Friday, August 20, 2010
Holding on & Letting Go
You know that show on TLC, BURIED ALIVE? Where people have somehow managed to survive in homes that are piled and piled and piled with stuff? Most people look at shows like that and say, "How'd they ever get that bad? What happened?" But me? I know. I KNOW.
Not because I have a mile-high stack of old newspapers and a barrel of bottle caps in my living room, thank God, but because of The Kiddo. Getting her to let go of anything is like pulling hen's teeth.
The trouble started when she was a baby. Well-meaning folks would give her ... well, stuff. They assumed that we would be able to ditch the stuff when it outlived its usefulness.
They assumed WRONG.
The first time alarm bells went off was when she cried inconsolably when I gave away a faded old Winnie The Pooh shirt she could no longer wear. True, it was her favorite shirt, but she was three.
Over the years, it got tougher: baby toys, stuffed animals, bits and pieces of paper, drawings, rocks, freebies from fast-food restaurants, sticks. Yes, I said sticks. Like small tree limbs.
I did what I could to deal with the problem: involve her in the donating, letting her keep the profits from yard sales, trying to control what came in the front door -- ha! That's like holding back the Atlantic with a napkin.
I'd just about given up on any signs of progress until this week, when we tackled her wreck of a room, prior to school starting. Her room was AWFUL -- not messy, exactly, but stuffed with treasures. You couldn't really put anything away because you had to move something else, which meant you had to move something ELSE.
So I hauled out the black garbage bag and sell/give boxes, and we started in on her closet floor, filled with overflowing containers of Happy Meal (not bought by ME!) toys. By 12:30, we'd moved to a cupboard. By 1:30, we'd moved to the original target of our project: the top of her cedar chest, usually so cluttered you can't tell it's even a horizontal surface.
With every item, I asked: Do you really need it? Can you find a home for it? Still, it was agony for her until she sat down on her bare-to-the-wood cedar chest and said, "Wowee! It's like a seat!"
"Yeah," I told The Kiddo. "Originally that's just what I had in mind when I put it there, for you to have a window seat."
She asked me what we'd have to do to make that happen, and I said, "Find homes for some of the stuff you keep on there and give away or sell the rest."
After that, it was like a switch got flipped. She was ready to put stuff in the toss or sell pile, empowered. The room has a long way to go. But it's miles better than when we started.
How many times have I stubbornly held onto a concept or an idea or a character, even when I knew it wasn't working? I once sent out a project that got 37 rejections -- 37! And it wasn't until Tawna Fenske read it and said, "The mom is a whiner and the daughter's a brat, and I can't feel sorry for either of them," that I admitted defeat.
How many times have I moaned to CPs when an editor told me I needed to revisions? Every time, without fail, I've come away from the new project and said, "Wow! I did that! It's better! They were right!"
It's hard to let go of the familiar -- whether it's a prickly old stick that The Kiddo can't even remember the reason she first brought in her bedroom, or the WIP I loved, even though I know it doesn't work. But I've learned -- and I hope The Kiddo will, too -- that you can't grab onto the new until you let go of the old.