In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron advises, “Mend something,” or “Unclutter,” and “Re-organize a drawer, a closet, a day planner.” If you follow this, you’ll find your keys, your purse, your sunglasses. You’ll also discover rhythm and momentum in your writing. See, the way we live correlates to the way we write. One popular empowerment tool I’ve used for over two decades is the Life Wheel. This offers a visual, showcasing how categories in life overlap one another. For example, when you focus on improving your financial health, you’ll notice progress in other areas such as a reduction in stress, which improves your mental health. And if you’re less stressed, you’re most likely more relaxed and more fun to engage with, which helps cultivate relationships. And if you’re minding your money, you might find that you can afford healthier organic food (which I hate the way “better” food costs more, but that’s a different topic for another day) which, in turn, improves your physical well-being. And so on.
In the world of writing, I find that everything contributes to my writing journey.
Life fuels the writer.
Writing informs life.
The manner in which you live and the intention behind your action(s) (and reactions), impact you as an artist. How you think and your lens of the world is all a part of your narrative.
So why not consider your brain a prime training ground, offering opportunity to orchestrate and spill into better and more succinct methods as a human, as an artist?
Cameron offers de-cluttering, re-organizing, and mending as ideas. I add to this, offering: redecorating. Yes, you can execute a home makeover on a modest budget. Paint and throw pillows and tosses extend a long way, transforming image, energy, and emotion in a room.
I believe that as the brain engages and streamlines tasks in our daily affairs, such as re-grouping and re-processing, these skill sets drip over, pouring into areas, such as writing, painting, choreographing.
If you need to cut words, cut the fat, cut the word count, consider focusing on decluttering, something, anything, somewhere else in your life. One of my favorite tips from master organizer Peter Walsh suggests to completely empty a target cluttered area, say a junk or large utensil drawer, and place everything from that area in a box or container. Set the container in another room, like the garage. Each time an item is needed, add it back to the drawer or closet. After six months, you’ll gain a clear vision of frequently used items and a clearer idea of things no longer needed. For seasonal items, store them with the decorations for that season. For example, Chanukah cookie cutters could be boxed with dreidels and menorahs.
As I worked my way through remodeling, I redefined my use of drawer space, gifting rarely-used items to others. With new space, I created a snack drawer in place of a large utensil drawer. This has saved hours of searching for a quick and easy nibble between lunch and dinner.
One challenge I faced during my re-model was maintaining my kosher restrictions. There’s already planning involved: where to store your spices (near the stove, of course)
…and where to place pots and pans (also near the stove) and where to shelf the oversized serving dishes. A kosher kitchen includes this process but multiplies it by three. Most kosher-keeping Jews separate meat from dairy and pareve (neutral foods, such as eggs) from both. This means that many kosher kitchens have three of everything: three sets of dishes and utensils. Three sets of pots and pans. Three sets of baking items. Many also maintain two ovens and two dishwashers, though in my house, we hand-wash instead. As I de-cluttered these areas this summer, I heavily re-organized my manuscript, clearing away poems that failed to stay in conversation with the body of the book or moved away from thread.
Here’s a glimpse of my “after” utensil drawers:
Yes, my methods for de-cluttering feels like a ton of work, but the reward is in the ease of maintaining dietary integrity.
My method of decluttering my narrative meets this same standard if I’m to maintain my writing integrity.
I also re-organized my “baggie” drawer:
I found a similar relationship between writing and restructuring my pantry. I wanted a visual of my pantry items. I also wanted easy storage and accessibility, as much for my sons as for myself. This saves time, which affords me more family and creative time, and probably saves money. We no longer dig four boxes deep to find the cereal we want or to locate brown sugar. This type of restructuring transferred to my writing in, well, structure, especially helpful with poetry. Poetry is both a visual and a literary art. The shape and structure and form inform the work as much as word choice and language. In regards to my manuscript, I also credit my daily discipline of studying for the last 15 years—throughout undergrad and grad school (twice)—my morning habit of honing craft, no matter.
Use of space – in life and in writing – proves critical. When I purchased this home in 2017, after living on Food Stamps and in Section 8 housing, I wanted only a haven and a sense of permanency for my family. I longed for each room to feel like a hug, an invitation. Each nook holding sacred space to create, read, write, sketch, and dance. Even in a corner of the kitchen there sits an overstuffed chair with a floor lamp, a place to linger with tea and words, should you choose.
If you know me, you know I love my coffee and tea. I also sip dark chocolate and what I call my Gold Rush (turmeric, cinnamon, cardamon, and ginger). I have a cappuccino maker, a pour-over, an espresso steamer, and an old-fashioned stove-top glass percolator. I’ve a warming frother and a frothing wand and a honey jar and spoon. I’ve tea infusers, a matcha whisker, and sugared maple to sprinkle on top. A coffee station felt like a spoiled requirement.
And yes, there’s a second mini station in my bedroom.
I’m sure there’s a direct link between the slow process of brewing coffee or tea and my writing life. I admit I’m a painfully slow reader. I sit with a book like a long-lost friend. I study every line and underlying emotion, and in each, I seek the shape of my own existence. All the while, I sip something soothing, a hot beverage all day, most days, and every season.
Perhaps I developed this way of thinking over the years, as a competitive athlete, or during my time in service in the Air Force. Regardless, I work my brain out every day. I love puzzles (especially Sudoku) and still wrestle brain gym methods before I meditate.
Yes. I meditate.
One important phase of this remodel included installing a reverse osmosis (with remineralization) water system. I know there are differing opinions surrounding these systems, but science supports their removal of bacteria, viruses, lead, nitrates, mercury, particles, and that’s enough for me.
I combined two rooms, spread them into one kitchen and dining area. I extended the island into nine glorious feet, built a butler sidebar. Like many families, the kitchen is where we gather for food and friendship. We also needed space to maneuver around while cooking. Sharing my love of cooking with my sons has been a cornerstone to parenting. Cooking offers the measurement of science, the pleasure of art, the background of music, and the joy of creation. As a family, we braid challah, roll homemade pizza dough, slice home fries, and move food from garden to table throughout the summer. There’s infusion in this work—intention and energy—you can taste the love in food that has been orchestrated with care. There is also the spiritual infusion, the energy exchange, heart to heart. In the braiding of bread, there’s meditation. I found this same intentional meditation while braiding narratives, even in poetry. I love the six-braided challah. I love the intricacies of braiding story, poking at the intersections on the page and in life. There’s a knitting, a stitching, in life and in storytelling.
We can train the brain to work through these patterns in daily or weekly tasks, transferring them to our art.
I think of Chelsey Clammer’s work, her beautiful weaving and knitting in her essay collection, Bodyhome. It makes perfect sense that she is also a masterful knitter – sweaters, scarves, hats. I see the correlation between her art, her hands and her mind, as she stretches through complexity, towards clarity, into a polishing.
The kitchen, our kitchen, not just for food.
We create soap, satchels, candles. We use the garden, we use it well—lavendar, rosemary, lemon balm. We jar jams. This year, we crushed Concords off the vine and into juice. We sun-dry tomatoes, freeze peaches and pears for smoothies. We clear the table for board games, card games, and now, my youngest, hosts a weekly DND.
If you knew my story, you’d know, I left home as a teen with only a garbage bag stuffed with Levi’s, track spikes, and some 8-track tapes. You’d know I left the military, left one marriage, then another. You’d know I left with my three sons and a duffel full of medical supplies and a single change of clothes for each of us. You’d know, I started over. And over. And this remodel, this year, felt like a complete rebuilding of self and work, built on hope and heart and hard-earned healing love.
Now excuse me while I stitch and patch a pillow—a victim from the latest family pillow fight—and then I’ll return to my memoir, stitch the ending lines, threading and tying the small details, weaving through worlds and words.