Tag Archives: rural living

Letting Go of Your Stuff: the Closet Cleanse

Now booking for our 2017 Haven Writing Retreats! From book writers to journal writers and everything in-between, Haven will meet you where you need to be met! Come find your voice in the woods of Montana this fall!  ***(Mention this blog post for a discount!)

September 6-10 (FULL)

September 20-24 (still room)

October 4-8 (FULL)

October 18-22 (still room)

Follow me on Facebook for more news, community, and inspiration! 

Okay.  I’ll admit it.  I cling to things.  I’ve been working on it.  Hard.  And I’ve gotten pretty good at letting go.  Of places…and in some cases, of people.  That’s the hardest one.  I’ll leave it at that for now.  But for some reason, the stuff you’d think would be the easiest to let go of…is for me, the hardest.  And that’s:  old clothes.

Maybe it’s because they can hang in a closet, or lie in a box in an eave, unopened for years.  They don’t require attention or interaction.  And they don’t leave unless I make them leave.  Maybe I keep the small stuff in my life because when I’m lying in bed working with letting go of the big stuff, I can at least believe in the lie that those silly things in those closets and boxes are still there to save me a little…should I really need it…one difficult day.  Like today.

Because what does a full closet of old clothes mean?  Resourcefulness?  Gratitude?  Personal history?  And what would an empty closet, an empty box, say about my life?  Who would I be without the proof of an old wardrobe of the people I’ve been on this planet?  Would I be such an empty shell?

Of course not.  And I know damn well what fills a human soul.  It ain’t clothes, that’s for sure.  I know this.  And yet…I mean my Guess skinny jeans from the 80s?  My Police Synchronicity tour sleeveless T-shirt?  Jeez.  Get over it, girlfriend.  Sure, a baptism gown or a wedding dress—that’s one thing.  (And let’s not even get into the clothes I kept from my father’s drawers and closets after he died.  I can’t even unpack those suitcases.  That requires nerve I just…don’t…have yet.)  But my wrap-around corduroy skirt with the emerald green whales on it?  My old argyle knee socks?  Come on.clothesdrive_imgerotat

I respect those people who go through their closets every season, and are honest with themselves.  Haven’t worn that in two months.  Too fat for that.  Too skinny for that (like that ever happens, but I’m just saying…it could).  Sayonara.

I’m the child of Depression era parents.  I think in terms of darned socks and three minute phone calls.  I think of Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors that her mama gave to her.  Made up of the fabric of old clothes.  The fabric of old life.  When I’m giving myself a break for such hoarderly qualities, I say:  it’s because I love story.  Those clothes, that fabric– the stories they could tell.  But isn’t my brain the ultimate container for those stories?  And my journals?  And the people I love who lived through those times too?  So why do I need a Laura Ashley dress circa 1980?  My old Frye boots, the first time they were in vogue—70s style.  My kilts and Fair Isle sweaters from my impossibly preppy days.  My wedding shoes that no longer fit me because somehow my feet and ears are still growing, just like they say of old men.  My hippie skirts and even that tweed Ann Taylor suit with the shoulder pads and big wool covered buttons that I wore to all my temp jobs while I was writing my first novel in Boston.clothesdrive_imgerotat

And let’s remember that these aren’t just old clothes hanging in my childhood bedroom in a suburb of Chicago.  My parents got rid of their home of 45 years long ago.  No, I opted to pack these items into boxes.  I opted to have them shipped to Montana.  To not just one house, but to the next house we moved into—this one.  I have worked hard to preserve this legacy of old beloved materialistic crap.

Yesterday, a kind voice, not prone to bullying as I’ve procured the voices in my head to be now in my 50s, told me:  Laura, it’s time.

I dreaded it.  It took all day and a string of daytime talk shows all the way through Martha, who would probably do something industrious with all that fabric, like line bulletin boards or sew wine gift bags, or make chicken coop cozies…but let’s face it, I don’t sew.  I use duct tape when I rip a hem.

But I did it.  And you know what?  It was easy.

I guess if you hang on to something long enough, and it haunts you enough, and it’s benign enough…it loses its luster.  My grandmother’s silver and china are still shiny, for instance.  No haunt there.  But yesterday, it was like I was exfoliating my brain.  Opening up space in my house (and the house of my brain) that was full of grumpy ghosts who wanted out.  To move on and torture some other woman reckoning with the loss of her maidenhood, in some other bedroom in America.  They flew out of here so fast, they didn’t even stir the dust they’d been stashed in for so many years.  Didn’t even say goodbye.  And why would they?  They have been dormant—lording over fickle charms; thin talismen.  Ghosts don’t like to be dormant.  They like megaphones and chains.  I’ve left those for the other ghosts of the Big Stuff.  These ghosts were so outta here.clothesdrive_imgerotat

And what I was left with was a pile of clothes and dust and the remains of long dead flies and stink bugs.  Clothes I’d once beheld lovingly and thought—Oh, my daughter might want that pair of vintage riding breeches some day—we’ll get the leatherwork re-done, and the elastic too.  Or, my grandmother’s ultra suede suit might come in handy if there’s ever a dress-like-Barbara Bush Day in my imminent future—suddenly lay limp and dethroned on my bedroom rug.  And I wanted them out of there.

So I fetched five lawn bags, and shoved it all in.  Dragged them outside, and launched them in to the back of the old Ford pick-up to take to the Salvation Army.

For a flicker of a moment I thought, with a lunatic’s altruism and over-blinking eyes, “Well somebody in rural Montana is surely going to feel lucky to stumble upon such finery.”  After all, I’m the one who remembers walking through the streets of Chicago once, seeing a homeless person wearing the exact same bridesmaid’s dress I’d worn in a recent wedding and thinking how lovely it must be to wear a gown of peau de soie silk whilst rummaging through  garbage for soda cans—but also thinking how rude and unromantic and socially irresponsible even not to at least have the decency to keep the dread thing hanging in a closet somewhere.  To promise to wear again with those same over-blinking eyes.  Of course I was that girl.  I bet whichever of the other six women who got real and ditched that dress at the local Goodwill doesn’t have a pick-up full of clothes sitting in bags from the last 30 years of her life.  I bet she has a very dust-free brain.  As a rule.  Never mind her closet.

clothesdrive_imgerotatAnd then I laugh-snorted and got over myself.  Was I kidding myself?  No one with any level of dignity whatsoever would find any of this stuff wearable in 2017.  Sometimes one person’s trash is NOT another person’s treasure.  But then again, if I see someone walking down the street in a patchwork coat, made up of the fabrics of my life, I decided right then…I’d be pleased.  Because one thing seemed true in that grey on rust on plastic on textile moment:  one person’s clinging could certainly be made into another person’s winter coat.  That was for sure.  Fancy could indeed become function.

In a month, ask me if I can remember the clothes I gave away for adoption yesterday.  In a month, ask me if I care.

So many little stitches in freedom.

 

 

8 Comments

Filed under My Posts, Stories

Loveletter to NYC (and to Montana)

As a Chicago girl, I know I’m not supposed to say this…but I love New York City. I’ve been there ten times in two years, and this time it was for fun. Everything about it was fun. I met amazingly generous people who are doing amazingly inspiring things with their lives in the world of art and media. I left half day chunks to myself and went to the De Kooning exhibit at MOMA (which I highly recommend).  I hung out in the Madison Square Park dog park with my dear friend (a culture unto itself), poked around Chinatown and ate dumplings, walked and walked and walked until shin splints had me crying uncle and justifying a two hour sushi meal to relieve them. Ate a ridiculous four course dinner at Eleven Madison Park which my culinary genius friends/hosts think is currently the best food in NYC.  And I was so inspired by Lee and Bob Woodruff’s Stand up for Heroes gala which had me staring up-close-and-personal at people I idolize like Katie Couric (who I met!!! and gushed all over like an idiot), Bill Clinton, John Stewart, Rick Gervais, Bruce friggin Springsteen, Seth Meyer, Brian Williams… The city stuns me.

And yet, flying home into our little valley, I love that I’m limited here in Montana by the possibilities of what I can hold in my hand and pay for with a credit card. I love that the currency comes in snow plows and back hoes and chickens and horses who are easy keepers. I love that it’s going to get hairy now as the snow twirls in gusts around my office window. I love that I have a fire going and that I’ll need to keep it going most of the winter, propane prices being what they are. I love that my head will be cold in my bed at night and that I’ll see my breath when I wake. I love that it is hard here. I love who I am here. People kept asking me in New York why I have lived here so long. Why not come back to the land of the sophisticate, opportunity, options in full feast. “I trust myself in Montana. I trust the currency. I trust what it asks of me and I trust how I answer its questions.” But THANK YOU, New York, for one heck of a week. Maybe it’s because of weeks like this that I can receive Montana. yrs. Laura

Lee and Bob Woodruff raise money for wounded vets in a fabulous evening of entertainment-- Beacon Theater, NYC

Bob and Lee Woodruff with Bruce!

This is NOT with a zoom. Almost lost my lunch.

Today Show anchor, Natalie Morales at 30 Rock. This has been a dream since Jane Pauley Days-- look what she's holding...


Stone Crab and Uni at Eataly-- mecca!

Art Installation at MOMA

A dumpling walk in Chinatown

Thanks Sarah Brokaw for all your support of my book! Go buy hers: FORTYTUDE! So empowering!

A bastion of publishing-- the Hearst Building where I met with some FAB editors from Good Housekeeping!


This was my favorite!
Such expression. Here I go back to Montana….

I'll take the M train home now...

11 Comments

Filed under City Hits, Little Hymns to Montana, My Posts

Winter Carnival 2011

Winter Carnival Parade on Central Ave.


Carnival Royalty


The theme: Superheroes. The Working Women of Whitefish hit it out of the park, as usual


This is not the story you think it is.


Dogsled Adventures free advertising-- got my first dog from these guys.

4 Comments

Filed under My Posts

Handy: a rant inspired by the county fair

chainsaw
I am orignially from the city. Chicago. New York. Boston. Seattle. And a few others along the way. But I’ve lived in Montana for 17 years. As much as I love it, there is one issue that I just can’t shake. Language. I’m not talking about the poetic license to write two word sentences and start them with And or But. I’m talking about the slow and steady and acceptable widening black hole that makes up many of my interactions here and maybe yours too. But truly I wonder if the joke’s on me. Here’s my rant. Ready? County fair time always does this to me.

(And yes I know I’m a pompous ass, but hear me out).

There is no such word as “orientated.” I can take the dangling participle from hell, “where’s that at,” the double– sometimes triple negatives, and even the humble attempts at proper grammar, which I’ve heard plenty “of.” After all, this is the land of the handy. The Queen’s English follows function out here in the Great American West, especially when there’s snow to plow, fields to tend, wood to chop. Where you’re not handy, a neighbor is, and they’ll come panting and smiley and full of handiness with their chainsaw or bobcat or carpenter’s belt. You can pay them with beer and that doesn’t require much Queen’s English now, does it?

Food. Shelter. Running water. Heat. We all need it. Back in the city, the water comes from the tap, the heat from vents in the wall, and the shelter…well duh, it’s just there. The important aspect of shelter as I knew it was the color you chose to paint or paper your walls. When those taps and vents and walls betray you, I was taught how to pick up the phone and call a man in a suit who arrives in a truck three hours late and overcharges. I was taught how to play damsel in distress to his…well, grease monkey in shining…well, plumber’s pants. Now, I am the grease monkey. I know where my water comes from and how it is that it enters my kitchen sink. I understand the network of pipes tying me in with the modern world. I know that it is not grease monkey magic. And when you have three cords of wood to chop, it doesn’t really matter where your participle is at. But there’s no such word as “orientated,” okay? That’s a griz claw swiping slowly down my inner chalkboard. It’s oriented. Disoriented.

But I digress. I moved to this state of Montana with very good phone skills. Excellent Yellow Pages navigational abilities. I had and still have, I’m fairly positive (although nothing is sacrosanct on this subject now that I am actively employing the word “awesome,” often) a pretty damn good vocab. A vocabulary indicative of those fancy east coast prep schools that nearly drove Holden Caufield to vagrancy in the tunnels of the New York city public transit system. Who in the Sam Hill is Colden Haufield? Never mind. (I’m just glad to know what an Allen wrench is and that it has nothing to do with Woody, probably our self-admittedly least handy American.) Anyway, I had and potentially still have the kind of vocabulary that is spun out of pruny, old, bifocaled masters in bow ties playing Mr. Chips-gone-bad to my “um…yeah…like…whatever”‘s. One of these such chaps used to pull my pony tail until I cried, “onomatopoeia”!!! In high school, our English papers were returned with an F if we used the passive tense. I’m not even sure what that is anymore, but I remember it was bad. Really bad. Worse than passive aggression. Or passing gas. Or not passing the soccer ball in time. Or asking to pass the salt without a please. Actually that was different– that was simply just not done.

In all this talking the SAT talk, I never learned how to walk the handy woman walk. And why would I? I was taught that biceps are unattractive on a woman. I learned that the color leather belt you are sporting should match your shoes. I learned which fork to use at which juncture of the dining experience. I learned how to make polite but not turbulent conversation. I learned that Hope is not a method of contraception, nor is it a method of admission into Harvard. (Knowing someone on the Board of Trustees, however, is.) I even learned, from my own research mostly, where babies come from. But nobody told me that oil needs changing in a car and, God forbid, that a person, a Full Service gal like me, can do it herself. Perish the thought. These hands were made for shaking and playing a little Beethoven, not oil. Maybe oil paint. Maybe oil wells. Studs on the lacrosse field, yes. But in a tire…in a wall…no. Pre-Montana, the ceiling and basement on my handiness aptitude, was the assemblage of a rather roaring Watteau-worthy (say it fast three times) fire. A fire for form not function. For that, we simply ask hubbie to twist the heat dial thingy on the wall.

The first time I heard the word “ain’t” in real life, not on Hee Haw or The Waltons, or out of the mouth of Opie, was at a county fair. It was my first weekend in Montana so I figured I’d go to the center of the culture. It was enlightening. I learned that bulls don’t just buck — their balls are strung up. I learned that goats stink. Llamas spit. And that Wyoming is to Montana as Wisonsin is to Illinois as New Yorkers are to Bostonians as ugly Americans are to all of France and most of Europe. (And you won’t find that in the verbal section of the SAT’s.) Soon after, I became acquainted with my inner chalkboard. You do that real good, do you? Eeeeeeeeeeeeee. Cold enough fer ya? Eeeeeeeeeeeeeee. I been there. Irrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. I seen that. Owwwwwwwww. This car needs fixed. ???? And as if Gimme your John Hancock wasn’t bad enough, here, it’s a different John I’ve never heard of, but think he had something to do with the railroad: John Henry! Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuh. Alls I want…erp. What can I do you for…uhp. The clincher was the use of the word “anymore. ” A true Flathead Valley native, at least someone who has lived here long enough to wave at every inhabitant of every car at every stop light (a feat for which training can take up to, say, minimum: one year’s all), replaces the phrase “these days,” with the word “anymore,” emphasis on the any. And given the huge amount of change happening all around them– take freaks like me moving in, for instance– they’re always talking about anymore. Anymore, you can’t find a decent-sized trout in the river. Anymore, it doesn’t snow much. Anymore, you have to speak Eyetalian just to ordera cuppa coffee– and it’ll cost ya three dollars! When I heard this use of anymore, once I unjumbled the brain teaser, I got over my inner chalkboard and just outright laughed. It makes no sense. And yet it makes perfect sense: it is the language here.

Language exists for one purpose, I suppose, and that is: communication. These people don’t need to throw around prosciutto, capacola, pancetta. They have goose jerky, smoked trout, elk sausage all their own. What do they want with craft store raffia for decoration– they can pull straw from the bales off their harvested and harrowed fields, and frankly, that stuff is a bit shabby around here– kind of like decorating your condo door with a wreath made out of carpet swatches and linoleum leftovers. Their hamachi sashimi, Prada purses, and Bobby Brown earth tones are Makita, mountain lions, and Flathead river rock. And the piece de resistance, if you’re very very good to Santa, is a big ‘ol backhoe under your self-cut Christmas tree. What in creation is a backhoe? A big machine that moves dirt and other stuff around. When you live in a place where there’s still dirt to be moved around, it comes in very handy. I just can’t imagine life without a backhoe.

So I guess I’ve learned that form can take a flying leap off the top of the Empire State building. I’ve got bucking broncos and Indian Fry bread and rodeo clown humor calling me. But there’s still no such word as “orientated.” There just ain’t.

10 Comments

Filed under Little Hymns to Montana, My Posts