Things I have let go of this week.

A grey t-shirt that belonged to a once-upon-a-time lover.

The shirt was old and torn. The former lover is, or was, in Santa Cruz. He found the shirt on a beach once and thought it was lucky, I can’t remember why, and I have nothing but the warmest wishes for him, wherever he is now.

And the shirt. I have the shirt.

2015.

I was texting with a friend this week, a fellow writer, and he asked what my wishes are in this new year. Here they are:

  • Sustainable and sustaining.*
  • Find out what it’s like to be an eccentric writer who has no other jobs than that, in this year of releasing.
  • Discard possessions, people, relationships and habits that do not spark joy.**
  • Take amazing care of my body.
  • Sleep. Dance. Laugh.
  • Wake up in beautiful places.
  • Spend more time with my uncle.
  • Be filled with praise: thank you thank you thank you.
  • Write, and put things I write on the blog, and see what happens. I want the community that gathers around my writing to grow into something bigger and steadier again (see: sustainable and sustaining), but if that isn’t what happens then at least I was brave and shared things with the world, and that is something.
  • Forgive and let go.
  • Delight in what I have. And if it doesn’t delight, release it or change it.
* I am taking the wonderful phrase “sustainable and sustaining” from TJ, who knows about words and magic.

** Speaking of magic, the revelatory concept of [choose things based on what sparks joy] is from Marie Kondo. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was a spark-filled catalyst of a read for me.

Does it spark joy?

That question is just absolutely mind-boggling to me:

Does this spark joy?

I love (and am slightly terrified by) the idea of this being the measuring stick for everything in my life.

  • Do I feel the joy spark? Yes! Great. This stays in my life.
  • Do I feel the joy spark? No-but-but-but! Ah, thank you, goodbye.

I mean, take the grey shirt that was given as a gift, first to my ex-lover by the beach, and then given to me by him when we said goodbye for the last time.

Marie says you have to touch it to know. You caress it with your fingers, you smooth it lovingly and fold it with sweetness, and then you know. You either feel the spark or it isn’t there. You can’t pretend when it comes to touch.

You’ll just know.

She is right!

So I know. No joy is sparked for me from holding this shirt.

The memory linked to the shirt, carried inside the cloth, that sparks joy, but of course — as I realized while I was touching it — I don’t keep it for the memory.

I already have the memory.

The memory is in me.

I remember the moment we met: what I was wearing, the band we weren’t listening to, my forgotten food getting cold. The entirety of that experience: it’s still there. I’m not actually going to forget that day, or the day he gave me the shirt, or how my life shifted in vital ways thanks to that connection.

That’s not why I keep the shirt. It’s just why I think I keep the shirt.

I keep the shirt, I now realize, because I’m afraid.

I’m afraid that if I don’t cling to the fact of its existence, that I won’t have adventure in my life. I won’t have passion and excitement and possibility.

I won’t have someone to tell me what a knockout I am, to whisper sweetness in my ear until I believe again. Which is absurd.

The truth is, even if I didn’t have access to those things right now, holding onto the shirt by keeping it rolled in a ball on the floor in the back of a closet is not so much issuing an invitation for what I want as it is committing a small part of myself to forever pacing back and forth in the dusty rooms of what was.

I kept the shirt to honor the joy sparks, but that’s not the correct way to cultivate joy sparks.

Thank you, me who wanted more joy. Thank you, me who said yes to joy when it came her way. Thank you, Marie, for pointing out that it is time to let this go.

Marie says, “The true purpose of a present is to be received.”

Yes. Of course. And I received all of it, with a full heart, and its work is done.

Goodbye.

Goodbye, shirt.

Thank you for bringing me so much pleasure and sweetness in a moment when I needed both of those more than I could have known.

Thank you for being a reminder of pleasure and sweetness when the moment had passed.

Thank you for showing me that these are qualities I treasure, qualities I want and need in my life. Your work here is done.

Thank you. You are released.

I receive and release, release and receive. This is the flow of life.

My god what a question.

It is a beautifully precise question.

Does it spark joy?!?!?!

A perfect question. A brilliant question. A dangerous question. A wildly subversive question.

It cuts through facades. You can’t pretend with this question.

I have been waking up at 5am each morning thinking about Does This Spark Joy.

Just this concept — that I’m allowed to use joy as the determining factor for what gets to stay in my life — is so completely startling to me that I find myself laughing.

It sinks in deeper, and I laugh. I release and I laugh. I choose based on joy, and I laugh. And sometimes I cry.

Good lord, the reminders I choose to keep around me, the many things in my life that so clearly do not spark any joy for me, and how I surround myself with them.

Does it spark joy? This is a question that makes things very hard and very easy.

On the one hand, I can now get rid of Most Things In My Life, because it turns out that very few of them spark joy…

But do I really want to deal with how naked and vulnerable and empty that is in order to arrive at how sweet, simple and freeing it will be?

That is the thing with asking about joy.

You learn things. Maybe things you didn’t want to know. Maybe things you knew and were hiding from yourself.

There is that beautiful moment of clarity, and then that cold-water-splash of okay I now know something I have known for years, but I think maybe now I have to do something about it.

Passports.

I have no idea why I keep expired passports. Do I think I’m going to forget that I was in Scotland?

Or that I had terrible glasses with black frames that made me look like an irritable librarian?

I also have forty eight shekels and the key to my ex’s mom’s place in Herzliya.

Mysteries of releasing and not-releasing.

My maternal grandfather died when I was three or four.

I have no memories of him, or of what that loss was like for my mother.

My remaining three grandparents all passed away within a year of each other when I was in my early twenties. Both of my parents returned pretty shaken from the uncomfortable experience of dealing with the piles of left-behind possessions, and filled with zeal to empty their own house so that my brother and I would not go through the same.

Their newly-found passion for letting go of things took them as as far as re-organizing the basement, and then fifteen years went by. When my mother died, there were three entire rooms absolutely stuffed with her belongings, with projects in progress.

I like a good project myself. Like my mother, I am a scanner. So I get it. Have you read Barbara Sher’s Refuse To Choose? Read it!

“I imagine there are orderly, well-organized Scanners in the world, but there can’t be very many of them. It’s far more common to hear a Scanner mumbling, “Now, where did I put that lizard?”

But there were other things too. Mysteries. Like, why would my mother have kept her 1984 voter registration card in her jewelry box?

I ask that in all seriousness, and yet much to my surprise I discover that I have four expired passports just sitting here with my winter socks.

More things I have let go of this week. Divesting.

Lingerie that I never wear, given to me by an ex.

A really beautiful wallet that I bought three years ago as a symbol/gift to mark the process of opening my new center, and have never used once.

An old address book from 2004. It had the numbers of two friends who have killed themselves, and the address for where I left [my entire life of the previous ten years in Tel Aviv] when I left for Berlin, thinking I’d only be gone a few months… I still haven’t been back.

A mixtape my brother made me in 1993. A postcard from New York.

Books I only keep to impress people, a category I didn’t know existed until I asked the question about joy. There is no joy in these books for me, so goodbye and thank you for trying to fulfill something I thought was needed.

Sometimes I notice that I keep things given to me (see: lingerie) because the experience of receiving them gave me joy. So really, I already had the joy. Now I’m just dragging along joy shadows because I’m afraid if I don’t hold onto the memory of receiving, I won’t have any more of that particular flavor of joy.

Dragging joy shadows. Time to divest from that pattern as well.

I love the word divesting, it actually comes from the words [removing] and [garments]. So it is a form of undressing, taking off. Removing layers and costumes and pieces of identity that I do not wish to carry anymore.

Making things lighter, and also bringing in light. Illuminating was December’s word, with the superpower of bringing light to the corners.

So of course January is about emptying those corners, saying thank you to everything I found there, and then letting it go.

This is the year of releasing.

Last year was the Year of Emerging & Receiving. The Year before was the Year of Emptying & Replenishing.

This year is the Year of Easing & Releasing. My Shmita year, my time to let things go.

And apparently part of this means learning to allow joy to be the reason to let them go.

To let go joyfully. Or to let go to allow in more joy. Or to let go of any rules I have about how much joy I’m allowed to have.

And then to invite in those things, people and experiences that do spark joy. To welcome joy and make space for it. To say, hello, come in, I am ready for this.

May it be so! And come play with me.

You are welcome to share stories or wishes of your own related to releasing. Or to let go of things that need letting go of. Or to share anything sparked for you here. Or to say hi, leave pebbles or tiny hearts.

This is the safest space I know of on the internet, and we have been able to keep it that way through a very simple practice: we don’t give anyone advice and we don’t try to take care of each other. Instead we make room for each other.

We all have our stuff. We’re all working on our stuff. It’s a process. We meet ourselves and each other with as much love as we can.

So come play. I love having company. ♡

postscript!

I am not actually teaching this year because I am on Shmita and letting my fields rest, but if you want to take part in my year of Easing & Releasing, come by the Plum Duff page. Password: enter-with-roses

Everything there is half off right now, including the Secret Sword Society, which is actually more than half off, and there is some seriously good stuff!