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Monday, September 14, 2015

A Clean Stove for Better Writing

We tend to cook every night at the Temple, though this summer we have also heavily relied on salads and cooking has not been necessary (especially on particularly hot and humid evenings when the temperatures reach three-digits in our kitchen).

Once a week I give the stove a thorough scrubbing. It doesn’t need it every single week, as some weeks all we do is heat up stuff and we wipe any spills immediately.

Still, every week, I take the grills off and open up the little stovetop, and scrub it inside and out until it sparkles.

It keeps the stove in good working condition and it is simply good kitchen hygiene. That’s the simple answer.

Why do it when it doesn’t need it? Because it reinforces discipline. When you freelance and you call your own schedule – whether by choice, necessity or lack of work – you still must pin tasks to your daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual routines. It brings constancy to life (and often makes life easier by its substance).

Tasks that require little intellect and a certain level of repetitive action allow you to go into automatic pilot and clear your head for a few minutes (it’s the real poor man’s meditation).This is not to say that the action is mindless, because it isn’t, you are focused on the task and any thoughts are reserved to the act itself.

During these reveries, sometimes characters talk to themselves or to each other, or I resolve problematic scenes. Challenges pop into my head that will define the strength of a character. Story lines stream like little movies in my head…

Sometimes I get lost in the Johnson Bros. Castles of England serving platter on the wall and my brain goes into a Julian Fellowes’ festival.

I don’t seek my cleaning sessions as ways to write while not writing. I clean and sometimes clearing my head results in great ideas coming to me, of new ideas emerging, of old ideas evolving.

Sometimes all you get through cleaning is momentary purging of worries or fears or sadness – whatever you have been carrying that week that has saddled you with emotional baggage nobody needs.

I’m not telling you that cleaning stuff will bring you catharsis or closure. I am suggesting that you find something that gives you a reasonable facsimile for coping, venting, best practice living, and better operating specs. Find your own automaton-inducing task.

Remember: not every scullery maid's story is a disaster!
Clean up your inbox, wash your car, find something that will keep you occupied for at least half an hour. Find the time. Even if you don’t want to—especially if you do not want to!

Why bother? Because you need to remind yourself, body/mind/soul, that the more things change some things remain; you can melt away worries and fear; and, even if you experience a slowdown of creativity, ideas can pop out of the simple act of scrubbing a stove. Hope is never lost, because it is all within; it may just require a little effort and discipline.

If nothing else, you’ll have a spectacularly shiny stove! 

Full disclosure: this week's stove scrubbing made me realize a character needed to confront the memory of a parent in a way that shook her strength for a moment. At the end of the story, she is stronger for it and finds it easier to move on with her life on her own terms.

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