That Was the Sound of 13,000 E-Mails Being Deleted

How could it be that I have managed to store 13,000 e-mails in my earthlink inbox? The reason I know I have that many e-mails is because every week or so, a little icon next to my e-mail inbox goes into red, danger territory.  That’s how earthlink tells you that you have to pay them $10 more a month so you can store all your spam in case, you know, you suddenly wake up and decide you DO in fact want to buy cheap pharm, and enlarge  the penis you don’t happen to have and maybe, who knows, send the entire contents of your IRA to some guy in Nigeria who really, really needs it. 

When I glance at that red line hovering in the dangerous-you-have-too-much-crap-in-here territory, I feel like I’m sitting on a nuclear reactor.  Except I’m not Homer Simpson, and I actually DO feel kind of bad knowing the whole thing’s going to go up in a big mushroom cloud. 

Every once in a while, I try to delete some of those e-mails.  But the whole effort is very lame.  I search on things like “cooks illustrated” and “publishers lunch” and “amazon” and delete three or four pages of e-mails at a time.   My inbox goes from 13,000 e-mails to 12, 937 e-mails.  A day and a few visits from energetic spammers later, I’m back at 13,000.  It’s a little like trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon.

The whole thing was making me feel bad.  

So, this morning I took a deep breath, and figured out how you delete the whole inbox at once.  That’s when I discovered that if they ever need someone to push a button that blows stuff up, I’m their woman.  I LIKED it.  Steely eyed, I sat with my finger hovering over the “enter” button.   And then I just tapped it sort of lightly, in a carefree manner.  I didn’t for even a second feel worried that there might be something in that in box that mattered, some e-mail so precious I had saved it to re-read to my children or pass on to my literary executor, or an e-mail with good news that might sustain me on a bad day, or a gift certificate you can only get if you have the proper number, or the details of the bus that picks kids up from skatecamp, or the confirmation number for my trip to New England tomorrow, or litlove’s e-mail address….

Oh my god.  Tell me this wasn’t a huge, huge mistake. 


PS:  To the person who found my blog today by googling “how to be smart, organized and look beautiful”:  I hope you got here in time to see that the way to accomplish these not inconsiderable goals is to delete your e-mails.  It takes years off your life, pounds off whereever you don’t want them, and generally gives you an aura of invincibility.  Until you need the skate camp bus schedule, of course.  Then you’re on your own. 

and one more PS.  Obviously, my method of inbox decluttering is a little extreme.  My friend Debby, who was once my co-worker, and used to pretty regularly inform me that my shoes and outfit didn’t quite work and was always right about that, e-mailed this far more helpful decluttering routine, which I reproduce in its entirety.  Debby (who is not my college friend Debbie, although I’m guessing that Debbie doesn’t have 13,000 e-mails either) has many skills and talents, not least of which is her ability to pull off something like this: 

On my yahoo account, I empty the spam folder every, single day.  And I delete all unnwanted emails every single day.On my work account, I delete all non-work “sent items” emails every day and delete all non-work emails in my inbox every day.  I then delete all deleted items every day.  After I’ve finished doing my timesheets, I delete all the unnecessary emails for that time period and move the important ones over into the appropriate folders.I also delete all my cookies and browsing history every day before I leave the office.

This is probably the only thing I do religiously.  I have almost no emails in my inboxes. 

Good News and Bad News

packing list
In a piece of huge cosmic unfairness, I was recently informed by that authoritative source of all things organizational and nutritional — the New York Times — that as long as my house is messy, I will never lose a single pound. (You will be fat, in other words, if your house is messy.) Actually, I think they tried to put it in a nice way, which is to say that those who are organized, or get organized, well, they also tend to lose weight. That’s the good news, at least at this time of year when a lot of people have that goal on their resolution list. The first thing I said is the same news, but somehow it seems like bad news. It’s all in how you look at it, news is, I mean. Just ask Noam Chomsky if you want someone to tell you that in a more eloquent (and even more incomprehensible) way.

Now, let me hasten to add that I’m quite happy with my body, which works very well, and is pleasing to me and those who have a right to care about it, like my husband, and anyway, I used to be painfully skinny when I was an emotional mess in college and so I associate my curves with my happiness and have come to like them quite a bit. Still, is it really possible that if I pack a neat suitcase for my trip to London I will lose ten pounds while I’m there? If not, can I, like SUE the New York Times? (I know the answer to that, being a Legal Professional, and it is, obviously, no.)

Having already told you what my children think I smell like and confessed how messy my office can get, and revealed that I sewed the world’s ugliest cheerleading costume in the 1970s, and also that my triumphant moment in the year 2006 was throwing away my couch, I feel that I can show you my packing list, even if it does contain the shockingly intimate revelation that, in fact, I do wear underwear. I am even bringing some on my trip. Eye makeup remover? Of course. It’s not that I’ve begun to channel Amy Winehouse, but I have recently decided that I like eyeliner. It’s hard to get off, though, so you have to resort to a commercial product because spit doesn’t work that well and I don’t think it’s too sanitary either.

I’m wearing a brown sweater dress next week. A lot. Jeans, my favorite corduroy skirt. Turtlenecks. Boots, ones that my husband thinks are a little S&M and I think are chic in an equestrian way. I will buy, before I go, one brown belt and one pair of brown gloves. I will also buy ten of those little plastic airplane container things for my explosive liquids. I am carrying on my bags, dear reader, because I don’t want to waste a moment in getting into London.

I can’t think of anything I have left unsaid here on BlogLily, now that I’ve shown the world how many toiletries and electronic gadgets I travel with and how my packing list sits on top of a very, very messy pile of mail I have to deal with.

I’ll get back to you on whether my neatly packed suitcase results in the loss of that ten pounds, okay? If it does, I’m going to write a whole book about it, and make a zillion dollars. No, make that pounds.

Left to Right


This is the chaos that is our living room Christmas morning. It is also a pretty fair approximation of the chaos that is my life on many more days than I care to admit. My aim is to be Archie, still and happy in the midst of all the chaos. My aim is also to have a chair to actually sit on so I can finish Claire Tomalin’s wonderful Jane Austen: A Life. And if there is a table where I can put a cup of tea without everything else on the table crashing to the floor, life is complete.

Only this morning, my husband was making enthusiastic noises about how aggressively he is going to attack his resolutions, possibly aided by the intervention of six cups of strong Sumatra. Me? I asked him to aggressively make me a cup of tea so I could lie in bed and read.

Which is where I still am, this beautiful New Year’s morning in northern California, where the light is so clean and the day is a little chilly, but not forbiddingly so. He got me the tea and then launched into a little speech in which he catalogued my fine qualities, which is a little unusual, so I think that must be the coffee at work. Anyway, among the fine qualities I was lauded for possessing, besides my ability to actually not move for hours in the morning even when he has had six cups of coffee and is trying to rouse me to clean up the living room, is that I taught him to clean the kitchen from left to right. Okay, so it is not exactly the same as, say, teaching someone the principles of physics or how to speak Italian, but it still counts.

Basically, this important cleaning principle involves beginning your task at a fixed point, (I choose left because I am, after all, socially and politically liberal, but this works equally well if you begin on the right — something that is not true in any other part of life), and not moving on to any other chaotic place until you have put that area to rights. Oh, and it is also important to wipe the crumbs off that section of the kitchen before you move on.

I have a few other tips for how to go about cleaning up the living room and the kitchen, and I give them to you, completely free of charge, but only if you promise to spend at least part of your day today doing the equivalent of lying around in the midst of the chaos on your little dog bed thing, only in your case it should be the sofa or an armchair. A hot beverage is recommended. Here they are:

–play your favorite rowdy music — loud is good. It gets you going, makes you feel less guilty when you consider how wrapping paper is an environmental shame and you really need to think of an alternative, and also gets children involved in rushing around the house, putting their new books on shelves and even maybe walking that sleepy dog.
–never leave the room without something in your hands, and always put that thing as close as possible to the place it goes — you don’t have to get it exactly where it goes, but if it is closer to its destination that is a good thing
–caffeine is good, but six cups of coffee is pushing it
–line up a little reward at the end — Lying around reading the Life of Jane Austen is currently recommended because it is incredibly interesting. My favorite thing so far was Tomalin’s observation that Austen’s father was wonderfully encouraging, that he let her read widely in his library and he did not censor her writing, even when, as an adolescent, the plays she wrote involved the exploits of women of doubtful character, who seemed not to be punished for running around wildly, but to enjoy themselves immensely. Given that he was a minister, this liberality is all the more remarkable.

Before you know it, the living room will look ready for lounding around in.

Here’s to a liberal, open-handed, tolerant, slightly less chaotic, and wildly fun 2008.

You Smell Like Disneyland

I think the people at Guerlain might have been taken aback by the conversation in the car on the way to school this morning in which there was some discussion about the lovely Acqua Allegoria floral perfume I was sporting.  It was not, actually, my intention to smell like Disneyland.  Nor was it my intention to smell, as the perfume critic/child said hastily, when he noticed my shocked look, like the “outside of Disneyland,” as though a little distance from the House of the Mouse might make that comparison less troubling. 

But at least they meant it as a compliment, which is how I’m going to take it .

This slight post, you must realize, is just an excuse to tag more planners.  (Ah, Stefanie, you thought maybe I was not going to tag you?  Wrong.  I have a Tag Plan.  It involves a happy half hour browsing through my blogroll and thinking about how lucky I am to know so many smart, funny, impressive people before choosing a group of them at random to browbeat into saying a word or two about how they plan something, anything, that matters to them.  The holidays.  Building a huge office building.  Finishing a novel.  Discovering the source of the Nile.  Getting a poem out into the world.) 

meeta, whose blog was a place where I got to write about my obsession with packed lunches, before I discovered I couldn’t keep that up and breathe at the same time.

 If you have ever run out of things to read, all you really have to do is consult the right hand side of dark orpheus‘s blog.  There is an awful lot of reading going on over there.  Naturally, I would like to know how all that gets done.

Jana, who draws and paints almost every day.  Lovely, lovely watercolors and sketches.  Some days you do not want words.  And then you go here.  I wonder how someone who is so visual makes a plan. 

I realize this is only four blogs, but what wonderful blogs they are! 

Yes, Virginia, There is Such a Thing as Being Too Organized

Having badgered so many people into revealing how they plan, I figure I’d better post my own plan for the month before it gets too much further into December. I’m going to begin by showing you what my November plan looked like. I’m sure you won’t need to do more than glance at it to understand why it made me feel like a total loser, not even four days into it. There is certainly such a thing as being overscheduled and overorganized. Here it is:

poor plan

You know, I’d never ask someone who worked for me to adhere to a plan like that, one with so many requirements, so many teensy little boxes to be checked, so many chances to fail. And I’d never give anyone THAT many things to do in one day, and then follow it up with another day full of the same or more things. Nor would I tell them what a sorry loser they are when they flailed under that ambitious plan, which is sort of the tone I took with myself when I couldn’t keep up.

Why am I so mean to myself? Beats me. We are often so much harder on ourselves than we are on other people. Time to stop that. And yes, I’m talking to you, dear reader.

So, I began at the beginning: the starting point and, in fact, the reason planning exists, is because of goals. You have a goal, you need to get to it, so you need some kind of plan. This sort of thing is different from calendaring, which is a tool you can use when you plan, but it’s also a tool you can use just to make sure you get through your life without forgetting to pay your car insurance. Although a calendar can be — and alas often is– full of unpleasant things — a plan should be fun. In fact, if the route to the goal isn’t pleasurable and worthwhile, the whole thing will collapse. Therefore, I have banished the obsessive, daily list of too-many-things-to-do, and the mean talking to myself.

One of my important goals is to do meaningful work as a writer. I want to write well, and I want to have what I write go out into the world and entertain people and make them happy. My other important goal this month is to have a sane and happy holiday season.

I began my plan by sketching out a list of things that make for a good holiday — choosing gifts that let people know I’ve been thinking about them, giving a party, going to listen to music, and doing something for other people. Those are things that matter to me. Others might find them excrutiating. Good thing we all get to be us, and not each other!

The writing goal involves moving forward. Two pages a day. And this month, moving forward also means sending out some stories I’ve written, writing a non-fiction book proposal (which I might want to wait until January to do), proofing my novel carefully and for the last time and considering whether it needs a few more chapters, writing a synopsis, and then sending out queries to agents. I don’t know if I can do all those things this month, but I’m just going to get started. And that’s the innovation I’m most excited about (maybe it’s not an innovation — maybe a zillion people do this — but I’ve never thought of it before). I’m not going to make more than two days’ worth of things to do to get to those goals. I wrote up a list of things for Monday and Tuesday and here it is Tuesday, and they’re not all done. Instead of starting Wednesdsay with stuff undone, I’m not going to write another date on the list until I finish the ones that are there. When I do finish, then I’ll put another couple of days’ worth of stuff down. And I’ll take as long as I need to to finish that stuff.

I also made a no fly zone, which I’m quite happy about. No cards (I know Courtney loves cards — but I find I have no time to sleep if I write cards), no last minute party going, no stepping in and buying gifts that my husband has said he’ll buy. Oh, and the best of all: NO MAKING FOOD GIFTS. What a swamp that has been in years past, when I’ve made hot chocolate mix, and jam, and individual pound cakes and [shudder] a lot of complicated crap from Martha Stewart Living — all things that take a lot of time, and are never as much fun as I think they’ll be.

Here’s what the goal sketching looks like:

plan page 1

And here is my modest two days’ worth of stuff to do to get to those goals. And here it is hours to Wednesday and I’m not done. And I don’t feel like a bad person at all because there’s nothing waiting for me to do until I decide I’m ready to write down some more. And you know what? I might actually erase a couple of things I’ve discovered I don’t really want to do right now.

plan page 2

And now, more tagging: Show Us Your Plan!

Dani, whose work in progress always seems to be progressing so beautifully. (How do you read so many books?!)

aphra–I know she’s taking a little break for the month, but come January, maybe she will be planning up a storm.

Cole, who cracks me up and makes me think, and must have some spin on planning that’s going to do both.

bookie — do you and dani have the exact same system for reading a million books and writing so well about them? I want to know.

bora, fellow writer, fellow Berkeleyan, fellow luster-after-fabulous-korean-storage-containers. I’m sure she is a fabulous planner.

jade. How can she have her finger in so many pies? (In fact, go check out the pumpkin one she’s just made!)

carl has actually already answered this question, because he’s a Master Planner, but I’m tagging him anyway, because I can.

alison — always a lot on her plate, always a lot of projects in the air. I’d like to know how she keeps it all going.

sharon, at exlibris – how can someone who’s responsible for cats and daughters — six total — have such an organized and beautiful reading life?

George Simmers is a remarkable man, and his blog, Great War Fiction, is an incredibly rich source of information about the Great War. How he does it, I do not know. But I would like to!

And no, I am not done with this tagging thing, which I am finding incredibly fun. It’s just that my fingers are about to fall off.

Happy Planning All!

Keeping Track

See that link to your left? The one that says “Writing Stats”? It’s a page I updated regularly for about six months last year, when I was finishing The Secret War, which I thought I’d finish in October, and actually finished in December. (It used to be at the top of my blog, but this month it’s on the side because it’s DECEMBER! Time for the holiday template.)

When I read over this writing record, what struck me the most is how things don’t always go the way you plan, and often that’s because your plan asks for too much, too soon. Still, it is very encouraging that even though things don’t go according to plan, they do get done.

Part of my plan involves writing regularly. A month ago, I went to see Richard Russo give a lecture in San Francisco. One thing he said was that he doesn’t try to write more than two pages a day. Before he said that he warned the audience that he was going to sound very, very lazy. And maybe it is — but it’s do-able, and after a year you have what is basically a novel. So maybe I’ll try for two pages a day. They don’t even have to be decent pages — at least, that’s what Richard Russo claimed and I like him, so am going with that.

And now, planners of the blog world, I want to see how you plan — how you sketch out your path to a destination. Mine’ll be up tomorrow, with any luck.

Debbie, who perservered through years of raising children, moving a couple of times, designing and remodelling a house and still found a publisher for her book, Scribble, which is the most wonderful picture book and a fabulous holiday gift for children and is available here. Debbie is also one of my oldest friends, knows what I looked like when I was eighteen (god!), knows where my skeletons are buried, and still lets me come visit her in Connecticut. She has bee-you-tea-ful handwriting, is an architect by training and I’m just guessing her plans are works of art.

Gail, who manages huge projects in her job, and looks like she is completely untroubled by all that responsibility and who, besides, has been a kind, quiet, and very effective reader of pretty much everything I have ever written.

Mike, the writer of the first blog I ever read, and a man I admire hugely

Nova, whose blog about writing always, always makes me glad I stumbled across her one day when I was clicking on that “next blog” button on wordpress.

unrelaxed dad, who is actually pretty relaxed and is about to have a baby! YAY! babies rule.

Pauline, who is so elegant a writer and thinker

HMH, who cracks me up and is sensible, canny, and encouraging. It must be because she goes out there and gets her hands dirty.

Susan, who writes so beautifully and lives in my neck of the woods!

Sandi, who has written and published some of the funniest books I know and who has been encouraging and so kind because she knows how to write emails that sound exactly like I think she must talk

aerophant, who blogs every single day and sometimes twice a day — things that are so suggestive and funny that you know the rest of her writing must be wonderful too.

The litkit, who’s got a plan to get her writing done soon! (yay LK) And my neighbor too.

Bikeprof who suddenly produced an entire novel in a thrilling six month or so period and is now sending it out and enduring the slings and arrows of rejection

Dorothy who reads and writes about her reading and teaches and rides a bike and is so kind

Ben, who works in my building and has the richest life — full of beer, and dogs and writing and funny, true observations

Jeff, one of my favorite Canadian guys. He’s very funny, and loves hockey and is passionate about his life.

Planning a Plan

It’s come to this. I can’t put together a decent planning strategy for December unless I sit down for half an hour and make a plan for what a good plan should look like.

First, I am going to heed the many commenters who, in the last two days have talked about the difficulty — the sheer, hyperventilating, dizzy-making difficulty — of putting together and adhering to a plan to get yourself to the other side of anything. So this is my first planning principle: Whatever plan I end up making for December, it is not going to make me –or you — want to breathe slowly into a paper bag when you see it.

Second, I am going to go with something yogamum made me see — a plan has to be fun for it to be effective.

Third, I have to be clear about what I want to accomplish in December. And because this is paragraph three, and because three is such a good number (three princesses, three princes, three Billy Goats Gruff, three little pigs, three tenors, three flying dutchmen, three wise men, three sticks of butter, three cups of sugar) I’m going to stick to just three things I want to accomplish this month.

(1) I’d like to celebrate this holiday month in a sane, fun, book, music and outdoor oriented, non-self absorbed way. (Clearly, I’m going to have to refine point number one which I can see sinking under the weight of all those expectations.)

(2) I’d like to do something about getting my book and my stories out into the world.

(3) I would like to write a few pages every day or so.

These things have been on my mind, and I think getting them them accomplished through a plan of some kind is crucial. That is because all the other things I do, the things I calendar, like seeing my friends, and taking my children sixty zillion places, have been slipping through the chasm that is my current very distracted state, in which my goals have made my everyday busy life almost undoable. I have become a little like my computer — I can’t have more than one program open at a time and I am losing a lot of data. I have also been unreliable in my friendships and I will confess right now that one big impetus to getting these goals organized is so I can never, ever, ever again do what I did this Wednesday, which is stand up a lovely friend who was waiting for me to go and taste food (free food!) for a party we are organizing. How did this happen? A child got sick, I had to stay home from work, and I could only open that single program — the sick child/mom as doctor program — that day. So I dedicate my planning efforts to K, who may not forgive me, but who will be the catalyst behind my being a tad more reliable.

And I’m also going to make an un-list, which is a list of the things I won’t do, because they are not going to make me or anyone around me happy. Currently those include: cleaning obsessively, baking elaborate things, and spending a lot of time shopping.

In the shower, where I do all my planning (hence the fact that I have no actual paper plans, given the absence of waterproof notebooks and pens in my shower), it occurred to me that maybe a plan that only has something to do in each of these categories every three days (naturally) would be better than having every day full of stuff. I think my December plan — which I’ll post in a day or two — is going to have two blank days and one day with stuff on it. Because if there is anything I don’t want to have happen (besides getting the ‘flu, which is going around in a nasty form these days in Berkeley), it’s that I’ll feel like a loser on January 1 because I didn’t do my whole damned plan. Not good.

So, there you go. Now I’m going to tag a lot of people to talk about how they get themselves from an idea of something they would like to accomplish to the fact of that accomplishment, while also keeping their heads above water in their everyday life. And tomorrow, I’m going to tag a whole slew more. And the next day, it being the third day, I’m going to tag some more. And then I will rest; I mean, I will begin to do — in a relaxed way — a few things on my plan. If you post a picture of a plan, I’ll send you some fruitcake. And if you don’t like fruitcake, I’ll send you a lovely pencil. If I tagged you wrong and am sending people to the Old Navy website instead of yours, let me know. And heavens, if I didn’t tag you by the third day, well, I MEANT TO. Email me and tell me so. (And if you try to hide because you don’t want to show us your plan, because it is that beautiful, well I’ll smoke you out and make you.)

So here you go, planners of the blogworld. I want to see your plans.

Polaris and Mandarine, science-minded people who will have, I am sure, a great take on this subject

lilian, sweet, kind, funny, very, very smart, and a hero — because she is a library goddess and what librarians don’t know about good planning and organization is probably not worth knowing

yogamum, busy running a house full of people, and engaged in a lovely and inspiring yoga practice, and who’s got a lot on her mind these days with a sick father — there’s a woman who needs an un-plan, not a plan — and needs other people to do a little cooking for her. No planning for you, Ms. yogamum! Put your feet up.

Emily, who sees a lot of projects in her work as an editor and is a writer of chillingly effective stories and who sometimes suggests she is not organized but actually given what she gets accomplished must have a method to get there

Courtney, who swears to god she is going to get a plan together for her writing, but who actually would never, ever stop writing because she is that good, and that devoted

Charlotte, who gets tons of things done and has been known to do it all while still wearing her pajamas and is now writing a bunch of short stories that I know are going to be wonderful

Ann who manages to cook beautiful things while still photograhing all of New York City

Diana who gets up at 5 a.m. (god, I think it might be even earlier than that), to help deliver newspapers

Kristen and Lucette, who seem to have a secret about how a group of women together can get a lot of writing done

Eoin, who so generously shares what he knows and thinks about the publishing world, and has said some of the kindest, most gracious things a commenter has ever said on this blog, particulary at a time when I really needed that to happen.

litlove who thinks she doesn’t get a lot done but actually is prolific, inspiring and amazing

Helen, who raises an adorable son and is editing not one but TWO books

Kate, who teaches law and blogs so consistently and then last year gave the world a wonderful book of short stories

Archie who is brilliant, just brilliant, when it comes to words, and whose images of his Australia have made me see that part of the world in a way I love

Ingrid whose passion for pirates, and Bill Neighy and his cafe and movie-making and being in London is inspiring and lovely

Nils, who is clever and always interesting and self-effacing and fabulous

Edwin, whose observations about the surreal and ridiculous, about food and gardens, delight me every time I go to his site

Cam, who thinks and writes about life in such a clear way, and who comes over here and leaves interesting and thought-provoking comments

Emily, whose box of books landed in my office nearly a year ago and whom I think of every day when I see those editions on my shelf

Mary, my writing friend, whose wild book about the exploits of a cleptomaniac San Francisco lawyer and her Indian former-client, inspires me and makes me laugh….

My god. I’ve just realized how lucky I am to know all of you, how much you inspire me and make my life richer. I had to stop and save the many other tagees because, well, my fingers are starting to ache. I can see that I want to know how every single person who comes to this blog plans the many wonderful things they are up to in the world.