By Beth Terrell
Last Wednesday, my husband, Mike, awoke at 5 A.M. with a blinding headache. As he stumbled blearily toward the bathroom, he heard a sound like running water coming from the kitchen. His first thought was that the air conditioning unit was malfunctioning. He went to investigate, rounded the corner, and found the water spewing from beneath our kitchen sink and the floor covered by an inch of water. A fitting under the sink had broken sometime during the night, and water had been gushing out of our pipes ever since.
I finally heard the commotion and hurried in to see what was happening. My first thought was, "Thank God it was water and not fire." My second was, "Wow. What are we going to do with all this?"
Finally, Mike managed to get the water turned off, and we took stock of the damage. Half of our living room carpet was soaked. Worse, water had drained down into our basement, where boxes full of books and games were stacked. Our hearts sank as we noted the wet stains on the boxes that held Mike's extensive comic book collection.
We both stayed home from work and spent the rest of the day sucking water out of the carpet with a Shop-Vac and filling our trash bins with soggy cardboard, magazines, and paperbacks. Then came the hardbacks, first editions some of them, their covers warped and their pages stuck together and beginning to crinkle. It soon became clear that, even with our neighbor's borrowed bins, they would not be enough.
On Saturday, we rented a 20-yard dumpster and spent the weekend filling it up. Some of what we dumped were things we'd been meaning to throw away for ages (in 23 years, you can amass a lot of junk), but every time I had to pitch a book onto the pile, I felt a little twinge in my heart.
Still, it was nice spending the weekend working so closely with Mike, neither of us having to rush off to do something else. We took pictures of the titles, so we could claim some of the losses; the basement feels a lot roomier these days; and we're getting new linoleum for the kitchen, courtesy of our insurance company. It could have been much, much worse. As it was, it felt a bit like God had tapped us on the shoulder and said, "Hey, you. It's about time you cleaned out this basement."
Sometimes my mind is a lot like our basement. It gets crowded with minutiae, insubstantial ideas, and outdated perceptions. As a writer, I sometimes need to sift through the soggy boxes in my brain, file away the useful scraps, polish up the tarnished ideas that still have merit, and sweep out the junk to make room for fresh, new stories. If you've ever read The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron, you know about Morning Pages.
Morning Pages are a little bit like a Shop-Vac for the writer's mind. These are pages you write each morning about anything that strikes you. (Okay, I usually write mine at night, but still...) Morning pages get rid of the white noise in the brain and help tame the "monkey mind" by getting all the little distractions out of your head and onto paper. I do them whenever my writing feels unfocused, scattered, or stalled. After a few days, I find the ideas flowing smoothly again.
How about you? What do you do to clean out your metaphorical basement?