When my young daughters start full days of school, I decide it’s time to clean out our garage. It was supposed to be my den, but somehow got stacked high with boxes. The space, like its owner sometimes, lacks focus and has taken on so many roles over the last several years: guest house, Santa’s workshop, catch-all room. And it’s where we store tools and touch-up paints; our bikes when it’s going to rain.
The task is daunting, but I’m determined. I spend one whole day trying to figure out a strategy and wondering how the mess in this room became so unscaleable. Where do I even begin? I move boxes, trying to create a path.
What to keep? What to let go? How to sort through things and memories? As a compulsive saver of things, I confront the mountains of art projects and stacks of papers. I can’t bring myself to throw out any of the kids’ artwork, so I decide to devote a closet to storage.
I discover a box overflowing with rejection letters, from back when magazines and literary journals still sent actual letters via post. There are hundreds of letters in the box. I remember reading about how many of the greats - Melville, Nabokov, Hemingway - were mercilessly rejected before finally getting published. Louisa May Alcott was told to “stick to teaching” in one rejection letter before she sold Little Women to a publisher. I saved my rejections as reminders to keep trying, never to give up. Unwilling to part with them now, I decide to repurpose. I get out the glue and gloss and decoupage the top of my den’s bureau with them, forever reminders of my efforts to persevere.
I frame my past published articles. If I don’t celebrate my past successes, who will? For some pieces, I splurge and have them professionally framed. For others, I buy half-off frames at Michael’s craft store. I hang them all carefully on their own wall in what is quickly becoming, and feeling, less like a garage and more like my den.
I paint my favorite quotes on the walls in big, looping cursive, as reminders to never stop trying to pursue this calling.
“Let the beauty we love be what we do.” - Rumi
“Writers live twice.” - Natalie Goldberg
In two weeks, my den is finished. The tools, paints, and bikes are outside now, under an eave in our backyard so they won’t rust if it rains.
My daughters marvel at the writing on the walls. One loves the painted ones best, the other points to each of the framed stories I’ve written over the years.
I almost say aloud: This is what I used to do.
“This is what I do,” I say instead.
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