Lining Up Pennies

I am naturally organized. It’s one of my superpowers.

As a toddler, my parents once found me methodically pulling clean diapers out of their box, lining them up along the wall in the hallway, and then placing all of my stuffed animals in a diaper, one by one. As a pre-teen, I would empty my big container of collected pennies and line them up on the carpet in order of their year. Now, I take great satisfaction in a well-constructed Excel spreadsheet, and even my writing talismans on my desk-side table sit in a specific arrangement. I moderate Crucial Minutiae’s comments without second thought, and took deep satisfaction from re-organizing the weekly columns.

When I started meeting professional writers in my early 20s, I noticed that many of them, especially the most commercially successful ones, were naturally disorganized. They are brilliant writers and thinkers who, when they go deep into the writing process, seem to lose all sense of their physical world.

Many of them have outside help to keep their houses clean, themselves fed, their children tended. Books about writing seemed to mention, more often than not, the messy, disorderly process of writing. I took this to imply the bohemian myth: that writers must let bills go unpaid, relationships fall away, dishes piled in the sink, in order to be truly great.

As I began to write longer works of fiction, fear gripped me. Was I too organized to be a real writer? Did I cling too tightly to order and neatness to be able to get lost in an imaginary world of my own creation? Did my natural inclinations make it impossible for me to be a great writer?

I took on my innate qualities as deep shame: shame that I couldn’t make a big enough mess to be a real writer. Somewhere dark inside, I felt like my desire was too big for me.

Last week, I read a blog post that touched me deeply. The gist of the post was that there are two things that inform our lives: 1) who we are or what our skills are, and 2) what makes us happy. The writer remarked that these two things do not always overlap.

Her words settled warm in my belly as, later that day, I whirled through my kitchen with the efficiency of a first-born Virgo Horse, putting dishes away and handling the physical details of my world quickly and easily.

As I leaned down to slip the Tupperware into its place in the cabinet, my soul opened and gave me this, in the form of a question.

What if my natural organization actually supports my writing?

What if it allows me to quickly and efficiently handle the details of my outer life, thus freeing up more time for me to sit down and write?

What if my natural skills work in partnership with my deep desire to write?

In that moment, my fists released the fear and shame that had been cutting deep wounds into my palms. In that moment, I said YES to myself as I am: the creative source and a twinkle of the Divine, with all of my qualities. Every day, I stand more fiercely for my creative voice in this world. My evolution – as a human being, as a writer – continues.

~ ~ ~

Do you have deep fears, perhaps even unacknowledged, that something fundamental about yourself is keeping you from having what you want? Can you consider the possibility that those qualities actually serve you?

I would love to hear from you, in the comments.

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Beauty in a Wicked World is a weekly column by Jennifer Gandin Le. It appears on Wednesdays.

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5 Comments

Filed under Art, Beauty in a Wicked World, Writing

5 responses to “Lining Up Pennies

  1. My tupperware doesn’t have a specific place in the cabinet. It migrates every time I put it away, and I feel like my writing habits do the same. Sometimes I have to organize my office and my dresser before I can write another word. Other times I let everything collect in bags and piles to be organized months later after whatever project I’m working on is “finished.” This may be how I already misplaced my two-month old’s social security card.

    I’ve had deep fears about not having enough angst to be a writer or enough connections or enough focus. But like you, I’m finding myself “stand more fiercely for my creative voice.” And maybe you’re right– that I could consider this lack of pattern a quality that might serve me. I have a friend who gets up every weekday morning at the same time, makes the same breakfast and cup of coffee and sits down at his writing table for the same number of hours before getting up to have his lunch. Imagine the things I could accomplish if I were that disciplined! Or maybe I would just stare at my computer. Maybe not knowing if I’ll be more productive at 10:00 a.m. or at 2:00 a.m. leads to some nice surprises?

  2. LOL…

    when I was a kid, I would methodically shred tissues into tiny neat streamers, and scolded my (also virgo) bobchie (grandmother) for the lack of can arrangements in her cabinets, and then lined them up carefully and neatly by brand and size.

    I can also smell a typographical error on a drawing at fifty paces.

    I must say I suspect I’ve been rebelling against (or not owning) this side of my personality very much of late…and my kitchen is presently messy (but my tupperware is all living in its designated drawers!), but I know I feel more at peace when everything has its place and is in it… so thank you for the permission to do so, and for seeing the beauty in it!

  3. jas

    I remember sitting with your Mom and watching that toddler methodically pull out and restack those diapers. It was a joy to behold. But that wonderful memory does not come close to the joy I feel in sharing your moment of soul resolution/realization. Rock on!

  4. Molly

    Jennifer, You have nailed something deep in everyone–thank you. I am efficient and can organize a group or myself into action quickly, if need be. My fight/flight is alert, (which I know also means cortisol is pumping through my muscles unnecessarily.) Somehow I learned that being aware was lame and it was far “cooler” to be chill and unintentional and unaware of what’s happening around you. Nonchalant was the word.

    Both are good, but I’ve been taking ownership of the fact that if someone sees the car swerving towards us, it’s gonna be me, or if someone sees a beautiful meteor shower, it’s gonna be me, or if someone remembers the exact details of a conversation 9 years ago, it’s gonna be me.

    I love the image of you stacking diapers!

  5. Thank you all for sharing with me your own realizations and moments of clarity!

    Cristina, I identify with the fear about not having enough angst; it takes a while to buck that stereotype or fantasy.

    Kathleen, it is my pleasure to write anything that gives you permission to fully live every bit of your beautiful self!

    JAS, thanks for being a loving witness to all of these moments. I’m lucky to have you!

    And Molly, thank you for your sharp awareness – I love your list of things that you’ll be the one to see. Each is something incredible that you’ll then bring to those around you. Gorgeous!