Lately I have found myself in the kitchen. This is not traditionally the room in my house I prefer to hang out in for any longer than I have to, yet there I am, baking a plum tart or tomato-basil quiche and just this week homemade brownies from a friend’s family recipe.
It’s not just baking that’s going on in the kitchen, though. I’m rearranging the serving dishes and the wooden spoons, casting out the overused ones. I’m sorting through years of the kids’ artwork that’s piled up in the three baskets above the shared desk. I am clearing and cleaning, sudsing and rinsing, wiping down and sweeping up. These are not tasks that generally rate high on my pleasure scale. Until recently, I’ve always felt compelled to put my house in order before I could tackle any other activity, including writing. Often, I never got around to the writing.
Now I feel differently. The basil-lemon scent of my favorite dish soap is a centering balm that I breathe in and breathe out. Balancing freshly washed bowls and water bottles with their oddly shaped tops in the drying rack is an artistic endeavor. There is immense satisfaction in sweeping the unnecessary leftovers of life into the dustpan and dumping it all in the trash bin: abandoned Cheerios, the paper thin skin of a garlic clove, crumpled leaves tracked in by the dog, a stray piece of uncooked pasta, endless unidentifiable crumbs. I find myself relaxing, my mind drifting and unwinding, opening. The work itself is not particularly fun, but each swipe of the cloth, each sweep of the broom clears a space for me – and in the space is where magic happens.
That’s right, I said magic. I don’t mean the Harry Potter variety, but rather the creative kind of magic. The tangle of thoughts that follows me around all day jumping up and down for attention finally gets an audience. As I tidy, words spin and settle into sentences. I stop to jot them down or sometimes just let them swirl away, making room for another sliver of something shiny and promising, like a glimpse of tinsel stuck in the branches of a leafy green tree: totally unexpected and completely delightful.
I’ll admit that my current fascination with magic has a lot to do with the two books I’m reading right now, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo and Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. The first is a straightforward how-to on literally clearing out your clutter, from clothes, to paper to household objects and even to people (one woman discovered she wanted a divorce after applying the KonMarie method to her life). I’m about halfway through the book and my biggest take away is if it doesn’t bring you joy, pass it on so it can bring joy to someone else or pitch it altogether. I’ve used this mantra in a few different ways already and it really does clarify what I do and do not want around me. Turns out creating more physical space also opens up more emotional and intellectual space. What to do then with all of this extra space?
That’s where the second book, Big Magic, comes in. I’m one of those people who did not fall head over heels for Eat, Pray, Love but I am completely astounded by Big Magic. It’s also a how-to, but for living a creative life, complete with wonderful personal anecdotes and colorful quotes. However, it’s not exactly news. As a life-long writer, I continually struggle with the complete list of challenges she mentions (not good enough, not enough time, it’s been done before, what if no one likes my writing? etc.) as well as periodically commit to playing my own advocate (I don’t have to write for anyone but myself, I am a good writer, find joy in the practice, etc.). So why am I ah-ha-ing with every other page, a goofy smile plastered across my face?
First of all, Elizabeth Gilbert is a master weaver of the colloquial and the profound. Even though she’s not saying anything novel, she’s saying it in a way that resonates deeply with me. Secondly, I’ve been preparing for this. While I’m a long way from finished with tidying up, passing along and giving away, I’ve definitely shifted into living a less cluttered life. I’ve been making space and it’s there in the space that the big magic – the creative life – happens.
I didn’t plan to read these two books at the same time, but if you’re like me – a little obsessed about a place for everything and everything in its place and a creative type – I recommend reading them together.
Are you reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up or Big Magic? I’d love to hear your thoughts.