Having recently moved from an 1800-square-foot house to a 545-square-foot-house, I am still desperately trying to clear my clutter. The key to not going crazy in a small space is to get rid of EVERYTHING you don’t need. I once read somewhere that if you don’t use it in a certain amount of time and it doesn’t bring you joy, throw it out.
Paper clutter is a big problem for me. Right now I have a desk that I can’t use because it’s covered in papers. Many of these are copies of stories that I was assigned to read in grad school. Some of it consists of notes I’ve made over the years for starting stories of my own. I could probably blindly throw all of it in the trash and it wouldn’t make any difference.
It occurs to me that it’s been more than seven years since I read these stories. Are they so exemplary that I cannot simply record their names and look them up again—if I ever need to? I haven’t needed them in seven years. Do I really need them now? Or, should I go back through them and reanalyze them?
Go back through them and reanalyze them?
Ok, even to me that sounds insane.
No. I should just say no. I have a life. I’m going to be taking weekend classes soon. I’m learning to meditate. I’m trying to work out. I’m on a diet for crying out loud. Who has time to redo assignments from grad school?
So here is my compromise. I’m going to simply write down their names and toss them aside.
About this Life by Barry Lopez (Chapter 5 Flight).
Ah man, this is harder than I thought. The writing is really good. And my notes in the margin, well, exceptional if I do say so myself. Hmm, I see this one going back into the sheet protector and back into the three-ring binder, where it will sit on my shelf for another seven years. Or, perhaps, I’ll buy the book. Is this what I want my writing to me like? Maybe.
Waiting for Salmon by Barry Lopez
I remember liking this piece and Barry for his ecological thought. Shoot.
Pecked by Heather Caldwell (From Salon.com)
“Dale Peck’s scathing review of Rick Moody and a dozen other writers of ‘postmodern drivel’ has the literary world buzzing about what makes for good — and bad — criticism.” Oh dear. Well, I can’t toss this one out either. I have to read about what the literary community is buzzing about. I’m not going to even bother to take this out of the sheet protector. Wonder when I’m going to read all of these?
The Moody Blues by Dale Peck
This must be the review that was so scathing. Well, this one has to be kept as well then.
Critical Condition: Reading, Writing and Reviewing: An Old-Schooler Looks Back by Sven Birkerts
Well, this looked a bit dull at first, but this is another author complaining about Dale Peck, so I guess it stays in the pile.
A Pondered Life by Lorrie Moore
I recognize the author. She wrote a collection of short stories that an old boss gave me and that I never read. My notes on the page say: Use this to think about structure. Moore plants seeds so she can open them up along the way. Keep.
Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace.
Well, this one I have to keep. After all, I agree with Wallace, the lobster should be considered. In fact after reading this, I can’t eat lobster any more.
Einstein and Newton: Genius Compared by Alan Lightman
I obviously have no self control. Keep.
The Messages of Nature and Nurture by Gregory Bateson
Religion and Science by Alfred North Whitehead
Climate Change is Playing Havoc With Rare Species and a Proud Way of Life by Charles W. Petit
Raising Hell: A Citizen’s Guide to the Fine Art of Investigation by Dan Noyes
I don’t remember much about this at all. So…keep.
Unusual Properties of Space by George Gamow
And why not. Keep.
Civilian by Tobias Wolff
Vibes by Lewis Thomas
My notes says: The Lives of a Cell. How does he hold interest: many good examples.
The Obligation to Endure by Rachel Carson
My note says: Word choices; combinations of ideas.
Weighing Science by John G. Bryan
Seems like it could be helpful. Keep.
What is Geomorphology? by Keith Tinkler
I almost tossed this. The first line was a bit dry. The world “geomorphology” is completely dry—that is, until you break it down by its roots and think about its meaning. Geo = earth; Morph = shape. So this is an article about the shape of the Earth, or more exactly, the Earth’s surface. What, the Earth’s surface is changing? Now that’s interesting. Why didn’t he just say so? Keep for translating.
Scientific Writing and Editing: Problems, Pitfalls, and Pratfalls by Elaine R Firestone
Skimming this article, this is so closely related to what I do now. I don’t edit scientific papers, although many of my associates do. I edit marketing materials which are written for the most part by electrical engineers. Now, electrical engineering is fascinating! To be sure. I do a lot of thinking about how to make very complicated material digestible by a wide and busy audience. So I’ll keep this one. It’s certainly food for thought.
The Uniformity of Biochemistry by Francis Crick
My note says: Good article. Pay attention to how he explains things. Use of description. Voice. Tone. Use of humor.
E=mc2 by Albert Einstein
My note says: Pay attention to how he uses details to describe things. How he communicates with a popular audience. It’s striking me suddenly that I am an serious nerd. Keep.
A copy of a page from Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware
I kept this because I was enthralled with the idea of telling a story with only pictures. No words. As I look at this page, I realize that I am not smart enough to understand this. I may go check out Jimmy Corrigan, but I’m not keeping this page.
The Mendelian Laws by George and Muriel Beadle
This looks like a huge snooze, but since I’m keeping practically everything else…
An excerpt from Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje
My note says: Short, tight sentences, interesting, verbs are alive, no fluff; description has to matter. I may want to get this book.
An excerpt from Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia by Tom Bissell
This was a book I wanted to read but never did. My note says: Study how he handles time. Cultural and personal stakes woven together. Participant. Self deprecation builds credibility. All seeds have to be planted in first chapter.
Sister Cities: The Cooper’s Tale
This was an article in the New Yorker. Doesn’t look amazing, but like the others, maybe I should keep it.
The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance by Laurie Garrett
I dunno. Keep.
The Science of Scientific Writing by George D. Gopen and Judith A. Swan.
This is so close to what I actually do for a living that I’ll keep it and read it again.
The Man Who Shouted Teresa by Italo Calvino
Keep. Amazing short short storyteller.
Orientalism by Edward W. Said
This was given to me by a professor in the Graduate School of Social Work where I worked for about two years. I tried reading it. I swear I did, but it was so far over my head, I just didn’t get it. I think I’ll try again now and see what happens.
On Being the Right Size by J. B. S. Haldane
Science and Ultimate Truth by H. G. Wells
The Barbarism of “Specialization” by Jose Ortega y Gasset
Of note, the book by this author: Revolt of the Masses
On Keeping a Notebook by Joan Didion
A Time of Gifts by Stephen Jay Gould
She Had Some Horses by Joy Harjo
Twenty Titles for the Writer by Richard Leahy
The Essentials of Micro-Fiction by Camille Renshaw
Excerpts from Quick Fiction.
Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us by Bill Joy
This is an article I picked up before grad school; it was published in Wired, April 2000. Incredible. That was 15 years ago. This article had so much buzz around it at the time that it even permeated my little bubble. I thought it was amazing at the time. Guess I should read it again.
Caught by Jonathan Franzen
Mastering the Art of French Cooking by E. J. Levy
Some of these require a little detective work. I’m still not sure what Salmagundi is, but I guess it’s related to this story in some way. Except for the grey, I like this author’s webpage.
Civilian by Tobias Wolff
I thought this author was very interesting and I wanted to read more at the time. Other books, says my note, are This Boy’s Life and In Pharoh’s Army.
Twelve Moments in the Life of the Artist
My note says: Like a 12-Step program, Wonderful. Awful. Keep.
Except from Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs
I was a little upset when I read this. I was writing a short story called “Running With Scissors.” It wasn’t good, but still, my title was taken by this guy.
Mama Gone by Jane Yolen
I remember it was interesting. Keep.
When God Laughs: A Piece of Steak by Jack London.
I remember thinking this was a great piece of writing. Keep.
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
I have the book, but in this copy, I have circled some words in a strange fashion. Intrigued. Why did I do this? Keep.
Working with Archetypes
From my business class. I wasn’t really impressed, but I’ll have another look before tossing it.
History of Writing Class Notes.
The Dynamics of Building and Resolving Tension. Music as a Metaphor for Organizational Change.
Again, from my business class.
In Bed by Joan Didion
Not what you might think. Keep.
The Waking (Villanelle) by Theodore Roethke
Of course keep. I love villanelles.
Not Wise by George Packer
My Father’s Life by Raymond Carver
Fathers, Sons, Blood by Harry Crews
Excerpt from A Death in the Family by James Agee
My notes: Age, authority, conflict, tone; has released himself from bonds of time. Passive voice slows everything down; gives sense of the summer evenings that he’s talking about; repetitive in structure. Keep.
The Unwanted Child by Mary Clearman Blew
Vessels by Daniel Raeburn
Four More Shots by Kevin Sampsell
Ok, that’s just about it. Now I’m just looking at piles of my own writing and some old Russian notes. I didn’t throw a whole bunch out, but I did organize it. It’s no longer cluttering up my desk keeping me from working. And doing this gave me a chance to think things though. I found a memoir I had started 7 years ago. And, I eeked out a tiny bit of inspiration to get started again.