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Coping With Chaos: Radical Acceptance

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Christina Katz has a great post over on her Prosperous Writer E-zine this week about what she calls "clarity." She defines clarity as "lucidity...exactness...simplicity."

Clarity is about figuring out what you need and what you want as a writer and paring down your obligations and responsibilities so that you can really zero in on what's important. (Note: you must subscribe to her free e-zine to read this post, which I heartily recommend.)

This is great advice for both writing and life, and something I continually have to remind myself to do when I start feeling overwhelmed. "Simplicity, Simplicity, Simplicity," as the man said.

The problem is that isn't always that... well... simple. Sometimes you can't achieve clarity because there are too many loose ends in your life and you have to accept that some of these just aren't going to get tied up in short order.

Which is where I'm at right now with, oh, just about everything in my life. You see, I've just moved house. So everywhere I look I see unopened boxes.

There are the real boxes, those last stubborn few that simply refuse to empty themselves because -- if you cared to tackle them -- they'd require you to scratch your head and say: Now where does that plug go? Which cannister is that the top to? And why, again, did we decide to save that yarmulke from that bar mitzvah five years ago?

Then there are the metaphorical boxes: the stack of New Yorkers that lie unread. The emails that began to pile up the day of the move and some of which sit stubbornly unopened in the dark recesses of my inbox. Those last few changes of address that haven't yet happened because it turns out that you actually need to call the pension fund in the U.S. where you still have some pocket of retirement savings; also, you have to call during business hours because they can't process an overseas address online.

And then there are all those technological boxes that can't be opened because this is the U.K. where the customer comes last. So the internet provider lost track of your account and now you have to wait another 10 days for them to come to your neighborhood to set it up. Or the bank forgot to update your address so your credit card keeps getting rejected. Or, my personal favorite, the satellite dish for the TV can't be installed because you live on the third floor and their ladders don't go that high. (Um...no offense, but isn't this what you do for a living?)

It drives me insane, all this mess. I hate things that are unfinished. I'm the lady who sometimes adds things to my to-do list after I've done them just to feel the satisfaction of crossing them off, remember?

So I've been feeling really unsettled lately. (It didn't help that for the first five days of my move the U.K. didn't have a government. I was like "C'mon, guys! Just make up your minds, would ya?")

And then, something weird happened. Yesterday night was my monthly book group meeting. And, on top of everything, I hadn't finished the book. This has never happened to me before. I'm one of those hardcore, unsympathetic book group types who always finishes the book. But this time, I just couldn't.

But because I love my book club, I went anyway. Even though I hadn't finished and felt wretched about that. (It helps that we were reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's marvelous Half of A Yellow Sun about the Biafran War. Speaking of learning how to live with mess...)

And you know what? It felt OK to be there, even half-read. Because it was the best I could do.

My life coach has a great phrase for moments like this. She calls it "radical acceptance." It's for situations where things are exactly how you'd like them not to be -- where you can't, yet, achieve "clarity."

So you force yourself to extend the parameters of what you'd normally find acceptable. And you decide to just roll with it. Because you know that you are on the road to clarity.

And that's O.K.

Radical Acceptance.

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