I spent a perfectly good workday cleaning. I started with my writing studio, a single, tiny, room. Nevertheless, I moved all the furniture away from the walls, brought in a stepladder and a vacuum and chased cobwebs out of corners. I washed the windows – inside and out. I polished the woodstove with stove black, and I cleared my desk.
What inspired such uncharacteristic behavior? Last week, I finished a book. It’s a novel, tentatively titled Elegy for a Girl.
I’ve finished it before, several times under different titles and at least once or twice with this one. And I may have to rewrite it once – or twice – again. But for the time being, I’m done, and I’m moving on to something else: a novel currently titled Ellen. This story has also had several titles, but I’ve never finished it – even momentarily. And that’s about to change.
Before I can step into this new, alternate, universe, however, I have to clear away the old one, and that has meant a thorough housecleaning, not something I’m particularly diligent about in the ordinary course of daily life, but something that provides me with enormous solace as I transition from one novel to another.
Clearing my desk and cleaning my studio is the physical equivalent of opening a new ream of paper. By taking my workspace down to the bones, I’m opening it up to new characters, locales, complications (aka plot). And because I’ve been here before, in that blank room where everything is possibility – and sometimes very scary – I know to ground myself with housecleaning. I even look forward to these episodes – which come infrequently enough.
Once my writing room is clean, I’ll move on to the house. I’ll hoe out the cupboards, sort through stacks of outdated magazines, try to match orphaned socks.
This sifting through things becomes a meditation of discovery and organization. And I’m pretty sure that long before I’ve gone through every drawer and closet, I’ll find my story, and abandon my cleaning – until next time I finish a book.
Deborah Lee Luskin is the author of the award-winning novel, Into The Wilderness, “a fiercely intelligent love story” set in Vermont in 1964. She is a regular Commentator on Vermont Public Radio and teaches for the Vermont Humanities Council. Learn more at her website: www.deborahleeluskin.com