Thursday, November 13, 2014

Cleaning House

When I was little, my mother and grandmother turned the carpets and changed the drapes and slipcovers in spring and fall.  Most interesting to me was the semi-annual rearrangement of the furniture.  The sofa in the living room looked out in the spring and summer, in, in the winter.  The position of overstuffed chairs turned one way or another, depending on the season.  When I was six or seven, the happier time for me was spring cleaning—a promise of a fresh, new year, which is what spring really means: newness.  Today, though, autumn and winter speak to me with more effect: reminiscence and self-reflection.  This is a time to think, to slow down, to prepare for a month or two (or three) of interior work, of turning the chairs toward the fireplace and away from the gardens and lawns on the other side of the window, of looking forward to reading and writing and entertaining in a less effusive way than spring and summer encourage.

This is true of writers, especially.  It’s time to change the drapes, to re-arrange the furniture in a figurative way.  To revisit our writing and re-think what we put into it and what it’s offering us.  And to move the pieces around inside those writing projects we started a while back.  This is a good time to take a clear look what we wrote and abandoned, either in exhaustion or disgust (yes, this happens to all of us).  You will see superficiality, silliness and awkwardness you either hadn’t noticed or had struggled with a year (or two or three or ten) ago; you can fix them, now, along with the odd punctuation you had thought was clever. 

But you will also notice some good ideas that had been staring you in the face a while back.  You will find inspiration.  Take the good pieces and reposition them or recombine them—the joy of written work is that you can move that perfect sentence from one corner to another, or to another room.  You may notice a tear in an upholstered chair: move it (the chair).  You will see the perfect place for that rhetorical throw-rug; you might want to hang a piece of Oriental carpet on the wall, pull two loveseats togther and make a sofa.  You will notice, in those long winter evenings, how remarkably ugly that recliner in the corner really is: toss it.  You will see where lamps and ornamental pillows don’t belong and find new places for them, possibly right out of the room.  You will see where artistic chairs need turning, and then notice that last spring you may have missed one of those dust -bunnies.  Clean them out now.

Do this:  Think hard about who you were when you wrote whatever that was and how you have changed; if you produced your work last spring, you might want to simply keep it in a box; if you have a manuscript from last winter, this is a good time to read with revision—re-arrangement—in mind.  For those of us who are constantly writing “memoiristic” pieces, this is a time to take stock. To sit in a chair toward the fireplace, book in hand, pen and paper close by, and prepare for long evenings, looking inward, seeing the world new and old at the same time.  Re-assessing, re-visioning, re-arranging.  Tossing, recombining.  Remaking.  An artistic “spring cleaning” in the coldest and darkest times of the year.

Winona Winkler Wendth is a writer and editor who teaches the humanities at Quinsigamond Community College; she is a Lancaster resident and a cofounder of the Seven Bridge Writers Collaborative. Contact her at

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