I just swam FIFTY laps!   My arms and legs feel like wood.

I woke up thinking I should go to some dance classes.   I have a monthly membership at a dance studio, where I pay a set price and can take up to ten classes at that set rate.   It's a great deal, but I think today is the last day of the billing cycle, and I only used six of my classes.  

But I just couldn't get myself motivated.  I was feeling pretty 'meh' about driving to the studio.   But I'm also anxious that I have gained a good bit of weight since the show closed last month.  I am up eight pounds.   Some of it is water weight, but I can't rely on that, and I knew I needed to do something today.

Plus I have two flamenco classes tonight and I didn't want to walk in cold.  So I finally decided to get off my can and go swim some laps - something I have been saying I wanted to do since Thanksgiving.  I read a lot about how Natalie Portman got into shape for Black Swan, and swimming was a big part of her training.

If it's good enough for Natalie, it's good enough for me.

I thought, walking down The Hill to the pool, that I would shoot for 50 laps, but in truth, I had no idea what steady swimming would be like, so I promised myself I could stop whenever I really felt like I was done.

I really felt like I was done at five laps.   

But I rested for a minute, then went for ten.  I took a break, drank some water, used the washroom, got back in the pool, paddled around, stretched a bit.

Then I did five-lap increments, determined to get to 20.   And I got there.  So I decided to try for five more.

Those next five were very hard and took some mental pep talking.   Just one more, I told myself.   Then I said it to myself again, just one more.  Until I hit 25.

At 25 laps, the service truck pulled up (they do maintenance on the pool and the clubhouse), but then they didn't seem to be coming into the pool area yet, so I thought, let me see if I can get in five more.   At 30, some random guy came in and sat down in a loungechair, with headphones and sunglasses.   He never took off his t-shirt.   I nodded politely and then ignored him.

I was aiming for 40, but then I thought, let's try 45.   Then at 45 I thought, what the hell, why not shoot for 50.


The poolside guy left a minute after I did, and followed me partway up The Hill - but a neighbor friend of mine was driving down the hill, and he stopped and we chatted. Random Guy was still behind me, but veered off to the building across the street and went around like he was going in through one of the backdoors.   It's a steep hill, and we all do what we can to be lazy walking up The Hill.

I mention this, because, while I was very aware of being alone at the pool and in the clubhouse when I used the restroom, this was a very good reminder that the next time, I will be checking in with JC before and after my swim.   Today was about 45 minutes, door to door.   I think it is very important for anyone, but especially women who are alone, to be cognizant of their surroundings, and have a plan.   And a Backup Plan B.  I didn't even have my phone with me today, but you can bet I will next time - which I think will be Friday morning, but a little earlier.   The sun was a little strong by the time I wrapped up at 11:15, even with 70spf.

The interesting things I noticed while swimming:  How clear and aqua-sparkly the water was.  How the clouds were forming an arc of little cotton puffs across the sky.   A random bird calling out in a clear, treble voice.   The cicadas starting to warm up and really sing.

And how very, very, ridiculously steep The Hill was, walking back.   

Thoughts on KonMari, and Minimalism.

It has been just over four months since I did my first tidying + discarding session.   Now, four months into the process, I am about 3/4 of the way finished at my condo, and about 2/3 done at JC's.   The impact, already, has been tremendous...

When I walk into my place, I feel a surge of happiness, of peace, and well-being.   All is right, in my well-ordered little universe.

I am still working on JC's place, as I brought over a bunch of clothing and shoes that I am photographing and listing on eBay - and it's junking up the joint.   My goal is to have everything sorted and listed by one week from today.

Otherwise, his place is starting to really shape up !  I often think about what sort of place we would have, if we lived overseas - London, Paris, maybe even someplace tiny and tropical - and ways in which we could downsize what we have, still maintaining a well-oiled routine.   Especially with kitchen and laundry.   What would we have?   What would I want to bring with me?   My piano for sure.

In either case, I have a better grasp of what I own, and where everything is.   What's more, I find I am deriving greater enjoyment and satisfaction out of my surroundings!

So far, I have tidied and discarded:

  • Clothing, shoes, bags, accessories, jewelry
  • Books
  • Papers & Records
  • CDS & DVDs
  • Old photos (I must have thrown away about 500 photos of blurry landscapes that I couldn't identify)
  • Some nostalgia items
  • Linens
  • Kitchenware

I still have:

  • Papers & Records (down to about 1/3 of what I previously had)
  • Photos (going to take another pass at these)
  • Nostalgia items
  • Kitchenware
  • Music Scores & Equipment
  • Costumes and Props

And I want to do a second pass over my wardrobe, books, and CDs.

But my point in writing this post is not to outline what remains, or what is left to do.   It is to talk about how all of this feels.

It feels pretty freakin' GOOD!

I never imagined I would be anything approaching a minimalist.   I used to say "I want to be less of a maximalist".   And in truth, I am still not a minimalist.

But I feel I am getting there, one donated, sold, or gifted away item at a time.

These days, I feel so liberated, so free.

I find I have less incidental, undefined anxiety.

I don't sweat the smaller things like I did four, five, six months ago.

I am more patient with people.   I used to think patience was a myth.   Now I realize, patience is the reward of letting go of the unnecessary, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

I am more accepting of others, for who they are, and I am more accepting of myself, for who I am.

It feels awesome!

My goal in the coming months - by mid-July - is to finish KonMari.   I look forward to seeing what remains - although in truth, I don't know that I will ever truly be finished.   There will always be areas to sort, tidy, discard, declutter, just as there will always be things to learn, and ways to grow.   For myself, I would like to be at a point - physically, mentally, spiritually, financially - where, if the opportunity came along, JC and I could pack up and go see the world, at a moment's notice.

There is still a lot to be done, but I can see that little glow on the horizon, and it's exciting!

The Most Fascinating Woman I've Never Met.

I popped into a local thrift store yesterday, for a bit of treasure-hunting.  Alas, the treasure I was seeking - pristine white and light-colored tops for summer - eluded me.

But I did not go away empty-handed.   Ah no.   Here is what I came away with...

1.  A vintage faux-fur cropped jacket by Cejon.

According to the tag, this is faux fur.   You coulda had me fooled, because it feels like the real deal.

2.  An open-back, vintage velvet bodysuit from Contempo Casuals:

I was thrilled to find this, as I frequently use bodysuits for costuming.   This will be the basis of my Cat Sidhe costume at the next DragonCon.

3.   This uh-mazing Ralph Lauren full-length gown - made out of a tweedy sweater knit.  It has an elegant, low-key, Morticia Addams-vibe.

Seriously, I have NO idea where I am going to wear this.   But I am going to wear this next winter.

4.   This unspeakably cool black patent leather skirt (genuine leather, I might add), by Barami.  Fits like a glove!

5.   And the piece de resistance...  a Brisa reversible sheared mink jacket, with a fox fur collar.  It is in MINT condition.

I googled this.   Brisa is a line carried at Nordstrom's Fur Salon.   Someone recently sold a similar, pre-owned jacket on eBay for over $1000.

I must admit, this last one had me flummoxed.   Who gives away a mink jacket to a thrift shop?   JC answered that for me.  "Probably from an estate".   I conceded the probable accuracy of that.

I did purchase other things, but as I was going back through them... I realized something...

These five items have several common factors:

1.   They are all luxurious items - rich, soft to the touch, warm, made of gorgeous materials.

2.   There is a uniformity of color and shape.

3.   They all fit me perfectly.

Is it possible, I wonder, that they came from the same person?

I like to think so.   I like to imagine a woman, my size, but probably several inches taller.   The Ralph Lauren dress is long on me, even with four-inch heels.   

I like to imagine this woman is elegant, impeccably groomed, well-read, well-travelled, high-spirited, a bit of a rebel... 

And adventurous in all the very best ways.  A placid woman doesn't wear a skirt like that.

I am fascinated with the idea of this woman.   I would love to meet this woman, and hear her stories.   I know she's got stories.

I truly hope that, if I am correct in my single-owner surmise, that this owner is alive and well, and thriving... and having grand adventures of the very best sort.

The Myth of the Old Dog.

This is a long post, but I hope you will bear with me, and read through this, because I think this could be useful to the adult student of any intellectual or physical discipline.

Nearly two weeks ago, I attended a three-day, advanced-level flamenco dance workshop.   Much to my surprise, the real learning had nothing to do with choreography, or advanced technique.

The real learning at this workshop... is about how I learn.

The first day went quite well.   The workshop started with about 90 minutes of flamenco dance technique.   Footwork, arm placement, body placement, head snaps, spins, chaine' turns.   Counting and doing palmas (clapping) for a 12-count compas.

Once we finished all of that, we started learning a new choreography, and it went very well for me.   I felt like a rockstar!  I was not the most advanced girl there (that fell to my friend, whom I shall refer to as 'Alicia') - but the instructor kept choosing the two of us demonstrate exercises and the choreo we were learning, for the other attendees.

It has been a very long time since I was the 'advanced kid' in any dance class, and I have to say, it felt good.

That was the first day of the workshop.

The second day was entirely different.   I struggled to grasp the choreography, and felt like I just couldn't get the additional movement concepts.   I muddled through the entire thing, and I went home feeling very frustrated.

So what happened between the first day, and the second?   Well... as it turns out, several things:

1.   The choreography and footwork from the first evening were recorded and put on Dropbox - which I could not access and successfully replay with my iPad, with the shaky internet connection at my condo.   I needed my laptop, and/or better internet, both of which were at JC's.   So I did not review and practice the material prior to walking into the second session.

2.   The second session was all choreography.    The pace was faster, because the instructor saw how fast we were able to pick things up the first day, and she decided we were up for a challenge.

There is a 3. and a 4. and I will get to those in just a moment.   Before I do, I want to explain about how I learn.   The second night I saw a significant slowdown in my ability to pick up new ideas.   And this is why:   I learn things in 'blocks'.   Blocks of music, blocks of lyrics, blocks of dialogue, blocks of knowledge, blocks of choreography.   I have always worked one block at a time, getting a working knowledge of the material in that block, before moving on to the next one.   Some blocks I can assimilate quickly (piano, percussion, script lines).   Some things come slowly to me (singing, dancing).

Once I have worked through all the blocks of something, then I go back and try to work all the way through, and that's where I usually find I have to 're-block' and work transitions.

Let me use a recent-ish example:   I learned several piano pieces from Suite Espanola, by Isaac Albeniz, for a fundraiser show for our theatre in late 2013.   To start, I sat down with the score and a pencil, and followed the score as I listened to a recording of the music.   I marked off the music in 16-64 bar 'blocks', and I noted when a block was repeated.   Then I went through, one block at a time, and assigned fingerings and hand positions to the tricky passages,   Once that was done, I followed my usual habit of setting a timer for 15 minutes.   I do this so that I can work through the entire piece without obsessing over one passage for hours.   This allows me to get a basic learning of the piece.

Once I have done this, I try and play through the piece, slowly, in its entirety - and that is when I work through transitioning from one block to the next.

I use this same technique for learning percussion rhythms, script lines, vocal music, and choreography.

And this takes me to 3....

3.   When I learn dance movement, I do that in blocks, as well... but I struggle harder with transitions from block to block.   With this realization, came another understanding:   It takes me awhile to commit to learning the actual dance choreography - I have a bad habit of performing by rote, or being a monkey-see, monkey-do kinda gal.   I am able to mimic and partially recall a fraction of a second after I see someone else initiate the movement.   So if you ask me to do a new choreo on my own ten minutes after it has been taught... I might have it, or I might not.   Probably not.

Having clarified this for myself, I was able to move to conclusion number 4...

4.   Having to actually learn the material, and not piggyback off of someone else, or my own mentally-checked-out habit... is not comfortable.    In fact, it is very mentally uncomfortable.    This kind of learning - which Cal Newport refers to as "Deep Work" - requires an intense effort of will and concentration on my part - and it makes me squirm, for about 10-15 minutes, until I push past it.    My brain does not like the challenge, and will do everything it can to divert me with little distractions - siren calls, if you will - and if that doesn't work, my mind will shift gears and really try to subvert me from going any further into deep work.

Here are examples of what my brain was telling me, the second and third nights of class:

  • "This is really really hard.   Why don't you sit down and stretch out your feet for a moment?"
  • "It's hard to think.   You should have some food.   Isn't there an apple in your bag?"
  • "You had better check your texts, and see if JC answered the one you sent before the workshop started."
  • "Hey look, that other gal sat down.   She looks upset.  Maybe you should see if she's okay". 

Do you see how sneaky that last example is?   My brain dug deep, and tried to use empathy for others, to wiggle out of doing actual work.   The woman was fine, by the way, she had just had an exhausting work day, and the workshop material was beyond her skill level.

By the end of the second session, I was kind of aware that I was losing focus - but it wasn't until the drive home, (away from any distraction of internet, email, or texting), that I was able to think this through, and arrive at a clear understanding of what had happened. 

I am very glad the second evening went as it did - because now that I have worked my way through the problem, I am already seeing a huge impact on how I study my performing arts materials, and how I spend my writing sessions.

I went to JC's, where I was reunited with my laptop, and able to download and review the video material.   I made sure, going into the final session of the workshop, that I had eaten a sensible meal, that I had plenty of water, and a healthy snack.  

The third evening went very well!   Was I able to do all of the choreography?   No.   But I was able to do most of it, which is exactly what I want out of a workshop - to be challenged beyond my level and ability.   I was able to work through the transitions, and I made the concentrated effort not to watch the other attendees when the instructor stepped out to watch.  I made myself remember the choreos, and not rely on the other dancers.   Also, I was aware of those moments in the session, when I was not 'comfortable' - and I was able to push through my mind's attempts to distract and divert.   I found that, with focus of will, I could push through that 'distraction' phase within a few minutes.   

So here is where I talk about the title of this post.   There is a terrible, cliched saying out there, and I have seen it applied to pretty much every adult human being over the age of 25:   "You Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks".   I think this is possibly the nastiest little idea that ever was, because it permeates every level of every intellectual or physical activity in our society.   It is an utter fallacy.   Anyone, of any age, who is willing to objectively analyze their learning skills,  identify and eliminate distraction, and who is willing to throw themselves at the challenge.. can accomplish anything.   

There is no expiration date on learning a skill or achieving an objective, regardless of age. 

I cannot help being a bit regretful that it took me to this point in my life to understand this - and I am also fiercely overjoyed that I arrived at this understanding as quickly as I have.   To quote a favorite song, from a favorite Sondheim show,

"There's a lot I'll have missed, but I'll not have been dead when I die!"

There are some wonderful books that I highly recommend on the topic of learning.   They deserve their own reviews, which I will eventually write, but I want to mention them here:

Cal Newport has a fantastic blog site, and has written a brilliant book, So Good, They Can't Ignore You.  This book is a life-changer.   The title comes from a quote by Steve Martin, which leads me to my second recommendation.

I have been a huge fan of Steve Martin since I was a child.   His autobiography, Born Standing Up, was immensely enjoyable AND extremely instructive, particularly when you realize how much practice and deep work has gone into his body of work (comedy, writing, acting, performing), over the course of his lifetime.

And finally, I recently read (and re-read parts) of Stephen King's fantastic non-fiction biography/how-to:   On Writing:  A Memoir of the Craft.   Again, this book was so instructional, not merely in the technical art of writing, but in the intellectual art of taking your life experiences, and translating them into your art.

Also, the song I quoted is "The Miller's Son", from the Sondheim musical, A Little Night Music.   The music and lyrics of the entire show are absolutely exquisite.  I have taken the quote out of context, but the sentiment is the same.

Tackling the Kitchen - Part One - using the Marie Kondo Method...


About two-thirds finished.

The Kitchen, After!

I am calling this Part One, because I did not tidy the entire kitchen.

Oh, I wanted to!   But I only had two hours to spare, and past experience has shown me, again and again, that I always underestimate that amount of time an area will take.

So today, I tackled the kitchen closet, and the under-sink areas.

Here is what I keep in these two areas:

  • Cleaning Products.
  • More Cleaning Products.
  • Bug Spray.
  • More Bug Spray.
  • Expired Canned Food.
  • Canned Food That Hasn't Yet Expired But Is Teetering On The Brink.
  • Powdered Sugar.   Not white.   Not turbinado.  Not brown.   Just powdered.   WHY???
  • Flavored Extracts.
  • Freezer Paper.   ???    I have NO idea when I bought this, or why.   It just showed up one day.
  • Multiple Boxes of Wax Paper.   In case I ever run out.   Even though I never use wax paper.
  • More Flavored Extracts.
  • Laundry Apparatus.
  • Four kinds of leather polish.  (I actually use all of these).
  • Three kinds of furniture polish. 
  • Two kinds of Swiffer-type cloths.
  • And Six, count 'em, SIX** different spray bottles of product, to make my condo smell nicer.  

**Actually... there were seven, but one was nearly empty.

I was dreading doing the under-sink area.   I rent this condo, and the under-sink area is in terrible shape.   Basically, it's a bunch of slowly crumbling particle board, packed full of chemicals.   I was, in fact, going to postpone this, and just do the kitchen closet, aka, The Pantry.

Then I opened The Pantry, and realized that it contained a lot of overflow from the undersink area.

So I emptied it out, put everything together by type, and started culling the collective herd.

Here is what I discovered.

I had a lot of nearly-empty duplicates that I did not realize - and here I thought I was always on top of the duplicates situation!   I poured the nearly empties into the fuller bottles.

I had a LOT of canned and baking goods that were seriously expired - which I did not realize.   HOLY CRAP, 2012 WAS THREE YEARS AGO!    I have no idea when I bought some of this stuff.

Also, I didn't know baking powder had a 'use by' date.   I am kind of suspicious about that.   It sounds like a scam to sell more of something most of us only use at Christmas, to bake stuff we wouldn't fool with any other time of year.   But since that 'use by' date was 2011, I went ahead and tossed it.   People who eat my cookies and occasional pancakes, you're welcome.

For some reason, I love collecting different types of cleaning sponges and rags that I only use once.  Then I realize they're awkward or inefficient, or whatever... so I let them dry and tuck them into the back of a cabinet or shelf.   You know, in case there is ever a shortage of man-made sponges in the stores.

Altogether, it took me about 90 minutes to empty, wipe down, spray for bugs, let dry, sort, toss, and put the keepers back on the shelves and under the sink.  I am getting faster at this process, when it isn't something with a hugely personal attachment, such as books.   I expect when I tackle papers, and nostalgia items, it's going to be painfully painstaking work.

When I finished my kitchen (part one), I had a glorious dinner break where I enjoyed a leftover half of a huge Japanese sweet potato swimming in butter, while I basked in a feeling of accomplishment.   Just like every step of the process, there is a feeling of greater spaciousness and peace in my condo - even though the cabinet doors are shut.

After all the basking and gloating, I packed up and came downtown to JC's.   Things are still drying out after the Big Gurgle on Tuesday night (see my previous post), but I am hoping to tackle a small storage closet that has managed to pack itself full of miscellany.   Aaaaand.... as I typed that last sentence, I realized the closet comes with two drawers that it has overflowed into.   Craaaaaaap.   Oh well.   Going to do it this weekend - do or die.

Have you tried Marie Kondo's method yet, or read her book?   What are your thoughts on the process?

The highly-dreaded Under-Sink, before.
Under-sink, after.

The Pantry, before.

The Pantry, after.

A Bizarre Sequence of Events.


Yesterday was a strangely clashing day:   a mixture of pretty good, somewhat disastrous, with a big ol' heaping helping of just plain bizarre....

It was one of those days where you wonder if you haven't stepped into a parallel universe... or maybe this is just a Professor Binns moment - the sort of moment where you just keep on doing what you're doing, without realizing the world around you is officially on a different track from you.

Yesterday afternoon, I had the strangest experience, and even today, I find myself alternating between quiet laughter, and being kind of spooked.

This strange experience happened in the master bathroom of my condo, and centers around a metal, three-shelf etagere, fitted neatly and tightly around the toilet and plumbing.   It is firmly in-place, unable to be tipped over, or shifted off-balance.  It sits closely to the mirrored wall behind it, but does not touch it.

On my etagere, in keeping with my vaguely 1930's, early Hollywood Regency theme, I have several small silver trays on the lower two shelves.   Sitting on these little trays are half-a-dozen bottles of nail polish, and some perfume bottles, a couple of  lidded powder bowls - one is Wedgewood, the other is crystal and porcelain.    There is also a bowl-shaped candle holder, made of some sort of composite resin, in a filigree pattern that is painted silver.   Quite pretty!

On the top shelf, in the place of honor, is my lead-crystal jaguar figurine, flanked by two, very heavy, lead crystal candlesticks   Those candlesticks weigh probably 3-4 pounds apiece.   This is a significant detail to my story...

Yesterday afternoon, I sat down on the toilet...  hold on, this is simply where my story begins.   Don't freak out.   I promise, there is not any additional TMI.   When I sat down, I could swear I did not touch or bump ANYTHING.   I did not, to my recollection, even sit down heavily...

About a two seconds after I sat down, one of the crystal candlesticks sailed through the air, and clipped the back of my head, followed closely by the other candlestick, which came down heavily on my right shoulder.  

It felt like something threw those candlesticks at me.

Not even a full second after that, everything on the top two shelves came crashing down.   The reverberation of sound was enormous.   I leaped away from the sound, and landed, cat-like, several feet away by the bathroom door.   In the confusion, I thought the mirror had shattered and was raining down.   That is what it sounded like, anyway.

As I drew in a ragged and shaky breath, I realized several things:

  • The mirror had not shattered, or cracked, or so much as had a single scratch.   
  • The etagere was perfectly intact, standing where it has always been.   T
  • he shelves hadn't collapsed, nor had the frame bent.   

But nearly everything on the top two shelves was either relocated down one shelf, or landed on the floor entirely.   Only the powder boxes stayed put.    Everything on the lowest shelf had been knocked over.

I started laughing hysterically, a little freaked out, and started assessing the damage:

The crystal jaguar somehow managed to land on the middle shelf (which is weird because there isn't really space between the shelves and the mirror).   It was completely and entirely unharmed, nestled between two very fragile powder boxes.  The powder dishes had moved as if to make room for the jaguar - but were perfect and untouched.    Both candlesticks had hit the floor - one had a shattered end, but the other was suffered no damage - not so much as a chip or a scratch.

Sadly, I lost the silver composite candle bowl - the base and some of the decorative filigree shattered into tiny pieces and scattered everywhere.

Thankfully, the bottle of Angel Rose that was still half full, and hit the floor... was intact as well.   I am profoundly grateful I didn't have to clean up a perfume spill.

My sister's reaction at this point was "Weird.  Better burn some sage or something"

I think I had better, too.   Because as I looked at everything, and started sorting through the small pile of rubble surrounding the toilet, I realized that there was no easily logical explanation for what had happened.   The only thing I can think of is, in super-strange event horizon, someone downstairs or in the connected unit slammed a door, setting off a potentially deadly and sinister, but strangely impressive Rube Goldberg domino effect, starting with one, keystone candlestick.

I could not stop laughing.   I admit, I was totally freaked out.   Because even as logic presented itself and sorted itself in my mind... I can still recall the surprise of the impact of heavy object hitting the back of my skull.   Being found, pants down, slumped unconscious on the toilet, is not how I ever want to spend an afternoon of my life.

I was left with a sickly headache that seemed to be equal parts sore scalp, bruised shoulder, and adrenaline hangover, but by the time I got to the flamenco workshop, the advil and coffee had done their work.   And so I laughed it off as part of a strange day.

But the weirdness of my day was not yet over... two hours into the workshop, I had a text from JC.   There was a backup of filthy water  from the condo building's network pipe, located in the laundry closet.   He had just sat down to enjoy a peanut butter sandwich, when he heard a gurgle, gurgle, and turned in time, to see the water bubble up, geyser-like, and flooded most of his condo.

Today, the problem - still mysterious - has been resolved, and now we have moved on to the clean-up part of the process.

I did not think there was anything that could possibly upstage being struck in the back of the head by a blunt object while on the can... but there you go.   I stand corrected.

Hitting the Books, KonMari-Style.


My newly-tidied bookshelves!
It had been about a week and a half (maybe longer) since I tackled the laundry closet at JC's condo, using the discarding and tidying methods of Marie Kondo.   From there, I was content to sort of float along, resting on my laurels - until I realized that things were looking a bit messy around here.   Not 'messy' compared to before I started KonMari - but messy now, by my new standards of tidying.

I was having trouble motivating myself to move on to the next step (papers at JC's, books at my place).   So I made a little bargain with myself, to just do one shelf or drawer.   I tackled a shelf of towels and sheets inside JC's armoire.   There weren't many, and nothing to discard - I simply went through everything, wiped down the shelf, and re-folded the linens neatly.

And it immediately rekindled my enthusiasm and sense of purpose.   I became committed to tackling the bookshelves at my place - I had already pulled ever book I could find, and set them together in my dining area-cum-study, where they have been gathering dust for the past three weeks.

Late Wednesday evening, I took every book off of the shelves and table (music scores are exempt and are in another area, to be sorted another time).   I set them on the floor in great heaps.   This took about fifteen minutes.   Then I walked away from it, and took a brief break, before returning and starting the sorting process.

Sorting books is HARD.   Much harder than sorting clothing.  At least, it's harder for me.   I can hold a blouse, or a pair of shoes, and know whether or not it will make the cut - and then dispassionately release the item out of my life. 

Books are harder.   Books are personal.   I remember clearly how my mom always read aloud to us, the way she could bring the characters to life.   I also remember, clearly, the first day I spelled out a word, how it felt like this door suddenly opened out onto this wondrous world - a world of endless possibility.  A world where I could go anywhere, be anything.   A world - in print - that was my playground.

Marie Kondo recommends, in her book, that you take each book, one at a time, hold it in your hands, and ask, "does this thrill me?"  By no means should you open the book and start reading, she cautions, because you will get distracted.

Some books I held and felt that immediate thrill.   Others...  I was not sure of.   Then I opened them.   Mistake!   I could not let them go - even though I knew I would probably not re-read (or even first-read) them. So I set them aside in a 'maybe' pile. 

Within ten minutes of starting, I already had a maybe pile that was the same size as the 'thrill' pile... and waaaay larger than the discard pile. 

After an hour, I was almost finished - and I knew that when I did finish... I would need to do this exercise again.  I didn't put any of the books back on the shelves, not even the 'thrill' ones.   I separated out the discards, and because it was very late, I got ready for bed, resolving to leave it for the next day.  The last thing I would do before retiring for the night, was to put all the 'keepers' back on the floor.   I vowed to get up early and sort again before class.

As I put the 'keepers' back on the floor, I was able to pull out seven more books and add them to the discards.

This was the beginning of the book-sorting.
This is the donation pile, after the first sorting.   As you can see, there is not a lot here.

I awoke the next morning - late, because I overslept.    No early-morning sort for me.   I was scurrying to get ready for dance class - but as I walked past the piles of books, I was able to pull several more right off the top, and add it to the discards, to be donated.   When I got home from class, I took some time - got showered, had a light meal, made coffee, then I restarted.   I tell you this, because I found that it is much easier to sort something you are strongly attached to, if you are clean, warm, well-fed, and calm.

Before I started the second sort, I resolved that I would do this a third time, then allow the keepers onto the bookshelf.

The second sort saw me adding quite a few to the donate pile.    But the third time was really the charm.   I was able to 'polish' my collection a little.   I was surprised to see a cohesive collection emerge.   It was thrilling, to say the least.

Partway through the second sort.   The process got slower, as I got to the harder-to-cull books.

The donate pile after the second cull.

This is the beginning of the third, and final, book-sorting.

Here is the final result!

These are the books and magazines that were donated (as well as some clothing).
At the end, I was able to donate 85 books and about two dozen decorating and foreign fashion magazines, to Goodwill.   I don't know if they keep magazines or if they pass them along, or toss them out.   They were very nice magazines, and I hope they were able to use them.   

On Wednesday morning, I took 3 1/2 hours of dance class:   ballet, stretch, tap.   And none of it compared to hauling all those books down a flight of stairs to my car, in four-inch heels.   It took five trips, and left me feeling wrung out in a way that cardio-tap simply could not.

Once I got the car loaded up, I came back upstairs and vacuumed the floor (books are surprisingly dusty).   Then I stood back and admired my work.

It felt incredible.   Sorting books was more liberating for me than all the clothing I had gone through.   And even though I had pulled books from all over the house - including a chestful of books in my bedroom - I still had an empty shelf left!   As I stood there admiring the shelves, I remembered that I had some cookbooks I'd forgotten about.   So I pulled those, sorted them in about three minutes, and added them to the empty shelf - which means I now have an empty shelf in my pantry closet - score!

What's more.. even though my books are in a different room, I am seeing things emerge in other rooms, things that absolutely thrill me.  (I'm using 'thrill' quite a lot today).   My drumset.   It has been at least two years since I've touched my drums, and I had been reluctantly toying with the idea of selling or donating them.   They take up so much room.   I never could bring myself to do it.   It is a fun hobby that gives great joy - even if I haven't had the time to spend on it for a few years now.

The clutter is leaving my place... and now I can see the treasures emerging... and there is room now for my treasures, and for the things that bring me great joy.  It is an exciting, goosebumps feeling.   Once I get the revisions done on the WONDERLAND script and we start rehearsing, I plan to sit down, get them cleaned up and tuned, and drive my neighbors insane as I play along to my favorite Eagles, Boston, and Led Zeppelin tunes. 

I just wanna bang on the drums all day.

I plan to revisit those bookshelves in a few months, and see what is ready to be passed along to someone else.

As a final note, I want to mention...   if/when you do a book cull, be sure and stretch.  Stretch your lower back, upper back, back of your neck, shoulders, and hamstrings.  I feel I can't emphasize this enough, because at one point, when straightening up from taking a pile of books off the bottom shelf of a case, I lost my balance, stumbled slightly, and felt my back torque a little.  If I hadn't done a long stretch session earlier in the day, I think I really would have crunched my lower spine in that moment.   A small stack of books can be heavier and more awkward than you might expect, and they have a tendency to slide around when you're carrying a stack.   So be careful, and take care of your back!

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