I am naturally organized. It’s one of my superpowers.
As a toddler, my parents once found me methodically pulling clean diapers out of their box, lining them up along the wall in the hallway, and then placing all of my stuffed animals in a diaper, one by one. As a pre-teen, I would empty my big container of collected pennies and line them up on the carpet in order of their year. Now, I take great satisfaction in a well-constructed Excel spreadsheet, and even my writing talismans on my desk-side table sit in a specific arrangement. I moderate Crucial Minutiae’s comments without second thought, and took deep satisfaction from re-organizing the weekly columns.
When I started meeting professional writers in my early 20s, I noticed that many of them, especially the most commercially successful ones, were naturally disorganized. They are brilliant writers and thinkers who, when they go deep into the writing process, seem to lose all sense of their physical world.
Many of them have outside help to keep their houses clean, themselves fed, their children tended. Books about writing seemed to mention, more often than not, the messy, disorderly process of writing. I took this to imply the bohemian myth: that writers must let bills go unpaid, relationships fall away, dishes piled in the sink, in order to be truly great.
As I began to write longer works of fiction, fear gripped me. Was I too organized to be a real writer? Did I cling too tightly to order and neatness to be able to get lost in an imaginary world of my own creation? Did my natural inclinations make it impossible for me to be a great writer?
I took on my innate qualities as deep shame: shame that I couldn’t make a big enough mess to be a real writer. Somewhere dark inside, I felt like my desire was too big for me.
Last week, I read a blog post that touched me deeply. The gist of the post was that there are two things that inform our lives: 1) who we are or what our skills are, and 2) what makes us happy. The writer remarked that these two things do not always overlap.
Her words settled warm in my belly as, later that day, I whirled through my kitchen with the efficiency of a first-born Virgo Horse, putting dishes away and handling the physical details of my world quickly and easily.
As I leaned down to slip the Tupperware into its place in the cabinet, my soul opened and gave me this, in the form of a question.
What if my natural organization actually supports my writing?
What if it allows me to quickly and efficiently handle the details of my outer life, thus freeing up more time for me to sit down and write?
What if my natural skills work in partnership with my deep desire to write?
In that moment, my fists released the fear and shame that had been cutting deep wounds into my palms. In that moment, I said YES to myself as I am: the creative source and a twinkle of the Divine, with all of my qualities. Every day, I stand more fiercely for my creative voice in this world. My evolution – as a human being, as a writer – continues.
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Do you have deep fears, perhaps even unacknowledged, that something fundamental about yourself is keeping you from having what you want? Can you consider the possibility that those qualities actually serve you?
I would love to hear from you, in the comments.
Beauty in a Wicked World is a weekly column by Jennifer Gandin Le. It appears on Wednesdays.