As I round the corner and walk up the stairs, I’m still a bit surprised to see my mother’s hair peeking out over the top of the blue chair. It’s been more than two years, but there’s a part of me still expecting to see my father in that chair. That chair — that massive blue chair — the one that looks like a Barcalounger on steroids — the chair where he spent most of his waking hours in the final years — where he ate, dozed, watched TV, and where he sat when we had our final conversation in February 2011.
As he woke from his nap that mid-February afternoon, I asked the question I felt desperate to ask — “How are you, really?” I had to know, somehow, that he was okay, even with a life that had become so limited after 21 years with Parkinson’s disease. “I’m wonderful, I’m marvelous, I’m terrific.” Gratitude poured out for his family, his caregivers, for his home, for Montauk. When I returned to my parents’ house three months later, the blue chair was empty.
I’m a little bit surprised that this post turned out to be about my father and the blue chair. I started out with the idea to write about coming home again — how strange and weird it is to be staying in your parents’ home after so many years away — oh, there’s plenty of future blog fodder there. As I began to think about coming home, my mind went to the moment when I approached the sliding door and saw my mother in the blue chair. Writing can be surprising that way. It can take on a life of its own.
As I dumped the books off yet another bookshelf and pulled the clothes out of yet another closet, I looked at the total chaos all around me and wanted to give up.
I’ll never get this done in time. It’s such an utter mess.
A day later, small glimpses of order emerged. One room done. Then another. Hope!
I smiled as I realized I was living out yet another metaphor for the writing process — in fact, this was precisely what Anne Lamott intended when she wrote about the sh**ty first draft.
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a sh**ty first draft.” — Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.
Throw it all out there on the page. Dump out all the drawers. Don’t worry about making a mess or doing it perfectly, or stressing over getting to the finish line.
Free yourself to create chaos. That’s the hardest step. Trust the process and the order will emerge.
With her hand on the door knob, my realtor Peggie turned and said, “Just remember — less is more.” And thus began my crazy week of culling, sorting and editing our possessions to prepare our Houston home for sale.
It took time. It wasn’t easy.
As I collapsed into bed after a particularly long day, I thought of Mark Twain’s famous quote: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”
Give yourself enough space to write the short letter — or college application essay, grant application, book proposal, or business plan. It’s worth the time and effort to get to less is more.