Fiction: Staying On Track

[I wrote this flash fiction piece at the last Quills & Quibbles writers group meeting. The assignment was to write for ten minutes, longhand, and to include the word or idea "button."]

image via guidnunc on sxc

Nora fiddled with the top button on her heavy coat. It would be time to leave soon. She was worried about Arthur. He was prone to taking a long time in the bathroom, especially on long trips. Travel did not agree with his delicate constitution.

They were due to leave on the 5′o clock train, though, and at nearly five minutes till five, he was still nowhere to be found.

She picked up her jaunty red traveling hat from the train station bench and perched it atop her shiny, sleek brown hair. She picked up her purse, and strode over to the men’s room door. She had been planning this trip down to minute detail for months. She wasn’t going to let Arthur’s indignant digestion derail her carefully laid plans.

“Arthur?” she called, in a saccharin-sweet dulcet tone.

“Arthur?” Now she was a bit more strident. The clock ticked on.

“ARTHUR!” She had finally arrived at shrill. But still there was no answer.

Undaunted, she crept cautiously into the men’s room. There didn’t appear to be anyone inside. She walked back to the last stall. A flash of yellow caught her eye.

Arthur’s yellow scarf was dangling out the window. Nora’s mouth dropped agape in shock. By this time, Arthur was on another train, on what Nora would call the wrong track, heading away very far and very fast.

Defragging your physical environment

img courtesy sxc

Yesterday, I spent 5+ hours cleaning my 7 year old daughter’s bedroom. I had spent several additional hours a week or so ago just going through her clothing and purging anything that didn’t fit, was unfit to wear, or that she just didn’t like.

All together, I removed 11 trash bags of stuff from her bedroom, which is about a 10′ x 11′ space. About half of that went to Goodwill, and half of it went to the dumpster.  Here’s the really crazy thing: I did basically the same thing a year and a half ago when she, her brother, and her dad all went to Arizona on vacation.

At one point, I had her stuff spread out covering the kitchen table, all down the hallway, and in various piles in her room. I was burning daylight trying to get it purged to the point that we could let the dog back into the house without fear that he’d eat something toxic or dangerous. (He’s a pug. They’re not smart animals.) 

But I did get it all done, and now she has easy access to the stuff she loves and uses regularly, and when I tell her to pick up her stuff and put it away, there’s actually more “away space” than stuff.

You have no idea how badly I was dreading tackling this task. For one thing, she has a bad habit of sneaking food into her room. I was pretty certain I was going to find gross stuff (and I did). It was a dirty, nasty, hard, unpleasant task.

But I’m so glad I did it, and that I stuck with the task till it was completely done.

I think decluttering your physical environment emotionally resembles defragging your hard drive. Remember that? Your computer would start bogging down. You’d already done File Cleanup. So you’d go into System Tools, bite the bullet, and defrag.

You knew it would take FOREVER. You knew you couldn’t get anything else done while it was running. But you also knew that it would actually help make things faster and make it easier to get things done.

Defragmenting is basically organizing for the optimal use of the available space. That’s really what decluttering is: organizing for the optimal use of your physical space.

  • Getting rid of the stuff that’s utterly useless
  • Grouping similar things together, and
  • Prioritizing the groups so that the stuff you use most often is most easily accessible.

This is important to our family right now. We’re either going to get a buyer for our house, or remodel it to fit our needs this year. Either way, we have to get rid of all the useless clutter. I’m sure as heck not packing and moving it. Plus, I’m working from home quite a bit right now, and the more cluttered my home gets, the harder it is to remain productive here.

I want to do a lot more writing in 2012 than I did in 2011, and it’s hard to do that when I feel the clutter screaming at me. Seriously. It screams at my soul like a wet Mogwai.  Quite distracting.

It sounds so easy, but it’s so hard to actually make yourself do it.

Partly it’s the “I might uncover disgusting stuff that I will then have to touch to get rid of it” thing. But I think the bigger part is how bad you feel about yourself for letting inanimate stuff overwhelm and master you.

But then, if you just keep trucking on, and keep addressing this thing and that thing until you eventually get to the end. And it feels wonderfully freeing.

What about you? What do you always dread doing, but always feel great after you get it done?

Three words for 2012

Fellow web nerd Chris Brogan regularly distills his “New Year’s resolutions” into three code-word themes.  Last week, he once again sent out a year-end reminder and request for people to do likewise.  I don’t always play along, but this year in particular it seemed like a good tool for what I have planned.

My three words for this year are:

Dispel ~ Root ~ Shine

Dispel:  Over the course of 2011, and particularly in the last half of the year, it became clear that I have been letting a lot of illusions and lies seep into my perspective and guide my behavior. This year, I need to remind myself constantly to connect to the truth, and dispel any dishonest or destructive illusions.  Keeping my vision clear is vital to staying on the right path.

Root:  My tendency is to run. I have a very active, restless spirit. But energy without a certain amount of rootedness and connection doesn’t have any traction. You just end up flurrying in circles.  “Much activity but little gain” has been an unfortunate theme for me. This year, I’m working on rooting myself in vital relationships and life-giving truth.

Shine: I struggle a lot with my own visibility. I’m perennially uncomfortable with how comfortable I am being the center of attention. It’s something that could very easily become a destructive idol. So I waffle between seeking attention and “hiding my light under a bushel.”  The word shine is a reminder to simply do good things, and share my life appropriately, with a spirit of honesty and humility.

Do you have resolutions? Three words? One word? Themes? Goals? Send ‘em my way in the comments.

What I mean by #lifeisattention

I’ve been quietly making little notes to myself on Twitter for a few weeks as the year winds down to a close. I’ve been hashtagging the notes #lifeisattention so I can find them easily later.  The short format of Twitter forces me to keep things concise and specific, which is also good when your attention is a little wayward. ADDCrusher on Facebook makes good use of the brief format of Facebook updates in a similar way.

[For the non-social-media nerds, a hashtag is a way that you can mark tweets by topic with a keyword, to make them easier to find later. There are other uses for hashtags, but that's part of my day job doing web marketing.]

I mean something fairly specific when I say “life is attention.”  It’s shorthand for a bigger idea. When I say “life is attention,” I’m reminding myself of a simple but vital truth:

While you give something your attention, you’re giving it that part of your life.

Our experience of life is filtered. For an idea of what I mean when I say “filtered,” check out the movie Limitless to see a guy who has the filters on his attention and perception removed. To get all biblical on y’all, “For now we see now as through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” Our wee human brains are only picking up 3 snowy channels, but reality is actually 900 channels in high def 3D.  

But back to the idea of attention. If your life is a movie, your attention is the director of photography. Attention is the porthole through which we experience our lives.  And we all leave it on autopilot a rather alarming amount of the time.

Also, I personally have issues with attention and focus. My attention is like a shopping cart or steering wheel that pulls to one side or the other.  Just keeping on a path is sometimes difficult. It can be hard work, but I’ve learned that if I don’t manage my attention, it will create situations that will manage me.

So managing attention is a big deal for me. It is probably the one thing I have control over which has the biggest impact on the story I’m telling with my life.  So I need constant reminders that when I’m dealing with my attention, hard as it may be, it’s important.

As with everything else in life, I’m going to be posting notes here as I have little insights, or hit into particularly thorny problems in managing attention. If you have any good stuff to share about managing your attention, drop it in the comments or hit me up on twitter. Feel free to steal #lifeisattention if you think it’d be helpful to you.

New year, new blog, or somesuch

A few items of housekeeping, for those brave stalwart souls who are still following along here.

I am shortly about to change web hosts. I’ve had no trouble with my current host, I just got a really excellent deal on an entire year’s hosting and decided it was worth making the switch.

Along with the hosting, I got a new domain, so I took the opportunity to snap up my name, katinafrench.com. I’ve been poking around with the idea of a much more focused blog. Because this one holds all the posts from almost all of my blogs (one or two iterations were lost over the years) since 2004 or so, it really is sort of a brain dump. Which is a good thing. God knows I need a place to dump a lot of the stuff that clutters up my brain. I’m keeping the thatdarnkat.com domain because I like it, and because I sold advertising on this site at that domain which I’m obligated to keep up till summer at the earliest.

So there will continue to be a blog at thatdarnkat.com. I’ll probably continue using that blog as a brain dump. But starting in January, there’ll be a shiny new blog at katinafrench.com which will be focused on writing. I’m going to be giving away a lot of free short stories there, including one that is basically a prequel to Bitter Cold, my novella that is to be published in February as part of Once Upon a Clockwork Tale from Echelon Press. So if you like my fiction stuff, you might want to mosey on over there and subscribe.

That’s about it for now. Hope you’ve had an excellent holiday break.