Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Spring Cleaning for Writers

An earlier version on this post appeared on Write on Sisters a year ago.

Here in Arizona, spring isn’t as well-defined as it might be in your part of the world. Here, we call it spring when our temps get above the average 70 degrees of winter. For those three days, before the 100’s begin, we have a version of spring. (Only kidding about the three days. Lots of years we have several days.)

This year, a very unusual year, no doubt due to global weirding, we had weeks of really great spring weather. We kept the doors open in the daytime and shut them at night. Just lovely!

Think about it. What is spring anyway, but a time of flowers blooming in warmer air. So what does one call spring in a locale where there are flowers all year long? Okay, so maybe there are different winter flowers and summer flowers--ones that can take blast-furnace temperatures. Still . . .

As a child, spring in the Midwest meant SPRING CLEANING. Big time. The venetian blinds came down, the rugs came up, and the house smelled of Pine-Sol and lemon paste wax. It was grueling work, scrubbing hardwood floors and wiping baseboards. No surface escaped my mother’s attention--which meant the attention of my sister and me. My brother escaped the yearly ritual because back in the day, boys didn’t do housework.

SPRING CLEANING is an odd rite. Funny, I thought, even then. For most of the year, Mother wasn’t what you’d call “house proud”. Our place was not a magazine spread. It wasn’t really dirty, but on a farm, you’re hard pressed to keep the dust and mud from accumulating on surfaces. Dust was pretty easy to ignore. Mud was regularly tracked in along with other malodorous substances, but mostly that got cleaned up right away.

But for about a week after SPRING CLEANING, our home was a joy to live in. Then, as life would have it, we lived in it, and it showed. Sigh! All that work for … what?

Isn’t that metaphor for life? We occasionally clean out the detritus of daily life from our minds, or sweep it into a corner for later disposal. Still, more accumulates, piles up, and overtakes the surfaces of our lives. We clean again, making space for more waste to fill the spaces just cleaned up.

Oh, dear! That sounds all melancholy and such, but I don’t mean it that way at all. As a writer, I love the accumulation of new junk, dirt, stuff. That’s more to write about. And for a writer, spring cleaning is just one way we sweep away and wash down our experiences as we transform them into our novels, short stories, and plays.

All writers draw upon those past experiences, odd characters, sights seen to bring truth to our work. What we remember we can use to enliven and enrich text. So digging through the junk on the lookout for treasures is rather exhilarating.

I’ve pondered why some parts of my past and some people are so vivid and other parts and people, if remembered at all, are shadowy or even forgotten.

We remember best what we emotionally connect with. Everyone recalls where they were and how they felt on September 11, 2011. Images, emotions, and reactions all remain sharp in our minds. Similarly, JFK’s assassination and the Challenger Shuttle explosion were sharp, jagged times we recall easily.

Fortunately, most of my life is not that traumatic. I am blessed with a happy life filled with many loving friends and family. I have more good memories than bad.

I can clearly see every bit of the day my first son was born. The palpable joy of holding this precious new life in my arms after getting to know him so well in the womb will stay with me forever. I loved laboring. I remember those sharp thrusts and pushes. I revel in the memory of the experience just as I did in the actuality.

There are teachers I adored (and not) whose personality quirks are imprinted in my mind. Mrs. McNamara who was always tugging up her bra strap with no awareness she did it. Mr. Sylvester’s facial tics when he was nervous. Mr. Hill’s nervous laughter as we jerked our way around the parking lot in Driver’s Ed.

How can these experiences not show up in our writing?

So I “spring clean” my mind periodically, searching for sights, scents, and sounds that I might recycle into a new personality or scene. But I also search for the emotion behind the memory, because the emotion is why I still hang onto it. And if I can convey the emotion, maybe my readers will connect as I do.

In this blog, I post about my writing and a bit about life and relationships. Because, really, when you think about it, for an author, they are often indistinguishable, intermingled, and intertwined.

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