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WORD FOR WORD

April 8, 2007

 

It’s 2:00 AM and I can’t sleep, so out of habit more than desire, I pick up the remote and start hopping around channels.

 

I lock on MSNBC where a special is already deep into its subject matter...hoarding, and can’t quite absorb the fact that everything being said is almost like that Don Knotts character in the film “Pleasantville”—this documentary is not only “speaking to me,” it’s grabbing me by the shoulders and doing its best to shake me into comprehension.

 

What pulls me in immediately is they don’t sugar coat the subject by calling it a cutesy name like “pack ratting” or a polite one such as “saver.”    The program follows several people, most notably a 14-year-old girl.  Her world is minutiae; she picks up and puts down a silly sticker, tries to throw it away and can’t.  She may need this sticker one day, she reasons.  She doesn’t know why or when, but she may.  So she saves it.

 

Her bedroom is a multiplication of that saved sticker in the form of magazines, pictures, papers, paraphernalia that’s accumulated for almost a decade of her life.  She obsesses over each item and knows them all by location, down to the gum wrappers she won’t pitch.

 

The program moves on to adults and so true to late 20th century/early 21st century mind frames, these hoarding adults have formed a support group.  The only requirement besides the obvious one is they must bring a sealed box to each meeting and are forced to throw it out before the meeting has ended.

 

The voice over in the program intoned that hoarders become attached to stuff and hold emotional ties to every last thing.  Just as this 14-year-old girl, they have trouble sorting out what’s worth keeping and what isn’t.  Hoarders also tend to keep old newspapers, magazines and articles because (in the hoarder’s mind) these publications contain specific, valuable information they definitely will need some day.

 

One of the most bizarre details of the program was that hoarding was related to an abundance of sore throats and even strep throat in childhood.  That statement struck me as such a non sequitur as to be laughable.  Since the connection between the two wasn’t elaborated upon, I’m still left wondering.

 

What wasn’t a laughing matter however (besides the fact that,  as a child, I had a sore throat at least once a month), was how closely I related to this malady.  And, judging from my emails and conversations with other writers, I’m not alone.  As writers, let’s face it, we hoard.  And we hoard big time.  That TV Guide from 1982 is perfect as reference material for that novel we’re going to write.  Our meticulously-archived, month-by-month writing magazines from 2005 giving us the inside scoop on which editors are buying which articles—never mind that editors change publications faster than most of us change underwear—pile up in every nook, cranny and crevice of available space.  Outdated reference books on puns, idioms, slogans and every manner of word dissection available rest undisturbed on our book shelves.  Never mind that nobody says “the bee’s knees,” “so’s your mother” or “groovy” anymore.  We still keep ‘em.

 

As a survivor of more writing groups and critiquing sessions than I care to remember, we’d sometimes touch on—and laugh about—how we were all pack rats.  We reveled in it, just one of those quirky little endearing qualities that, after all, wasn’t so bad.

 

Or is it?  If that quirky little endearing quality is stopping you from writing, if the collection of others’ ideas overpower your own creativity or if you look around and there is stuff, stuff, stuff all around...first, take heart.  You are not alone.  Second, take action.  Go to your nearest liquor store and get one of their ubiquitous empty boxes (and you thought...).  Go home and fill it.  Seal it and mark the date you packed it.  Three months later, since you haven’t used it anyway and now probably have trouble remembering what you packed, pitch it without opening it. 

Start small and don’t get discouraged.  You didn’t accumulate all this crap overnight...you’re not going to get rid of it instantly either.

 

Bette Davis once said anyone or anything that gets in the way of your work is the enemy.  If your pack-ratting has become full-blown hoarding—and prevents you from putting your thoughts and ideas into writing, trust me, it is the enemy.  Recognizing it as such is the first step toward recovery.

 

And that’s my Word For Word.

 

So, you’ve been wondering where I’ve been lately?  Well, you’re not alone.  I’ve been putting the semi-final touches on moving and after 25 years in the same house—well, this hoarder’s come out of the closet—thankfully with all the other stuff in all my closets that was finally pitched (and never missed!)

 

On a more creative note, I’ve had an abundance of book orders, writing students and verse assignments.  Although you haven’t seen it yet, behind the scenes, we’re working on a complete overhaul of the website to make it easier to access various features.  The home page will be newer, spunkier and <<ahem>> less cluttered with stuff.

 

Many of you have written asking me when the 2nd edition of my greeting card book will be available.  Somewhere on the site (I confess I can’t find it!), I wrote that in 2006, it would be ready.  That obviously hasn’t happened; however, I do have the updated version almost completed and although this isn’t a firm decision yet, I may introduce it in PDF as an ebook initially.

 

Yesterday I gave an interview for “Women Under The Influence of Laughter” on KOPT 1600, Eugene Oregon.  In it, I talked about how greeting card writing is different from other types of writing and how knowledge of, and empathy for, celebrations and commemorations has this non-black, non-Jewish writer coming up with verses for Kwanzaa and Hanukkah just as easily as Christmas and Easter.  Since a sizable amount of my students are professional writers in other genres, I also emphasized that one of the charms of writing verses for greeting cards is its short, “do-able” factor.  And while greeting cards are visually-driven, people buy a greeting card for its words, not its picture.  After 21 years in this business, I’m still as enthusiastic as ever over the power of simple words at all life’s basic occasions.

 

I’m off to San Antonio next week to attend my son’s graduation from the Air Force and the following week, I’ll be speaking at the Mercer County Writer’s Conference in Stoneboro Pennsylvania.  (April 2008).  There’s still time to register (not much though!), so email Gloria  Clover at www.gloriaclover.com if you’d like to attend.  Click on the One-Day Conference for details.  Here’s a link for all the workshop leaders and their writing topics as well:  http://www.gloriaclover.com/onedayconference.html#workshopleaders.   Hope to see you there.

 

Remember to click on my affiliates whenever possible.  I use their products often and plan to add a new feature showcasing my favorites.

 

Enjoy April.  Look forward to May.  Write something every day and read at least one book a month.

 

Stay focused,

 

 

Sandra

 
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