Sproing Cleaning

No, that is not a typo. Well, it is, but it’s an intentional one. (This time.) The first time I typed it I was aiming for Spring Cleaning, but my right hand decided that Sproing Cleaning was much more accurate, and I must say I agree with it (not least because it is presently spring nowhere on earth).

There’s a sort of a fizz in my blood at the moment, a wild and reckless fizz which suggests the committing of wild and desperate acts of pruning. (Of stuff, not plants. Mostly.)

This is hardly surprising, coming as it does on the heels of the completion of a years-long project. And it’s encouraging. According to Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way, “One of the clearest signals that something healthy is afoot is the impulse to weed out, sort through, and discard old clothes, papers, and belongings.”

So here I am, poised on the brink of the Sproing Cleaning, little pebbles falling over the edge at my feet (a game here, a book there…) and wondering – how far do I go?

Caspar David Friedrich - Wanderer above the sea of fog
This question is of course affected by many factors. How much stuff I actually have, how much of it is not ‘mine’ but ‘ours’ and therefore not mine to fling at will, how much energy I have to expend (always bearing in mind that it’s more economical of energy to do the job thoroughly once than fribble away at the edges of it for years).

[Digression: I thought I had invented the word ‘fribble’ but according to the SOD it can mean “to falter, stammer; to totter in walking… to act aimlessly or feebly; to fiddle;” or “to behave frivolously” – said to be the more modern meaning, around since the 1640s. And that’s just the verb…]

But at the heart of it, I think all these questions come down to one factor: regret. Would I regret getting rid of things? Would I regret not getting rid of more? Where, in fact, does the true sproing lie in all of this?According to Marie Kondo, “The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”

How do I want to live my life? What does that entail getting rid of? And even if I do regret the occasional discarded item, is it still worth it for the resulting sproinginess?

I guess the reason I’m asking all these questions in a public forum is because I’m not sure I yet have the cavalier attitude necessary to plunge over the edge at which I stand, and, well, we’ve all heard the story about penguins, haven’t we?

(Penguins don’t actually do this, it turns out, but bear with me; it’s a useful metaphor.) The penguins allegedly jostle together at the edge of the ice until one is shoved right over the edge – thus providing valuable research data on the presence of predators in the waters below.

Adélie penguins in Antarctica, Antarctic Peninsula
Test subject #1 is in the water!
So, has anyone here been over the edge? (Are there sharks? Sea lions? Oceans of tasty krill?) And if no one here has yet taken the plunge, who’s up for a bit of encouraging jostling?

Bird By Bird

by Anne Lamott.

This is so not your usual book on how to be a writer, but I did find it enormously encouraging. (Don’t take my word for it, read it yourself. Really.)

For example, that feeling you get when you finish your first draft (at last! hurrah!) and then look back and realise it’s so bad you now live in terror of dying before you can fix it, because people might think you honourably disembowelled yourself from the shame of producing such putridity.

In short, Anne Lamott says it’s ok to be pathologically self-doubting and insecure as a writer. She even suggests that this is quite common among writers, along with such traits as hypochondria and melodramatic tendencies. (Moi?)

She’s witty and funny and erudite and casually well-read (“I scuttled across the screen like Prufrock’s crab”) and really easy to read.
Most of all, she is encouraging.

The flailing first draft, she says is “the child’s draft… let it romp all over the place”.

The writing is on the wall
No-one will see it. Unless you die before the rewrite. (Try to avoid this.)

And as for all the shouting and hissing in your head (not the characters, but the voice Julia Cameron identifies as the Censor), Anne Lamott recognises this can be more than one voice. And here’s what she suggests you do with them:

Mouse in a jar

That’s right.
Shrink them down to mouse size and plunk them in a jar. Let them squeak as much as they please in there – you’re not listening.

Another interesting suggestion: “write a book back to V.S. Naipaul or Margaret Atwood or Wendell Berry or whoever it is who most made you want to write, whose work you most love to read. Make it as good as you can.”

Who would that be for you? On the most-love-to-read side for me would be perhaps P.G. Wodehouse, Agatha Christie and Terry Pratchett. (Sir, Dame & Sir. What does that tell you?)

Have you ever experienced that anguished jealous ache of reading the perfect sentence and not having written it? Who did?

S812 - Green with envy

Crucially for those of us who frequently enjoy the writing less than the having written, Lamott points out that you do actually have to want to write – wanting to be published is not going to cut it. (Publication is not the answer, whatever the question of your life.)

Perseverance is tremendously important: “God is not a short-order cook”. She quotes E.L Doctorow: “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Lost in the woods

I wondered a while back whether each step we take, momentous as it may seem, is only to pull us up to where we can take the next.
I wonder it now more than ever.
I wonder what’s just beyond the headlights.

[Disclaimer: once again, I borrowed this book from the library – nobody paid me and I paid nobody. I consider this makes me a maximally unbiased reviewer. Others may differ.]