I gunned our way out of a smash-up to be left with questions of decluttering

Inspired by a book I ran across, Before I Die by Artist Candy Chang, I was wondering how I’d complete the sentence as I strained to look closely at my computer screen to see how others answered this. It was surprising how the answers ranged and were not pie in the sky but more like observations with maybe a bit of longing mixed in.

Lately there’s been a lot of loss in my purview, a dear friend passed away in November after a Stage 4 diagnosis two years ago. Each day since that news  in 2011 I’ve been conscious of slowing down, choosing not to get rattled or fixated on what I actually don’t care so much about. I chose to leave the Happy Birthday words Cora wrote for Charles’ birthday last July in window crayons that are still on our backdoor windows, realizing they are not about a day but represent a pulse in the house. (They’ve been replaced with the ongoing count of how many times a day we let the dog in and out.)

Coinciding with finding this project of fill-in-the-blank, a couple of weeks ago I wondered what possessed me to put my foot on the gas instead of hitting the break as I swerved right to force that stop-sign-running-car on my left to pass behind us. Then I turned quickly back into the road to miss the telephone pole. I noticed my  hand was on the horn and I was in mid-sentance just before (during?) this maneuver.  How does this all happen in a second? Literally? The rest of my day went on as usual, oh so thankfully. Charles was in the passanger seat, and I remember only the color of the car, red like ours, as I spotted it just as it were about to smash into the driver, my, side. So I gunned it. I have no idea what possessed me… Another moment of a different kind of trajectory passed right by me.

I am though, a bit cynical about the honesty of what’s revealed in the fill in the blank Before I Die… project. It seems there are different categories of answers and should they be 1) realistic vs. fantasy as in: can I redo raising my kids since it was so much fun and maybe I could relax a bit more since everything won’t be new? or 2) are money and obligations off the table in making the list? Does it matter that I really can’t leave my jobs to travel more or that I can’t afford to hire a housekeeper so I have more time for yoga retreats sipping tea and meditating? (This last part actually wouldn’t be on my list.) 3) Wouldn’t these answers change depending on the day I wrote them? Could I change my mind, edit, prioritize, invite someone to come with me, could I find a cure for cancer or win the lottery to fund someone else to do it? I don’t do well with these games.

Realistically though, cutting back is a good thing. This year I’m not buying any books on time-management or decluttering by throwing away 11 things a week like my 2009 project, but have finally, finally! in my bones become less attached to history-turned-nostolgia as embedded in objects. I’m realizing collecting stacks of my children’s every piece of paper they made a mark on will not keep them any more young or carefully curated than the labels on the boxes.

A heartfelt late-night exhaustion conversation of what-ifs with grand great friends happened at DesignInquiry last summer. We each asked a question everyone had to answer, sort of mid-life spin the bottle. I surprised myself. Photography was an answer of doing and making, and other grand chunks I’m involved with didn’t change. But in that evening too, I learned how different we were and how answers to Before I Die… overlapped and were the same by the inclusion of each others empathy and friendship. At the core I guess. Always. So Before I Die I want to locate or even construct times where friendship can be nurtured. This won’t solve wanting to travel more or hiring a housekeeper but it’s honest and doable.

Happy New Year.


  1. I love your writing, Margo – you give generously of your self in your life, words, art. It is noticed and cherished. Happy New Year, dear friend. Drop by the porch for another glass of wine some early summer evening and we’ll talk about our dogs.

Comments are closed.