I stepped out of bed in the quiet and slipped on the new leather clogs I am breaking in. Already they’ve begun to loosen to just the right size. I could write about the need for a pair of red shoes, but that’s happy work for another day—I have a project. I’ve had this project in mind for months. Flipped the switch on the coffee maker, located a calligraphy pen and a pencil, and I tore open the 100-pack of 3 x 5 cards.
The title of the piece goes in the upper left corner. Clear categories, like The Farmland Stories or Comfort Foods are abbreviated next to the title. I need to be careful because I’ve renamed pieces along the way, and I need to know how to locate each story quickly. Has it been edited for publication already? I make a box for a checkmark, next to the word “edited?” And a list of possible publication categories in the upper right corner. I’ve written for religious publications, fiber art publications, and now women’s magazines will be listed. Literary journals for the best work. Parenting magazines—but they need to be alternative-parenting-friendly publications, because I’m an honest and imperfect parent, and I focus on foibles. Travel magazines? Food magazines? What categories am I missing?
Long, long ago and far, far away, writers organized their thoughts on 3 x 5 cards. Unlike an Excel spread sheet, cards can be dealt into stacks and columns on the floor, then recategorized and stacked again. Cards can be bundled with a rubber band and carried around in a messenger bag for strategizing, for holding alongside a book titled The Successful Writer’s Guide to Publishing Magazine Articles (borrowed). Unlike a computerized anything, cards have corners for marking codes, and the possibilities for use of color pencils are endless. This is not a perfect system—I may need to add the Excel spread sheet later, but for now I need to get a handle on what pieces need a second edit, which ones need a complete overhaul to express the central idea, which stories are worthy to sell to whom, right now.
While using the ancient form of 3 x 5 cards, I’m still working at my computer desk, still using my computer files to tell me the names of all my written pieces from the past three years. A favorite Saturday morning music show provides a backdrop, shuffling Dylan songs and remakes of Dylan songs. I only need the music as the children begin to stir their grouchy morning selves. Satchmo begs for his food and I try to pass off the turkey-giblets flavor one more time. It doesn’t work this time, either, and he comes back to meow at me and press against my new red clogs.
Ninety minutes pass when I hear the mulch truck arrive—it’s neighborhood mulching day, and I promised to finish preparing the last third of my yard before the mulch is brought up, one recycling bin and one bucket at a time, from the parking lot. I talk some child into feeding the kitty again, help a girl dress in clothes that don’t make her look like a street urchin (the sweats under the purple dress, topped by the sweatshirt and finished with bulky red socks and crocs and hair looking like a bird’s nest—the whole look wasn’t working for me. I have some standards.) I tighten bike helmets and trade smooches and say goodbye as they make their way down Main Street to pick up donuts and Some Secret Mothers Day Something.
Eighty cards are carefully labeled and stacked, with two on top that are ready to edit for two publications I’ve targeted. I’ve just scratched the surface—another four packs of cards waits for labels. I know I have at least 300 pieces to write cards for, and a few loose paragraphs lying around that are worth building. It’s fun to pat each of these stories on the head, like the kitty, and recall the work poured into them.
But now I need to put the red clogs in the closet and pull out the work boots and yesterday’s grubby pants, and the garden gloves. The writer needs breakfast and to move away from the computer entirely.
I’ll leave the desk open, though, with my computer dialed to WUMB’s “Highway 61 Revisited,” which is playing a cover version of The Chimes of Freedom. (I wrote that it was The Byrds, but just heard it's a Canadian band called Starry-Eyed and Laughing.) Breakfast. Boots. Weeds. Mulch. Thinking about my stack of cards, and about the next time I’ll have available to write cards and write stories, perhaps wearing my red clogs to break them in just a little bit more.