I’m just back from a few weeks away from writing. I needed the break. There were so many household projects glaring at me that I felt guilty every time I did anything else. Besides that, my manuscript wasn’t gelling as it should, and I couldn’t figure out why. It was time for the sort of perspective shake-up that only comes from distancing myself from my work.

I longed for the glow of accomplishment. I wanted my mind to run free while I organized my world. So, for my first big project, I decided to clean the basement. I figured I’d give it a good three or four days and then move on. Because after fifteen years of living in the same house, after using the basement as a storage bin for two kids who have grown up and moved away, after years and years of “staging” stuff down there until we could figure out where to put it all, “three or four days” would certainly to do the trick. Doesn’t that sound reasonable?

And I hadn’t even factored in the impact of “real life” on best-laid plans.

Those few weeks away from writing were essentially all spent in my basement. I learned quite a bit down there as I revisited memories, wondered how certain items had ever ended up in our house in the first place, mused over what the heck various objects even were. Primarily I learned that, as with grief, there are five stages to a major basement-overhaul:

1. OPTIMISM: You’ve got this! All it will take is some can-do woman-power and your own superior organizational skills!

2. BEWILDERMENT: How did it get this bad? Where the heck did all this dreck come from?

3. DESPAIR: It’s going to take a backhoe. There’s more stuff in here than archaeologists find when unearthing the remnants of ancient civilizations.

4. ANGER: This isn’t your fault. It’s not even your stuff. Your significant other just tosses crap anywhere he pleases with no thought of who will have to clean it up later. Your kids may have moved on, but their life souvenirs remain for eternity. And where are all these people now? Why, they’re out having lives while you toil over their mess, not seeing sunlight for days on end.

5. ACCEPTANCE: Whatever. Who cares. Just sh9ve that junk into a different corner and move on.

Weeks later, the basement is nearly finished. The trash guys hate me, and Goodwill plans to name a store after us. But I was right about one thing: my manuscript needed this break. I can see what needs to be fixed, and I’m ready to jump back in.

Happy New Year to all. May 2016 bring you health, happiness, and clarity.