When I was a little girl, I would stay up way past my bedtime reading, smuggling a light under my covers sometimes so my mom and dad wouldn’t see light pouring through the crack under the door.
Nancy Drew, Judy Blume, Harriet the Spy, The Bridge to Terabithia, The Chronicles of Narnia. In high school The Catcher in the Rye was my favorite. I fell in love with Holden Caulfield.
Books transported me to another world away from what was painful in my childhood — being too smart for my own good and teased by kids for standing out from the crowd. I loved the flow of words, the rhythm of them, rolling them around like marbles in my mouth.
I loved to enter another realm in my mind, transported far away from this place and time.
My love of books never left me. I tried to write them when I was a girl, and would scratch a dozen pages in a journal, usually about a redhead named Grace with curves — which I didn’t have yet — who had various misadventures involving boys, shopping and sometimes high drama, such as people fainting on her front lawn.
Building My Library
In college, I would immediately cash my work-study paycheck and head to Micawber’s bookstore in Princeton. I could hide out there for days.
The shelves were lined with classics, fiction, poetry, and my favorite, antique books. The sturdy spines, the ornate cover designs, the heft of them in my hands — I was intoxicated.
I was hooked on the book drug. And so gradually through the years my collection grew, and grew.
This was great because I always had plenty of intriguing authors on hand to keep me company. And, it was not so great whenever it came time to move, and I would have to pack up box after box after box of books once again.
My mental stimulation made for some heavy lifting. It was a price I was willing to pay.
I always knew I wanted to write books someday, and somehow in spite of that life kept getting in the way. It didn’t seem to be the “practical” career choice. How would I make money?
So I learned PR and marketing, “skills” that would help me to earn a decent living. And I did freelance journalism on the side to feed my passion for writing.
Fast-forward a dozen or so years and I was finally feeling ready to commit to my own writing. In writing workshop after writing workshop I pitched book ideas until I found one that resonated with the authors and editors to whom I pitched it.
It was to become my current book, in draft manuscript form now, tentatively titled “Burning Down the House.”
Burning Down the House
I have forty pages left to write to hit 300 pages, and then it’s time to edit, edit, edit. This means sloughing off what doesn’t belong, tossing out scenes or anecdotes or adjectives that aren’t necessary to the story, stripping it down, polishing it all until it shines.
I write by pouring it all out onto the page and then cutting everything that doesn’t work. And then adding more in, layering it. Cutting again. It is a continuous back-and-forth evolution process.
Add, subtract. Add some more.
And Life Mirrors Art
This weekend I was reminded that my life feels a lot like that. I am organizing and cleaning my house to prepare for the arrival of my spiritual teacher, Nithya Shanti, this weekend. He’ll be teaching workshops in my little city of Troy, NY all weekend.
I decided this would be a good time to tackle a project I’d been putting off for a year, which was converting my former officeÂ thatÂ I’d been using as a catch-all storage closet into a little yoga and meditation room. Brilliant idea, I thought, which would support my daily practice.
So, last weekend, I emptied box after box of books, paper, cards, photos, miscellaneous memorabilia, and empty suitcase after empty suitcase out of that tiny room. Things had been stacked so high and tightly together that I could barely get the first few boxes out the door.
Soon my living room couches and floor were covered with boxes.
Now I was forced to evaluate what to do with all this stuff.
The Things We Gather
Where had it come from exactly? And why exactly had I decided it was a good idea to buy it all?
I wondered, as I plowed through box after box.
Soon one couch was covered with stacks of papers, another with photos. I sorted through books and set aside books I was willing to donate to the public library.
It used to be that the thought of giving away even one book was anathema to me — they are my prized possessions, and I’d be damned if I would part with them. Apparently my five years of meditating regularly have gotten me somewhere, because I seem to have a better handle on the “attachment” thing, i.e. I am now less attached to things.
However, that said, it wasn’t as easy as I thought it might be to put items in the “give away” boxes. I might want to refer to this one book again, I thought, and that one I hadn’t read yet.
And on and on it went.
I finally reached the point after two solid days of organizing — which is where my weekend went! — that I was about ready just to build a bonfire with the rest of my things.
I mean, seriously! What was I thinking when I bought all of these! And what was I going to do with them?
It is shocking how hard it sometimes can be to let go — of things, ideas, beliefs, words. People.
I’m a practicing Buddhist. IÂ believe I’mÂ “just renting” this body for this lifetime. I don’t think I will be taking any of my “things” with me when I go.
And yet, letting go of items that have sentimental value for me, or that I consider beautiful, or helpful to have around the house, can feel difficult.
Â Yet shedding what is no longer necessary to us, or no longer useful, or no longer beautiful, is precisely what we need to do to make space in our lives for moreÂ good to come in. And perhaps more importantly, to keep our lives simple enough so that we can focus on what truly matters to us.
Like writing my book, and spending time with people I love.
Somehow I think enlightenment is like this too, that it is about letting go. Over a lifetime we accumulate beliefs and ideas from those around us that may not serve us or humanity.
We cling to them. And in the process, we suffer or inflict suffering upon others.
Meditating is a way of training the mind so that it’s easier to drop a thought, to not get caught in the spiral of it, and the subsequent emotions it generates.
As I drop beliefs that don’t serve me any longer, I can find more space to become the person I believe I am meant to be and dream of being. I don’t have to be limited by the insecurities or fears of my past.
Stripping It All Away
Right now my life seems to be about stripping things away. Getting rid of stuff I don’t need.
Editing my book. Letting go of limiting beliefs.
Stripping away everything from my life that no longer serves me, so that who I am underneath all the stories I have accumulated over the years about myself is able to shine as brightly as possible.
As Patanjali said, “What you think you are – all those little ‘I ams’ – you are so much bigger.”
For me it is just ongoingÂ – letting go, letting go, letting go of who I thought I was, the stories I once told about me, to let a new me emerge, brighter, shinier, happier, day after day.
What can you let go of today to make more room for your dreams to come true? Can you let go of a story about yourself that doesn’t serve you anymore? Can you give something away that you no longer need? Let go and see what comes your way!
Lisa is a freelance writer and consultant who has published articles, essays and poems in journals and newspapers across the United States. She has her BA in English and Creative Writing from Princeton University, and earned her MPA at Harvard in 2005. Lisa launched her dream to write her first book by signing up for Ellen Sussman’s “Memoir-in-a-Year” class, speaking her story out loud at a Take Back the Night rally, and committing to a regular writing schedule. She recently achieved another milestone — 250 pages written in her manuscript! Lisa is currently bi-coastal with her home in historic Troy, New York and her heart in San Francisco. Lisa is also a lindy hopper, blues dancer and belly dancer. She has traveled extensively on four continents. Lisa’s post day is Tuesday.