I Promise You Won't Learn A Thing From This Blog

The official blog for author Ashley Chappell. Check back every week for a few laughs at my expense or, if you know the love-hate process that is writing, commiseration.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Schrodinger's Egg

Sculpted by M. Pena and sold by
 Windstone Galleries
Like most authors I know, I like to surround myself with odds and ends that inspire me when I write. And as I sat down to write this morning, I accidentally locked eyes with one of my favorite little pieces of inspiration. I purchased this ever-hatching egg from a vendor at the Alabama Phoenix Fest last year and it instantly earned a prized placement among the items already on my desk, ranging from dragonflies and signed Neil Gaiman novels to pirate ships and krakens.

When I found him, this little fella sat on a display shelf surrounded by gorgeous sculptures of dragons, cats, unicorns, and other mystical animals that were totally life-like. M. Pena, the artist, is a master of sculpture. But this simple egg, its inhabitant peeking out at me perpetually, called me more than any of the others.

Sure, the others were astounding gallery pieces and I probably could have written an entire book about one of those characters cast forever in stone. But this little guy.... he could be absolutely anything at anytime. He's the veritable Schrodinger's egg; until he hatches, he is a gargoyle, he is a dragon, he is a world-turtle, he is anything I can imagine him to be forever. Until he hatches, the possibilities are endless.

And that, my friends, is exactly what I love so much about sitting down to write the stories as they begin hatching in my mind. I always sit down with a clear picture of what I intend to transpire in this scene or that scene, yet it never fails that as my mind dictates one thing, my fingers begin typing another entirely. Some writers I know are Master and Commander of their stories; they can plot their course from beginning to end and seldom waver from the outline. I've never been one of those, even in writing short stories. I start with an idea, a mysterious egg, and begin writing just to see what hatches. It's the excitement in the discovery of what happens in the end that drags me back to my laptop whenever I can.

Though it seems that lately I haven't been back in this seat for that purpose often enough at all. This morning as I met his judgy orange eyes on beginning my day of writing, I'm pretty sure he said: "It's about time."

My pet egg, according to the website, is a gargoyle. But I won't believe it until he hatches. In the meantime, I think I'll call him Erwin.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Stuffageddon: Going Tiny Means War on Stuff

There comes a time in every woman's life when she has to finally ask herself - "Do I need 24 coffee mugs? And what about this eggy-separatory-thingy?" Unless I'm opening a diner that specializes in coffee and hollandaise sauce, the answer is no. No, no, no, no, and no. 

And that's just the beginning.

Our safari into the darkest reaches of our kitchen cabinets turned up mysterious unidentified kitchen utensils that might have been better suited for the Spanish Inquisition. ("That? Oh, that's our antique eyeball scoop. Just put it with the melon ballers.")

When we consolidated households almost three years ago, we both owned houses of comparable size that were filled with our own respective Stuff, and then had to cram all of that Stuff into one of those houses. We did donate a decent amount of Stuff at the time; things that neither of us had any need for and honestly couldn't even remember how they came into our possession. Things like a ceramic figurine of sandals that said 'Dominican Republic' (a place neither of us have been), or a broken pole saw that was beyond repair. 

Those were the easy ones. 

Then came the items that fell into the "Perfectly Good Useful Stuff" category where we had duplicates. You can imagine... Two toasters, two water filters, two microwaves, two sets of mixing bowls, two oak beds, etc. The discussion around things like that always resolved into a decision that we should keep them "just in case" we needed them someday. We're taught that it's always good to have a back-up. Well, we had back-ups for our back-ups. It always made perfect sense at the time to keep all of it, because you never want to find yourself having to re-purchase an item that you'd foolishly parted with, of course. And if I managed to set my toaster on fire, I'd be awfully glad I still had that other $20 toaster up in our attic, right? Right.

Skyrim, Hoarding
If I hoarded in real life as much as I did in Skyrim, we'd really be in trouble.

So we justified all of the extra attic space we expanded into without a second thought. One day, completely without warning, my super handyman husband sent me a photo of a gaping hole he'd cut into our kitchen ceiling for a brand new attic space, opening up all kinds of storage options for our tiny over-flowing home. The sub-par Martha Stewart in me had a minor heart attack, but the burgeoning hoarder had eyes only on the ultimate storage prize: Do you have any idea how much STUFF you can get into a stand-up attic space that size???

This philosophy has continued in our household for the past three years and we were close to reaching a critical mass of Stuff in every room of the house, from the Catio to the Robot Lab (What? You don't have a Robot Lab in your house?). 

Our dream has always been to purchase a huge tract of land in the mountains and build our dream home in the middle of it with my hobbit hole writing office in some picturesque corner of the property. In fact, we started our 5 year plan to make it happen as soon as we got married and part of our accumulation of Stuff has been to furnish this someday home. We literally have a bed under our bed and another bed in our closet. Our master bedroom is so crammed with mis-matched furniture that my shin has a permanent goose egg on it from night time navigation. We've purchased two storage ottomans in the past few months and were on the brink of buying a new buffet for additional kitchen storage to house all of this Stuff that we thought we couldn't live without.

And then Steven called me at work one day with an idea that changed everything. The gist of his call was this: If we scale back in the short term, our 5 year plan becomes a 2 year plan. That means getting rid of everything we can so we can squeeze into a Tiny Home for a few years.
Tumbleweed Tiny House
Seriously, isn't this Tumble Weed House just the most adorable thing ever?
We've been interested in the Tiny House movement for some time, but we've never had a motivation to seriously consider it as anything other than a vacation cabin. The utility and flexible design makes these tiny houses on wheels, usually well under 200 sq ft, perfect for a weekend getaway. But a long-term residence? Nah. We've got too much Stuff. 

But when getting rid of things that we may never use and don't really need suddenly means getting onto our dream property 3 years sooner (for us, it's always been more about the land than about the house), then show me the way to the dumpster! So now we've already taken one truck-load to be donated and our living room floor is piled with boxes full of other things we don't need now, never did before, and probably never will. And every single box we fill becomes another blazing symbol of our freedom from this tyranny of Stuff that we'd never recognized before. It's even becoming addicting to throw things out; I find myself looking at everything in the house with new eyes now. 

("Do we really need a sofa? We don't have people over. What about that dining set? We always eat on the sofa. Oh, maybe we do need the sofa.") 

It's an incredible feeling, honestly. I've always thought of myself as being practical by holding onto items of value that might one day be useful, even if one day never came. But I'm starting to believe that the road to Hoarder Hell is paved with Practical Ideas (though likely there are stacks in the corners).

Tonight, after I write for a while on A God of Gods, I'm going to walk into my closet and pry out some clothes wedged tightly in the back that probably haven't seen sunshine in 4 years (or 25 lbs), and toss them on top of the pile, too. And considering I'm going to follow all of that up with ice cream, I'm probably never going to have to worry about whether or not I'll have to eventually re-purchase a size 2 pair of jeans again.

If I hadn't downsized my face paint, this is how I would have
celebrated my escape from Stuff Culture.

Granted, it's going to take a much larger lifestyle change to adapt to a Tiny Home than just throwing away excess Stuff, but for us every box we donate is a celebration of this first step toward achieving our dream. We've gone from needing to buy more Stuff to contain our Stuff, to having empty cabinets and shelves that we never thought we'd see again. If we can do this in two weeks, what can we do in two years? What can YOU do in two years? 

Consider it. The War on Stuff can be your first step to freedom, too.