The Collaborator


As I was gleaning the other day, I found this little gem from Anne Lamott in an issue of AARP.  It cracked me up, so thought I’d share.

When I sit on my bed now, writing on my iPad, the top roll of tummy sometimes creeps over onto the screen and starts typing away.  In the old days, upon noticing this unsought collaboration, I would have decided to start a new diet, or to end it all.  Now I think, “Who knows?  Maybe it’s got something interesting to add.”

A Good Clean-Out

pythonTV and movies started infiltrating my personal lexicon ages ago.  You know how that goes—little phrases and lines start popping out of your mouth as if you made them up.  Monty Python downloaded quite a few (“I fart in your general direction” and “It’s just a flesh wound”).  So did Star Trek (“You’re disrupting the space/time continuum” and Worf’s “I am NOT a merry man”).  Then, the odder bits, like Gena Davis in The Fly (“Be afraid.  Be very afraid.”) and the weird dinner scene in Brazil (“Salt?”).

judiAnd because I’m such an anglophile, I love vacuuming up odd bits of British lingo from the BBC shows.  One of my favorites comes from As Time Goes By, the show with Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer that ran from 1992-2002.  Whenever Judi’s character, Jean, got worried or fussy, she always decided it was time to “have a good clean-out.”  This usually involved pulling everything out of the cupboard under the stairs and putting it all back again.  She never got rid of anything, but burned up all that nervous energy (and irritated Lionel to no end).

Every year during the holidays, I wrack my brain to find a better, easier way to get through the weird mix of nostalgia, brain chemistry stew, bell-ringers, too much sugar and YMCA closings.  The holidays are a big trigger for my bipolar disorder, but I had a few things in my favor this year.  happy lightAs cold as this sounds, with both parents dead and my siblings celebrating in Oklahoma, there were no expectations, no guilt, no pressure.  Also, I’d just come back from visiting my dear friend, Lily, who gets me.  And I had my new Happy Light to beam full spectrum cheer at me (judiciously, as too much can speed up the rapid cycling).  But what I really needed was a project to occupy my brain and keep me busy.

I decided on my own clean-out.

I’ve been snipping bits of magazine text for about five years now.  I look for things that might make a fun caption to one of my cards and store them in little zip-lock baggies, alphabetized and bound together with ring binders—sort of like a caption Rolodex.  I keep a master list on my computer and print it out every so often when I have a bunch of new stuff I’ve added.  My list had become 60 pages long with two columns of 7-point type.  What was all this stuff?

Clean Out

So, I started dumping out the little baggies and really looking at the bits I’d collected.  Most of the time, I do this gleaning when I can’t do anything else, when my illness is at its worst and the only thing I can do is sit with scissors and snip.  While I’m always cognizant that the gleans are for my art, I found that most of them reflected my state of mind at the time, or made me feel better.  I found a lot of gleans about suicide and mental illness, but also lots of snippets about mindfulness, hope and courage.  It was like reading a different kind of diary.

I finished my clean-out last night and printed the revised list (20 pages instead of 60) of captions that will become cards.  But I came away with a deeper respect for my gleaning process.  Without knowing it, I comforted myself when I needed comfort the most.  I let the words I needed draw me to them.  And, once in a while, I found something to put on a card.

“That’ll do, pig.  That’ll do.”

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