Thursday, May 26, 2011

Messes & Manuscripts


We’ve reached a distressing point in the packing process: that moment almost halfway through when any initial excitement has waned and mountains of packed boxes have accumulated in various rooms…and yet by some horrible miracle we still have SO MUCH STUFF LEFT. Our apartment is tiny for anyone but a New Yorker, but it apparently possesses the powers of Mary Poppin’s magical purse. There's a blog post on unconscious consumerism somewhere in here, but I'm ignoring that for now.


Hello, small part of Box Mountain and temporary desk with awesome panic buttons
It’s also time to start the other part of moving I hate: keeping the apartment ready for droves of prospective renters to tour the space. I always feel a bit invaded when I know that strangers are wandering through my home, and I have to admit I wonder what they make of us based on the artifacts of our life that are not yet stowed away in carefully labeled boxes and bags. (Part of me wanted to keep my best books out on display for them, but then I stopped being crazy and started packing). 

Mostly, however, I just hate to clean. Preparing for home tours is like preparing for guests, but with one annoying difference: prospective renters look around everywhere, so I can’t just shove all of the crap into the closets or the bedroom until they leave. 

There’s a parallel here with writing (or I’m going to pretend there is one, anyway, because talking about just packing and cleaning is kind of boring). 

The throw-the-junk-in-the-closet-and-quickly-wipe-down-a-few-visible-surfaces type of cleaning is like the editing some of my students do when I tell them to rewrite their essay. They’ll make the easy surface corrections – adding a comma here, fixing a misspelling there – but ignore any suggestions that seem hard to implement – adding supporting details or clarifying the connections between ideas, for example. Often if I tell them that a sentence is worded poorly but don’t tell them how to fix it, they’ll just give up and delete the sentence instead of trying to rework it. Yes, much of editing is deleting, but in this case it’s like throwing away a perfectly good pen or hairholder because it got a little dusty, rather than taking time to clean it off and put it away. (Did I mention I have an overdeveloped aversion to dusty things?)

If these students are looking to just scrape by in the class, they can probably get away with it. But if they want an A, they need to clean up their essay from top to bottom, and stop hoping that a fancy coat of pretty language will hide any faulty ideas or dusty conclusions underneath. 

And those of us who want to be published? Time to get out the high powered cleaning solution and toothbrushes, because that thing needs to be pristine, sparkling, and perfectly staged. No skimping on proofreading. No hiding the sections that don’t quite work in the closet in the hopes that no one will notice. And for goodness sake, get rid of all the clutter!

Which reminds me, I should probably get back to packing and figure out why I thought I needed half a dozen stuffed penguins and at least ten copies of Hamlet...

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