Snowy days, reflections & free time
yield memories of things outgrown
The Resale Evangelista
Housebound by snowstorm Stella and disinclined to wield a shovel against the cold confection piled like meringue across her driveway, poet Sarah Freligh chose, instead, to fight the weather with words.
She challenged fellow writers on Facebook to a Snow Day Boot Camp: “Make a list of things you’ve outgrown,” she wrote. “Start with concrete objects like jeans, bras, and pencil skirts, then move to the more abstract—mean friends, bad habits, worrying about how your hair looks in Wegmans. Then write a poem/flash fiction or nonfiction that follows your list—what you’ve outgrown, what you can feel yourself outgrowing.”
To add aerobic intensity, Sarah set a deadline—30 minutes. Other than shoveling snow, there’s nothing like a deadline to get the heart pounding.
The challenge—things you’ve outgrown or are outgrowing—was a natural for Resale Evangelista. We’re all about simplifying and clarifying to create a more artful life. Most of the time, that means recognizing what is no longer needed and throwing it overboard. Sounds simple, but it’s not.
I tuned in late, so had nothing to contribute. But many others did, and the results were striking—fond farewells to everything from patent leather First Communion shoes to grateful goodbyes to the miseries of youth, like this from Julie Mellen Damerell:
submerged in snow, remembering
white patent leather shoes I wore for my First Communion
the day Grandma gave me the gold watch I lost in a year
that tan and white shift with matching coat I wore to Easter mass
not knowing Grandma’s money would not buy Sunday dress again
those three-inch heels I wore to prom and the sprained ankle
red and white checked bell bottoms I sweated in at the pool party
too embarrassed by my thirteen year old body in a bathing suit
buried in all that white, fear that I would not have a thirteen-yea old body
or hope that heels, a matching coat, or bell bottoms would make me
Outgrowing the angst as well as the ankle socks
Sarah Freligh is the award-winning author of two books of poetry, Sort of Gone (2008, Turning Point Books) and Sad Math (2015, Moon City Press), winner of—among other accolades—the 2015 Moon City Poetry Award. She’s a former sportswriter and colleague of mine at the Philadelphia Inquirer, now teaching creative writing at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y.—a city which is always a contender in the annual ranking of snowiest U.S. cities. One learns that the necessities of life in Rochester include lap-cats, wine or hot chocolate (depending on whether it’s before noon or not), and something to keep the mind from slipping into a snow-glare daze. Hence, Sarah’s impromptu Boot Camp for writers. She was feeling magnanimous, so she extended the usual 12 minutes to a full half-hour.
The great thing about this snow day concept—Things I’ve Outgrown—is its acknowledgment of emotional as well as physical mementos of the past. The parallels to editing our surroundings are inescapable. There are emotional costs and benefits—sometimes both—when you decide, or are forced, to pitch a bit of history: furniture imbued with fond memories, valued or valuable detritus from failed relationships, books associated with a certain time of life, a treasured tidbit from childhood.
Poet Jessica Cuello, author of Pricking (2016, Tiger Bark Press) and Hunt, winner of the 2016 Washington Prize from The Word Works (as well as other prizes, awards and fellowships), captured that mix of things and emotions lost or outgrown, starting from childhood.
Little Lulu with the stitches
where my brother bit her foot off,
the banana seat bike.
The Little Nutshell Library: “There once was a boy
named Pierre who only would say I don’t care.”
The key to the 4th grade diary. The diary.
The cut out obituaries.
The track ribbons. The letters
back and forth where I lost my best friend (No,
not those yet.) The journals from each year—
shame written in them.
The nursing pump, The Boppy, the kids’ art pieces
that must be thrown out secretly.
My appendix, mole on my breast,
my windpipe, esophagus,
left hand from grading, dinner with my mother,
mortgage, teaching roster,
Speed-writing lets hidden feelings leak
One of my favorite quotes (not to mention one of the few I can remember) is from Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” I bring it up because, as I said, I appreciate the forced-march nature of a deadline. You have to think fast, but not too deep. Paradoxically, the speed sometimes uncovers a thought or feeling you couldn’t capture if you were thinking too much or too long. There’s always time to refine later.
This may sound crazy, but you could take the same approach to your linen closet or tee-shirt drawer. Fifteen minutes, no stopping to consider whether the excess towels should be saved for summer beach visits, or if the shirt from the first Rolling Stones retirement tour really is a piece of history. Pitch it, move on. Unlike the snow day writing assignment, you could have a buddy on hand to intervene when you hesitate over the well-worn baseball cap that reminds you of your first love.
Another striking thing about the flash-art that came out of the Snow Day Boot Camp is the sense of place and time evoked by the writers. Sarah Cedeño has lived in Brockport, N.Y., her whole life. She described her childhood in an interview with the Missouri Review: “I spent a lot of time in my parents’ back yard growing up, digging up potato bugs and playing with poisonous berries. We didn’t vacation. I didn’t do summer camp. I made friends with two girls who went to the church across the street from my parents’ house when I got bored of my best friend, who lived next door.”
I so remember that kind of childhood. I don’t know how she managed, in 30 minutes, to convey both the placid beauty of that small town life and the occasional frustrating limitations, in this, her Boot Camp memory:
I’d outgrown my childhood playhouse years before. I watched it dismantled when I was in college: my father, with a hammer, while my cousin’s husband and his twin daughters watched, ready to rebuild in their own yard. Me, I was up the hill at the kitchen window—counting it all: the plywood, the shingles, the sign that said “Sarah’s Place” in rainbow font, the rainbow font like a fantasy.
I’ve outgrown a toy chest I used to hide in on the front porch with Hulk Hogan and Godzilla, Barbie and Gumby, the crayons I wrote my name with above our doorbell, that humid, screened-in space between home and not. And my sister’s hand-me-downs, shrunken and pale with too many washings. Wine coolers in flavors like raspberry dazzle and chillin’ cherry. I’ve outgrown beer that isn’t pretentious.
I’ve outgrown straightening my hair on the regular, dying my hair lighter or darker or red, fingernail polish in any shade. I’ve outgrown time like I have (outgrown) four identical pairs of leather boots and about a million dreams, I’ve outgrown silence and a well-placed smile over my open mouth.
My skin has become tight, and whoever said you grow into yourself is full of shit— I grew through my own skin, and some mornings I want to rip and run out of it, but the sidewalks are too short and the road too long.
I didn’t start out to compare the process of a writing boot camp with the process of simplifying and clarifying life through the act of decluttering or downsizing—I thought this post would be all about the content. But it seems a natural fit. And I’m not the only one who noticed. One of the last comments on Sarah’s FB post came from Barbara Hammon.
“OMG!!,” she wrote. “I’m too late to play, but only because I was cleaning out my pantry and disposing of homemade pickles from ’02, cans of soup my past boyfriend bought (I don’t eat canned soup and he’s been gone almost 3 years), and multiple unrecognizable stuff. My pantry is cleaned and reorganized and ready to face the next decade. One room at a time.”
“So,” Sarah replied. “You did do the prompt.”