Warning: heavy-handed metaphor ahead.
Nine and a half months ago, I had an accident that could have snapped my neck. My bike tires slipped on something on the pavement and sent me flying fifteen feet though the air to slam into the concrete sidewalk. As bad as it was – my orthopedic surgeon said the top of my femur looked like it “exploded” – it could have been far worse, and I am properly grateful that it wasn’t.
Mark and I decided it was probably time for new bikes – something a little steadier and harder to tip over than a slim-tire ten speed. But before we could go bike shopping, Mark had an ultimatum. “The garage needs to be cleaned out first.”
I groaned, but he was right. Garages are clutter magnets, and ours was no exception. Anything we no longer need in the house ends up out there sooner or later, often piling on top of other unloved stuff until the whole thing resembles the junk yard in Sanford and Sons (and yeah, that comment dates me LOL).
So finally this last week, with buds forming on the trees and the flowers coming to bloom, and more importantly with the rains subsiding and temperatures in said garage reaching something approaching comfortable, I finally got out into the garage to do something about it, because I’ll be damned if I’m going to let a bunch of clutter come between me and a new bike.
I started with the easy stuff, breaking down the various cardboard shipping boxes that had been stacking up and stuffing them into the recycling bin, because god help me I am going to stick as little as I can into the regular trash can to go off to the landfill.
A trip to Office Depot took care of the old, broken fax machine, and a little furniture-moving cleared access to the row of former office desks that serves to organize much of my writing/conference/pride event gear. It was going well – stuff from our last writer event flying into the cabinets and the rolling organizer I use at most of these things. I made a decent dent, giving myself more room to work.
And then I got to the cords.
Almost every time you buy something, it comes with cords. Power cords, connection cords, cords that connect to other cords – and this is especially true with tech gear. Every few years, there’s a new cord, making your old ones obsolete, except for those one or two pieces of gear you haven’t upgraded yet. And very rarely have I disposed of any of them.
Instead, I stuffed them into semi-organized chaos in a set of portable drawers, and let them be. For the most part, it worked out. I left them alone, and (presumably) they agreed not to multiply.
But if I was ever to get a handle on this whole clean garage thing, the road lay right through that tangled mass of cords.
So I started working my way through them. There were so many different kinds: USB cords, USB 2 cords. USC-C and USB2-to-USB C cords. We had phone cords, co-axial cables, HDMI cords, and phono cords in abundance. There were also a ton of lightning cords, mini usb cords, and basically any combination of the above that you can imagine.
There were old headphones, mice, and iPod/iPad power connectors – the ones with that weird wide “head” – and even a twenty year old iPod. There were power cords and adapters that once upon a time belonged to something, but now lay listlessly in the bottom of the bin like snakes on a hot Sacramento summer day.
And this is where the fact that Mark and I are prolific consumers of Talenti gelato becomes a very good thing. Because, you see, it turns out those plastic jars are a perfect size for cord storage, especially if you wind them up into neat little rolls.
So I quickly established two piles. One for keepers – a little bit of everything because you never know, and more of the ones we still use today. And a pile of all the extras, which filled up a decent-size box and is destined for Office Depot and hopefully, from there, cord heaven. There is a cord heaven, right?
Here’s where the metaphor comes in. My writer mind is like a garage full of tangled cords. I have so many ideas, and they all run together to lead me down paths into dead ends. But writing is like organizing cords. You can’t go at it all at once, because it will drive you insane. Instead, you have to sort it out a cord at a time, laying down one line after another, and returning repeatedly to the box to see what other cord you might need next.
And sometimes you save little bits that seem useless in the moment, but have the perfect shape to hook into something unexpected later.
When you finally finish your novel, your messy garage has become organized, neat and clean, and sparkles like new.
Until your writer brain latches onto the next bit of possibly useful dross, and the whole cycle starts over once again.
To my writer friends, what’s your process for cleaning the clutter in your writer brain? And are you ever able to keep it clean for more than a few days?