Tag: home improvement

How to Marie Kondo your creativity—part 2

We could have saved sixpence. We have saved fivepence. (Pause) But at what cost?

—Samuel Beckett, All That Fall

Real world aside, this experiment is paying off. It took a week to complete Day 1 (Writing—digital), but I feel the difference every time I sit at my computer.

For instance, I never realized how much energy it took to steel my mind against the digital mess of a jam-packed file window. In that nano-second before I decided to search instead of browse, I would sublimate a pang of disgust. But now that my files are organized, opening that window gives me a small jolt of energy instead. It’s like savoring a sip of Peets instead of enduring the taste of lesser coffee, just to get the caffeine. 

Day 2. Writing—physical.

Having tidied the digital files, today I move to the physical ones: binders, loose papers, the diary from 8th grade, a dozen blank books friends have given me “to write in” that are too pretty to write in, countless  journals and notes and playbills and newspaper clippings.

Most of this has been living in my office, in a grim oak bookcase from 1993. Already, I’m certain this is not going to work. Digital files are one thing, but words on paper feel sacred—and, in almost equal measure, outdated and forlorn. How am I going to get rid of any but the most obviously useless?

Step 1. Pile everything on the bed.

photo of a pile of binders and papers
Here goes.

Or, in this case, on the floor. At first, I wanted to cheat and extract one item at a time from the bookcase. But as soon as I said, to hell with it, and starting piling, I realized two things:

  1. Binders have no touch appeal. In their plastic-i-ness and random colors and Sharpied spine labels, they don’t shout “creative synergy!” but instead mutter “windowless computer lab.”
  2. I almost never use them. When I need something, 99% of the time I pull up the most recent digital draft instead.

This is annoying to acknowledge, because a few years ago I created a binder for every full-length play I wrote, every class I taught, and every category of shorter writing. Old drafts, notes, contact sheets, programs, feedback, everything was filed into these binders. I spent countless hours making tabs for different kinds of writing exercises. I bought document sleeves to put programs and cast notes in. I labelled each binder on the spine for easy reference and put it in the bookcase. And then, I almost never opened them again. 

But I’d put so much work into hole-punching and binding. Was it for nothing? And what about all the journals and notes that have no digital equivalent? 

Step 2. Sit down with an expert.

Jill Howe has been there.

For advice, I turned to storyteller and producer Jill Howe, who has been posting beautiful photos of her tidying process all year. We met at one of my favorite breakfast spots, Over Easy, and Jill convinced me that the papers are tamable.

Over corncakes, Jill confided, “Before, with storytelling I did everything on paper. And I would keep every draft, so I’d have like 20 drafts of a story. I mean, it was kind of fun in the beginning, like, ‘Look at all the work I’m doing!’ But if you’ve told a story now and then you tell it again in two months, you look back and go, ‘I ended the story like that? What the eff was I thinking?’

“So now, when I do a piece for a show, I have the final draft and that’s really the only paper I keep. I don’t need the 20 drafts that got me to that point.”

But Jill admitted that there’s the stuff that’s easy to toss, the stuff that’s easy to keep—and then there’s everything in between. Luckily, she also had a solution for this, the largest category. “Are you familiar with Evernote?”

Step 3. Get some apps.

Jill converts me to Scannable right at the table.
Scanning at Over Easy.

Jill uses the notes-app-on-steroids Evernote and Evernote’s free Scannable app to digitize and organize all the in-between stuff. “The app takes a picture, immediately crops it to the frame, and turns it into a high-quality image,” she explained. “You can make folders in your Evernote for all the different categories, and scan directly to those.”  

Jill also has a WiFi scanner that she keeps on her desk, along with a tray for day-to-day stuff like bills and receipts. “When the pile gets deep, I pull out the scanner,” she said.

She recommends the Doxie, which runs about $200, handles multi-page documents pretty well and promises to sync easily with all major cloud services including Evernote and my pick, Dropbox.

Step 4. Hold each document…

Photo of my dog Nola looking at documents
Sacred is a matter of opinion.

Once you’re set up with a scanner or two, you’re ready to:

  1. Pick up a notebook or stapled pile of something.
  2. Turn each page.
  3. Decide whether to keep the whole thing, toss the whole thing, scan selected pages, or scan all the pages.
  4. Put the binder in a donation bin.
  5. Thank and then trash every page you can possibly live without. 
  6. Trash sacred words? Like, in an undignified recycle bin? 

Step 5. Have a bonfire.

photo of empty binders and papers
Anyone need some binders?

About that whole written-words-are-sacred thing I was feeling? Jill’s been there, too. “I’ve been carrying around journals since I was in college,” she told me, “you know, repressive, horrible poetry. And you know, that whole corny thing about, does it spark joy? It just reminded me of things I didn’t want to remember. So I asked a friend, ‘hey, can we build a fire in your backyard?’”

So instead of tossing my outgrown scribblings in the recycle bin, I’m collecting them for a bonfire, first day it’s warm enough to sit outside around the fire pit and toast some marshmallows.

Step 6. Stay motivated.

photo of Jill Howe's library.
Jill’s desk. My goal.

Jill advises taking before and after pictures to remind you of why you’re doing this, and to help fine-tune your work. “There’s something about taking pictures,” she said. “I would declutter a space, take a picture of it, and—I couldn’t see this in real life, but when I’d look at the picture I’d say, ‘that’s still too much.’ And I’d go back and get rid of more.”

Now that I’m actually going through each item, I’m kicking myself for piling everything on the floor. I hate the mess and this is taking way too long already. But that’s exactly why the pile is brilliant. I’m extra-motivated to move quickly so I can get what I want: a digitized library of documents, journal entries, and notes that I can access from anywhere without ever having to dust.

Thank you, Jill! Thank you, Marie. And thank you, Samuel Beckett. 

How to Marie Kondo your creativity—part 1

What happens when you lay your creative work out on the bed, hanger upon hanger, sweater upon mismatched sock?

I’m not talking about the whole of your creativity, just the part you’ve expressed in some tangible form—all the stories,  paintings, set designs, half-finished orchestral scores, and that one note on a napkin about the couple in the coffee shop. I wonder what happens if you hold and thank each item, let go of the ones that don’t bring you joy, and store the rest in a way that truly serves your creative life going forward.

To tidy a home, Marie Kondo works a category at a time: clothing, books, etc. So that’s where I’m going to start. For my creative work, the categories are Writing, Teaching, Submissions, Films & Audio.

Day 1. Writing—digital.

Each category also gets two subcategories: Digital and Physical. Let’s start with digital writing.

Step 1. Lay out your digital writing on the bed.

To do this, I opened my local drive and my Dropbox to display all my documents on my big iMac screen. What a mess—a motley assortment of inconsistently named files, some organized in folders, others loose.

lots of file windows on the screen
What a mess.

A challenging thing about digital writing is that often there isn’t one final, unchangeable version of a piece. Even if a play has been produced, you might continue to tinker with it, thereby creating new versions of the file. For stories, you might have one tailored to live performance, and another to submit to literary journals.

And even when you have a “perfect” draft, what about all the previous ones? Part of me wants to delete them, so I have just one file per play or story. If some scene or line got cut along the way, I probably don’t need it, right?

But then I remember my first playwriting teacher, the late Fred Gaines, saying that at a certain point you should go back to the first draft of a piece, to reengage with your original idea, before you “perfected” it. That’s one of the most useful pieces of writing advice I’ve ever heard. As you change and grow as a writer, you might come back to an early draft and see it differently, a process that could take you in a different, more exciting direction.

Then again, you don’t need to keep every single version of every file. Sometimes that feels too heavy. Argh, how to decide? Luckily, we have a plan that supports making the keep-or-toss decision quickly and decisively. 

Step 2. Create a beautiful storage cabinet.

This is one main folder that will hold all of this type of creative output. I’ve created a folder called Writing. Unlike one of my old folders, WRITING, it’s not in all caps, and suddenly I like it better. I created it in my main Dropbox folder so it’s accessible from everywhere.

We’ll build shelves for this beautiful cabinet in a minute. First, we need to make it easy to toss what we don’t want.

Step 3. Create a Compost bin.

This is a folder named zzzCompost (the zzz keeps it at the bottom of the folder list). This is where you toss files that don’t bring you joy, but it’s better than your computer’s trash bin.

In a month or a year, you can open zzzCompost and pull something that sparks your interest (watch out for worms), or you can make permanent deletions. For now, it allows you to remove files and folders with abandon. One of the perks of digital writing is that it doesn’t take up much space, so you can afford a nice big zzzCompost bin.

Step 4. Create another bin for ideas you haven’t written yet.

I called this zzUnassigned so it sits just above the Compost bin. This is for ideas and web links and anything else that’s interesting but hasn’t found a home yet. I like the name Unassigned because it makes those ideas feel important. They are wanted and valuable, they just haven’t been given a mission yet. 

Step 5. Create a limited number of shelves in your cabinet.

Each shelf is a subfolder for one type of creative work. I experimented a lot here. First I tried detailed subfolders like 10-Minute Plays, Full-length Plays, Stories for Performing, Stories for Reading. But this gave me too many shelves. So I ended up with something much simpler: one folder for each medium, like Plays, plus my two bins.  

Step 6. Hold each document...

In your mind’s eye. Thank and release the ones that don’t bring you joy. Remember you’re just moving them to the zzzCompost folder, so this doesn’t need to take forever. 

Step 7. For each piece you keep, create a folder, place all drafts of that piece in it, and move the folder onto a shelf.

From all 57 drafts of your novel to 1 draft of a one-minute play, each piece gets a folder. Otherwise, files get crumpled in dark corners instead of standing up in neat vertical folds. A folder also gives you a great place to put notes, research, and anything else  related to the writing of this piece.

If you’re not already using a consistent file-naming system, now would be a great time to start. I’ve started naming my files Title_of_piece.dd.mm.yy—for example, Bolshoi Bathtub.021619. If the piece is a related document, reflect that as well—eg, Bolshoi Bathtub.cut scenes.021619. I’m not going back and renaming everything, but going forward this makes the contents of each folder easier to survey.

a neat folder hierarchy.
The After. Much better.

Next up: Physical Writing.

To complete the Writing category, I have to tackle the physical stuff—all the binders, papers, books, and stapled pieces of writing crowding my bookcases and table tops. I might even pile them on a real bed.

Nature adores a vacuum

Yesterday was warm and sunny, sweater weather at most. We went to the park and Nola discovered ice cubes. She also got yelled at by the dog who owned the ice cubes. For the first time, I saw her slink away from a dog instead of just shaking it off and going back for more. I find myself watching for signs like that and hoping they’re not signs.

When we got home, Dave left for his matinee and I tried to figure out what to do with the beautiful day. I raked in the yard a little but the lawn is a mud pit and there’s not much to do at this point. I came inside and there was a text from Gloria, “Are u home?”

“Yep,” I texted back, pleased to get such an informal text from someone I don’t know very well. Gloria is a dog whisperer who is unfazed by difficult animals, bad weather, and flaky owners like us who book her last-minute, “Sorry! Can you walk Nola at noon today?” I hoped she was writing to suggest a play date with Weejay, the puppy she’s dog-sitting down the block.

But no. “Jasper’s coming over to help with this vacuum. Weejay has feathers all over from a pillow and I can’t figure it out.”  I thought she must be dictating because the only Jasper in the neighborhood is a realtor and why would he be helping with a vacuum?

“Sure! I’ll come through the back.” I brought our new Oreck along just in case.

In the yard, Gloria and indeed Jasper the realtor were huddled over a bagless canister vac. After greeting me, Weejay  continued nosing the emerging forsythia, wagging his adorable little tail.

Gloria wanted to empty the vacuum before attacking what she called “a mountain of feathers in there.” I couldn’t wait to see the mess. But none of us could open the canister. It seemed like part of it should unscrew or unclip, but nothing was budging and none of us wanted to be the one to pull too hard and break it. Jasper gently poked a long-handled screwdriver into the opening. “Let me just use my vacuum,” I said.

“No. I’m not letting you do that,” said Gloria.

“I need to change the bag anyway,” I said, which was partly true. Dave hates this new Oreck because he claims it smells. I tell him, “No, it’s what the Oreck picks up that smells.” He counters, “The old Oreck didn’t smell.” I come back, “That’s because it didn’t pick anything up.” The old Oreck now lives in the basement, and he insists on lugging it upstairs whenever he’s doing the vacuuming. “Go ahead,” I say. “I’m just going to need to vacuum again tomorrow so whatever.” Surreptitiously, I change the bag as often as possible, even though Oreck bags are ridiculously expensive, being made partially of cloth, which is probably why they smell.

Gloria and Jasper poked around with the screwdriver until we agreed the canister looked pretty clean. Jasper clicked it back on the base, and then Gloria nudged another unmoving part, “I need this wand for the feathers.”

“Are there that many?”

“Oh this dog,” she said. “They’re everywhere.” I pictured the scene from North and South where the cotton bits float in a mist above everything, choking the millworkers’ lungs and causing industrial malaise. I was dying to get inside. But none of us could unclip the hose part from the carpet sweeper part. There was a lever that you either pull out or unwind like a clock, but neither way seemed to dislodge the wand, and once again we were all afraid to break it. “I’m just going to use my vacuum,” I said, grabbing the Oreck.

“No!” said Gloria.

“Don’t be weird,” I said.

“It is weird,” she retorted. I went inside and looked for the feathers. None in the kitchen. None in the dining room. Then, in the middle of the rug on the sun porch, a fluffy pyramid of white wisps. A slight drizzle of them on the sunporch sofa, and a random few drifting across the dark wood floor.

Jasper plugged in the Oreck and I vacuumed up the feathers. Weejay was briefly interested. Gloria shook her head slowly. I worried that the Oreck would smell and humiliate me on its outing, but it didn’t, or maybe the good smells in the house neutralized it—faint incense and fresh sunshine air. The procedure took about 60 seconds.

Afterward, Jasper found one rogue feather and suggested saving it for the owners. Gloria took the feather and shook her head again. We all agreed that Weejay was adorable and it was a good thing he hadn’t gone after the couch.

Jasper carried the Oreck back to my gate and went on his way. Gloria texted to say, “Thanks again,” and I texted back, “No problem. Any time.” She responded, “Hopefully it’s all downhill from here.”

10 Things Regarding the Prospect of Worms

Food for worms.
Frozen food for worms.

1. No one has ever reported their escape. At least, not in the reviews.

2. The nicest kit is about $109 on Amazon.

3. They like to call them factories. I can’t decide whether that’s cuter or more disturbing.

4. There’s one for sale on Craigslist but we are agreed that if we’re actually going to do this we’re going to start with an absolutely brand new and pristine…factory.

5. You have your choice of worms. We’re going with Red Wrigglers.

6. You can buy the same ones at bait shops. Does that mean we can then sell them to bait shops?

7. There’s absolutely no problem with fruit flies, but if you want, you can freeze your fruit scraps first. But there’s really no problem with fruit flies or smells or anything like that. But you can freeze the stuff first.

8. One pound is about three handfuls. Handfuls.

9. Sometimes the worms don’t use the ladders (included) and you have to help them.

10. They’ll be here on Monday.