Krista Christensen

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Keep or Toss?

Yesterday, a person from my MFA program shared this piece by Megan Mayhew Bergmanin, “Tidy This.” Go ahead and read it, if you haven’t already. I’ll wait.


Clutter Books

It’s good, isn’t it? Humorous, self-deprecating, an excellent commentary on the nature of value, of the worth of things. I really enjoyed it.


At my first MFA residency, my instructor and several of my classmates gasped in appalled horror when they learned that I had recently thrown away (“tossed”) two journals chocked full of early twenties angst, journals written after I moved a thousand miles from home with a boyfriend ten years my senior who promptly dumped me.

 How could I? my writerly colleagues wanted to know. How could I throw them away? That stuff is writing gold! 

Yet when I placed the two journals, one spiral bound and covered in cheesy stickers, the other a cloth-covered perfect-bound, into the garbage can (I didn’t even recycle them) I felt lighter, like I had thrown away the heaviness of those experiences, not the happenings themselves.

Bear in mind that I had heretofore stored them in four separate houses in Portland circa 2003-2009, and another three houses and a storage unit in Alaska the following four years, and more recently, two apartments in Asheville in the years after we moved, before I cracked them open for the first time since abandoning the practice of journaling altogether (yes, I’m a writer who doesn’t journal. Sue me.)

Here’s what happened when I cracked those journals open: I was confronted with a me I didn’t like, a me I had hated being, a me that didn’t like who she was or what she did and thought terrible things. A for instance: I met my husband in the waning days of my journaling, after many, many bad decisions which I documented in desperate, creepy detail, complete with pages full of mulling over my inadequacy and the perceived judgments of others.

After this depressing thumb-through, I decided to poke around the area of the journal where I might discover something positive, might be able to relive the absurd flurry of pseudo-romance that categorized my initial courtship with my future husband. But here, I found something else entirely. I found I had written judgey, suspicious, awful things about him, things that made me recoil, things I hoped he would never read, things I wanted to time-travel and erase, not just from the page, but from my mind. Though I had fallen for my husband almost immediately, had been in love with him during the entire scope of writing in my journal, I didn’t write my love down: I wrote my fears instead, small, mean, un-joyful fears, fears masquerading as anger and bitterness and hopelessness.

In fact, this was logical, healthy even, I would argue. The journal was a safe space, a place to put my fear of abandonment so that I wouldn’t drag that dead animal around a burgeoning relationship. And it worked: I didn’t drag my fear and bitterness into it (not too much, anyway). But nonetheless, in 2014, eleven years after the fact, it was shitty to read. These were not thoughts I wanted back. There was no deep spiritual experience. They were clutter, in the deepest sense of the word: the books themselves, which I had dragged across a continent (twice) as well as the thoughts buried within. They both weighed me down.

So when I read them, I asked myself the same question that the Tidying Expert uses: Do these did bring me joy? The answer was clearly no.

Toss.

I believe in this: a life of curated joy. I select what I surround myself with carefully, and I do not trudge through my life lugging items, snail-like, that do not benefit my existence in a direct and palpable way. I let go of things that don’t bring me joy. I do it constantly, methodically, removing items from my home with frequency, working hard to make a habit of this. I want to do this with my mind as well, removing thoughts unbeneficial and small. I want to make room for the big, important stuff of life. I don’t want my mind, my home, my life, so crammed with old and burdening things that there is no room for new opportunity or growth. I refuse to become pot-bound by an addiction to things that don’t create space for joy.

I, too, would have tossed Wuthering Heights. (But maybe that’s why I never read it in the first place.)

Back to the for instance: if I want to write about the loving romance, and the fear, of meeting my husband, I can do that without my bitter documentation, dragged over 7,000 miles and eleven years. I can write my story because it was my life and I lived it and I trust my memory. The oral tradition tells us that millenia of humanity held many a story in a single mind, and furthermore, that these persevered, so much so that we still have them today. I don’t rely on journals or other paraphernalia to under-gird my writing or my life. My writing needs no validation: not even from my former self.

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A Sacred Space

In my modest town-home, off the master bedroom, is a nook, with a sink and a towel bar. At the opposite end of the nook entrance is a door to the bathroom, which itself is centered between the two upstairs bedrooms; there’s another door to the bathroom at the top of the stairs.

Since moving in, we struggled with a way to use the space effectively: at one point, it was a baby-diapering area, at another, it was a supplemental clothes closet. We have never used the nook as it was intended: who needs a second sink in their bedroom? Maybe people who shave or wear makeup–things Leif and I rarely do.IMG_20150129_103723

Finally, six months ago, I found a purpose for the room. In the sink I placed a Pothos plant. On the counter, a few magazine holders, stuffed with copies of Creative Nonfiction, The Sun, the Southeast Review, River Teeth. In front of that, a jar of pencils, some sticky notes, a candle. I pinned a scarf over the mirror covering the entire wall above the sink, and unscrewed three of the four vanity bulbs above it. I rigged file holders to the towel bar using wire twist-ties from bread bags. I flipped a closet rack upside town and mounted it as a book display shelf using cup hooks I screwed into the wall. I slid our camping cooler beneath the sink. I stuck an over-sized rattan chair in the nook, placed my tea on an overturned plastic file box, and voila! A writing space of my own. Virginia Woolf herself couldn’t have been more proud.

So this is where I sit, right now, writing this post. Ambient music floats up from my Pandora app, and the candle warms lavender oil, sending the calm scent into the air. It’s all very zen, very pleasant, very comfortable. It’s easy to assume that I would do all my writing here.

IMG_20150129_103713But after investing so much time and effort into crafting a creative home for myself, I’ve realized that what surrounds me is far less important that what is within me. I only do about 30% of my writing here, while I do about 90% of my filing and paper-storing here. It’s nice to have just one place for things, to know that all my literary journals are here, to know that all my MFA paperwork is filed right there. It’s also nice to have a retreat from the bustle of children downstairs, now that we are keeping the baby home in an effort to save money.

But I don’t need a special space to be creative. Sometimes I do my best writing in a busy coffee shop. Or a bustling library vestibule. Or a darkened dive bar. In my children’s bedroom as they fall asleep, just because they want me there. It would be a tragedy if, because I created a sacred space, I came to depend on it, to need it, to be unable to create without it. In germinating my sacred space, I’ve learned that I don’t actually need it, the way I don’t actually need lots of things. The way I’ve learned that by holding onto things too tightly, I choke myself in that grip.

I’ve learned that, because I carry the sacred within me, the sacred surrounds me.