Love. Ahem.)

And in the way of The Department of Too Much Information, I'll offer up this: My husband and I don't fight about money. Not ever. Can't think of a single argument we've had about his spending too much--and anyone who knows me for longer than about five minutes will tell you he certainly wouldn't complain about my spending too much. But time and dirt? We've had our scuffles.

I'm thinking about time and dirt today, and without being out of sorts with said spouse. A new-to-us couch is due for delivery tomorrow, and I've been shuffling through tubs of toys and stuff that clutter up the room it's headed for, one eye on the clock for carpool hour. The other eye keeps glancing at the thick sheaf of my WIP, printed this morning to go through today. The plan is to read, reorganize, and write notes on holes to fill, scenes to write to finish up the first draft. So far the printer alone has done any work. In the playroom, I've sorted through a tub of stuffed animals, cleared out some papers, thrown out some broken or never played with toys, and contemplated with bafflement some odds and ends that surely go with...something.

Clutter is my nemesis. I often wonder if the clutter all went away, if new productivity would result. It might be no accident that I write best away from my house. I realize, too, it's just a matter of taking the time to clear through it--well, that and finding the will. I've made great strides in the past year. One long weekend a broken-hearted friend even flew in to help me. Together we sorted through my junk and her heart and found more clarity by the end of the third day. But just as it took longer than that to mend her heart, a few days was not enough to clear out the years of detritus that jam the corners of my house.

But here's the funny thing: All that stuff I was hanging on to because I'd had it forever or someone gave it to me, all the piles of things I kept because I might one day need them--once they were gone, I didn't miss them. At all. None of it. Couldn't tell you what it was, what it meant, why I had it. Out of sight, out of mind. Cliches are cliches for a reason.

Still, it takes time. That weekend was just a start. The sofa is headed for just one room; the kids' bedrooms have too-small clothes and unused toys and books with too few words on a page. Once it is gone, I know it will be forgotten. But getting it gone is a challenge.

Early drafts are like that, too: cluttered. Paragraphs and pages that don't contribute to the story or characters, sentences we labored over and love which might need to go. Words that, once deleted, can and will be forgotten--but the culling is heartbreaking and difficult. Literary clutter, requiring time. But like clearing out the clutter of a house, piece by needless piece, it finally makes for a cleaner and more comfortable place to rest.

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