Books and Emails

Yes, as expected, Amiant Soul is out in the world, both in paperback and ebook forms. (If it’s not in stock where you like to buy your books, consider making puppy-dog eyes at them until they cave and order one in for you.)

A tan and white puppy making eyes at the camera, with a toy bone at their feet.

Less expected was the email plugin on my website deciding that messages for the announcements subscribers should be sent to blog post subscribers as well.

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In Which I Learn to FLY

For years I have been labouring (quite literally) under a delusion. I thought I was a naturally tidy person, because having mess around stresses me. And since I knew how to do all the tasks required, I couldn’t figure out why the stressful messful state of things continued.

WeirdTalesv36n1pg068 Shocked Woman

When I was in my early teens, my mother came up with a complex mathematical – er, thingy, which not only ensured that each member of the household had a fair share of the housework, but that each person’s share was largely composed of the work they liked most (or rather, disliked least). Brilliant. Me for cleaning the toilet and cooking the dinner (no, not at the same time); avaunt, ye dreaded dish-washing!

That was some fifteen years ago. I have been an independent alleged-adult for ten years now, and it was only recently I realized that subconsciously I still classify the jobs I really don’t like as “someone else’s problem.”

To be fair, the Caped Gooseberry does a lot of these jobs, such as putting out the rubbish and emptying the compost bin (among other things) – as previously mentioned, my husband is not lazy – but there are nonetheless a good many jobs that aren’t going to happen unless I do them myself.
Those of you considering becoming adults, be warned: pixies do not appear in the night to do the dusting, and dishes do not wash themselves (unless you’re having tea with Merlyn).

Washing Dishes

There is quite a bit of work which goes into running a household, and the less organized you are, the more work it is. Hence my problem. While I knew how to clean, I didn’t necessarily know how to organize. Where to start?

Eventually I swallowed my pride (and my delusions) and admitted that I could use some help. I was never going to be one of those paragons who vacuums herself out the door when she goes on holiday (so as to have everything pristine when she returns), I just wanted the house to become clean and peaceful, and to stay that way with the minimum of conscious effort from myself.

Enter FlyLady, recommended to me by our previous minister. I borrowed her book from the library, and after various re-readings, browsings of the website – and the passage of a couple of years – I decided to actually try it properly, shiny sink and all.

Kitchen sink drain

In order to have some record of the experience, I kept a journal for the month of April, while doing the 31 Beginner BabySteps. These aren’t included in the daily emails, which are mostly advice, encouragement, testimonials and advertising for FlyLady-approved cleaning gear. There are about a dozen a day, although on Day 12 your task is to delete old ones; and on Day 31, to drop down to the FlyLady Lite emails (assuming you feel ready).

The FlyLady system is all about routines: you do the same things over and over again and then you don’t have to think about it, you just do it automatically. This applies to things you do every day, on a particular day of the week, or a particular week of the month. Forming good habits, little by little.

To be honest, I think I needed longer to practice each step of the routine in order to cement it in place, before adding further steps. Some steps I slipped right into – like dressing first thing in the morning – and others are less intuitive and I have to keep reminding myself. Such as, for example, remembering to replace negative self-talk (“I’m lazy! It’s hopeless!”) with positive self-talk (“I can choose what I do, and I can do it!”) – affirmations, the Artist’s Way would call them. Helpfully, all the routines are to be written down as you go, so you have something to refer to.

Edouard John Mentha Lesendes Dienstmädchen in einer Bibliothek

Looking around, those who seem to have the most success with FlyLady are those who adapt the system to suit their culture and circumstances. No need to wipe your sink dry each time you use it, for example, if your tap water isn’t hard and doesn’t leave marks when it dries.

And then there’s the getting dressed to shoes – an intended morale booster, which allows you to step straight out the door if need be. Here in New Zealand, it is normal to ask, on entering a house, whether it’s a “shoes off” house – and many are, mine included. Wearing shoes around the house so you can go out at a moment’s notice is about as weird as carrying your handbag around the house for the same reason. On the other hand, unless it’s high summer (which it seldom is) I wear socks and slippers, because my feet are almost always cold. So that’s “shoes” for me.

There are other minor cultural allowances I had to make as well. Doing laundry all the way from sort to shelve is only possible when the weather co-operates, as the vast majority of New Zealand laundry is dried on lines outside in the sun. This can be frustrating in winter, but on the other hand, you get that lovely fresh-air scent in your laundry, and you don’t have to worry about dryer fires.

New Zealand - Hanging the wash - 9047

But enough of this, I hear you say. Never mind the cultural adjustments, does it actually work? Well, as with most things, you get out as much as you put in, but I’ve never before come across a system which makes it so easy to get started and keep going. Possibly because it insists that you can’t “get behind” – you just start from where you are.

Twice a day you spend a couple of minutes clearing off a place that collects stuff – you know the one – and actually putting the stuff where it belongs, not just dumping it somewhere else. My first target was the top of the chests of drawers in our bedroom, which were generally invisible under thick strata of books, mending, odd clothes, pieces of paper, random oddments – you get the idea. It loomed at me in the darkness as I lay in bed.

I cleared it off in two or three two-minute attacks, and to my great surprise, it has stayed clear. There is a small stack of books in one corner, closest to the bed, with a candle-lamp and matches for late-night reading. At the other end is a decorative bowlful of knitted hats and gloves, winter having arrived in early autumn this year. And that’s it.


Another daily task is to spend fifteen minutes decluttering in the zone of the week (a monthly rotation). The idea is that you can’t really get a room clean until you’ve got all the junk out of it. To my great surprise, I was dusting the windowsills and the skirting board (the skirting board!!!) in the bedroom within the week. And having palpitations at the amount of dust I found, but that’s another story.

To make the long story short, the overwhelming thing about housework is that there is so much of it. Where do you start? How do you possibly find the time and energy for it all? FlyLady proposes an eminently sane answer: you do it a little at a time. Make a routine (it doesn’t have to be hers, the main thing is to have one and stick to it) and just keep going.

I am still working on developing and editing my routines to make sure they work as well for me as possible, but I am cautiously hopeful. I may never be naturally tidy, but that doesn’t mean a clean and tidy peaceful home is not within my reach!

Dear Diary: Woe!

Thus began my first attempt at a written chronicle of my day-to-day life. I was twelve years old, which may account for the style. Or, then again, that might just be me.

Browne, Henriette - A Girl Writing; The Pet Goldfinch - Google Art Project

I pursued the theme, off and on, for years. Jo Brand says that she re-reads her diary occasionally “to remind myself what a miserable, alienated old sod I used to be.” I don’t re-read mine, for similar reasons. I was probably only miserable a minority of the time, but that minority formed the majority of the time I wrote in my diary. When I was happy, I was too busy enjoying myself to bother telling an exercise book about it.

More enjoyably, I kept a joint diary with a friend for some time. We had two exercise books, and swapped them once a week, read what the other had written, and had a jolly good go at solving the problems of the universe together.

Once the circumstances of life drove us to different countries, my diarising became very intermittent, until I left university and suddenly found myself craving the word fix. The diary from that year is not so much miserable as simply too boring to re-read, although I’ve considered trying it as a remedy for sleeplessness.
The following year I moved to Wellington to study scriptwriting, which solved the word fix problem; but, being away from everyone I knew, I kept talking to the diary anyway. (Back to the miserable setting, alas.)

Budapešť 0158

Then the Caped Gooseberry and I started our long-distance courtship, and I gave up writing a diary, because why rewrite in a book what one has already typed out in an email? As I was unemployed that year (overqualified for any job I could do, underqualified for everything else), I sent a lot of emails. Certainly not miserable, but probably boring to any but the starry-eyed correspondents themselves.

Then I got a job, got engaged, and moved cities (all in a matter of weeks), which left me learning the new job full-time, planning a wedding and filling in weekends at a writing initiative in another city. Re-starting a diary somehow failed to make it back on to the To Do list. It wasn’t until a year or so later, when my spiritual director suggested I read The Artist’s Way, that I started regularly diarising, or journalling, or whatever you call it.

The early ‘morning pages’ read largely as repeated rants about how cold it was – I used to get up half an hour early for this – and how much I wanted to leave my job. (By now an experienced diarist, I was capable of being both miserable and boring at the same time.) Then I started blogging, and soon after had the idea to actually do the Artist’s Way exercises, over the course of a year. Which I did, more or less, blogging about it as I went. Luckily for the reading public, I never blogged the morning pages.


But by the end of that year, the morning pages had turned into a sort of spiritual diary. Largely, to be fair, me ranting at God, but then, God likes people to talk to him, even if all they do is yell. I think those early morning scribbles kept me sane, or at least out of depression’s grip. It seemed some days that was the only thing worth getting up for, and the only thing that could bear me through the day. I had to keep it up.

Once I left my job, I carried on with it, albeit at a much more civilized hour of the morning. (If God had intended humans to rise before dawn, he would have made us able to see in the dark.) I generally write in it six days a week, and sometimes include what’s been happening in my outer world, particularly when it affects my inner world.
No-one reads it but myself and occasionally the Caped Gooseberry. Oddly, considering that it’s a place for being honest with myself about deep and sometimes difficult things, it’s actually an enjoyable experience to re-read, unlike the “what I did today” diaries – or more accurately, the “what I felt about what I did today” diaries. Neither miserable nor boring – who’d have thought I had it in me?

I keep three other diaries, to my surprise; or rather, two diaries and an annal.

Sometimes going analogue is the only way to go. #writing #quill #ink #paperblanks #magic

One is the record of my writing work, written in a paperblanks week-at-a-time diary (a Foiled Mini Horizontal with a magnetic closure, if you’re a stationery junkie like myself). I keep track of what I worked on each day, as far as both the current Work In Progress and this blog are concerned. I also note other matters of writerly importance, such as how often the fountain pen requires refilling (a good indicator of how much writing I’m getting through) and when I buy ink, or a craft book.

The second diary only dates from the beginning of this month, and I am writing it on the computer – I really don’t know why. Why on the computer, that is. I’m not quite weird enough to write a diary without knowing why. It’s a very specialized diary, and I promise to tell you all about it – some other time. (It pleases me to be mysterious about the prosaic. Bear with me, I beg you.)

The annal is one which the Caped Gooseberry and I keep together. The book which houses it was a gift from my comrades at the DDJ – a beautifully bound blank-paged book in which, each anniversary, we sum up the happenings of the previous year. It is sometimes disturbing to look back and see how much one has forgotten, even of the ‘highlights’. Forgetting the photos which are taken at the same time is, in my case, a matter of self-defence – I am most decidedly not photogenic.

Christine de pisan

To finish on a completely random note, if you are looking for a fictional diary to read, I can highly recommend Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman. A cut (or indeed, a whole slice) above the usual run of historical-fictional teenage girls’ diaries, and very funny to boot. This is one of those books where the reader becomes incapacitated with laughter and the book has to be passed around the room. (This is the voice of experience.)

Sadly, I fear posterity will find no such hilarity in my diaries, should I unaccountably fail to have them destroyed before I die. Posterity: consider yourself warned.