You Can Only Keep What You Throw Away

A few years ago, I entered into a very difficult period of my life, where everything that could go wrong, did.

I got sick, I got broke, two cars died in rapid succession, I lost friends, everything. I worked harder than I’d ever worked in my life, but it felt like I was only treading water; nothing I did seemed to move me forward, and it was only with tremendous effort that I kept from falling further behind.

One strange thing I noticed during this period was that almost everything I tried to accomplish in the world of stuff just…didn’t work. In addition to the aforementioned car fiascos, my small, modest attempts at making acquisitions backfired a lot. I would unpack a new item from its box, only to see that it was broken and needed to be returned. New clothes often needed to be returned as well. Once, I decided that if I wasn’t going to be able to drive a car, the least I could do was repair my boots. I took two long bus rides to get them repaired — and then the repair ended up being botched.

“I can’t seem to keep anything,” I thought. “All my efforts get undone.”

And that’s when it hit me. What if I throw stuff away? If all of my efforts to acquire stuff got undone, maybe I could finally see some results — and get to “keep” my effort — if I put it towards getting rid of stuff. (Especially paper. Oh Paper, My Crinkly Nemesis.)

So, I tried this new approach, although I admit I was nervous at first. I was so used to having my efforts thwarted that I half-expected whatever I put in the recycle bin to show up on my doorstep the next morning.

But the gone stayed gone. Everything I let go of, stayed let go of. I finally got to keep it.

You can only keep what you throw away.

After a while, I started thinking that this maxim must be true for life, as well.

Every good moment in my life has been good, largely because of what I had cleared away.

Every bad moment in my life has been bad, largely because of what I was still holding onto.

The “clearer” I am, the more happiness and joy I get to keep.

You can only keep what you throw away.

Why I Love Children’s Books

When I look over the books I have bought in the last year, it seems that none of them are intended for readers over the age of twelve. From Andrew Lang’s Red, Green, and VioletFairy Books, to Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, to C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, there is much in the way of good reading, but little in the way of reading for the post-pubescent. It has gotten so that when I browse in the adult section of a bookstore, it is more out of a sense of duty and obligation than out of interest. My real love is children’s books.

Sometimes I have theorized that my unusual addiction to kiddie lit is the result of some strange psychological quirk, but if so, I’d rather stay abnormal for the rest of my life than lose this love. Children’s books are many things to me. They comfort me, they educate me, and they are constant, long-abiding companions. Whenever I travel, it is a children’s book that accompanies me on the journey, and helps to make it a journey for the spirit as well as for the body.

Many people think that if a book is written for children, it is therefore light and unimportant, but I find the opposite to be true. As Madeleine L’Engle has said, children need life’s great imponderables explained just as much as the rest of us — and what’s more, they need them explained clearly and simply enough that they can understand them. The result is often books such as Madeleine L’Engles A Ring of Endless Light or Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, both of which deal with death, life, and hope. These books, and many others like them, go through a process not unlike fruits being made into jam; they are boiled and condensed and stirred until only the sweet essence remains. These books are not lesser versions of adult books; they are greater.

Each time I reread a book from my childhood, I am at a different point in my life, and I read it with new insight and a new perspective . Over the years, this effect has become cumulative, and when I read a book which I’ve read many times before, I also remember all the different incarnations of myself that have read it in the past. Just as children’s books are written in different levels and layers for their different audiences, so my own readings become multilayered, as rereading a book allows me to look through all the different layers of Me’s that I have been. As I grow, these books and these stories grow with me. They have guided me through my childhood and adolescence; I look forward to many years of their teaching me how to live as an adult, while always striving for the clarity to see the world through a child’s eyes.



♫ Dark Matter

Buy Dark Matter on iTunes

Dark Matter 

(c) Sofia Echegaray, 2003 

You are my dark matter

My star was born in you

When you held me tight

I thought your heat was light

Radiating night: Eremite

You’re surrounded by young galaxies

All of them just sitting at your knees

Hoping that someday someone might please

I prayed you’d shine some night on me

It’s dark but I never fail

To see you by your spectral trail

The ghosts of women taking up the veil

Your ghosts will always walk with you

Your dark-eyed luminosities

Told me truth that you could never see

Told me you loved me

I prayed you’d shine some night on me

♫ Here We Are

Here We Are

(c) Sofia Echegaray, 2010

I saw a man with eyes like yours

shopping in the supermarket aisle

I couldn’t move, I stared

thinking for a little while

Oh my Mind, cease and desist,

leave me alone and just relent

But no, my God made me like this

Here we are again

Here we are again

You come as you are

You with your need

Open me up

And leave me to bleed

You took to the sea on a ship of sighs

and you sailed away

Your love was a moonless night

I was a child, waiting to see the light


You got eyes like a saint

in some painting

Suffering without complaint and

You’ve got skin

Smooth as a getaway

And my love was a wine-dark sea

Oh would you drown

If you could drown

in me?



A funny thing happened to me last year.

I was having a down week. The kind of week where you think, “I know! I’ll {insert bad idea here}! It’ll be great!”

At some point during this week — a dank, depressing fall week — I got this crazy idea to try to call my ex-boyfriend. We had dated for 6 months in Seattle, and I was a long time getting over him.

I’ll call him Fred. Fred had a lot good qualities. He was, for example, helpful. If you’re moving, he’s your guy. Need a ride somewhere? Ditto. He was not, however, the most supportive guy on earth. Once, after I played at an open mic, he said, “A little flat, but overall, not bad…”

I later explained to him that this did not really work for me.

Fred was getting over a long-term relationship in which each partner had been quite critical of the other. He had improved. He had gone from massively shooting down new ideas to minimally shooting down new ideas. Or maybe just refraining from most comment.

This was progress, I realized. But after the relationship ended, I also realized, Not Good Enough. Towards the end of our run, for example, I played a show — a revue called 12 Minutes Max. 2 hours of mostly adequate performances, and a few good ones. I was the best one there; that’s why they had me close.

Fred sat through 2 nights of this to support me. But then he ruined it all in one instant. As patrons of the sold-out show came to praise me and ask for my autograph, Fred said, “Good job! You have this…sort of…self-deprecating thing that people seem to really like for some reason!”

…that people seem to really like for some reason?

It was after we broke up that I decided; in the future, all men I date must think I am a fabulous singer and performer. None of this, “Well, he’s so supportive in other ways…” — no. This is who I am; if you are into me, you must be into what I do.

And you know what? The guys I’ve dated seriously since then — they have thought I was fabulous. So there.

Anyways. In spite of my epiphanies, progress, etc. etc., once in a while I still missed Fred. Good, old, critical Fred, who found fault whenever I said something cute, witty, or funny.

So, one evening when I felt particularly weak-willed, I called up Seattle’s information number and asked for Fred Bissett. Not that common a name. They found one, and suddenly, there he was, picking up the phone. He answered. I felt scared. “Fred? Hi! It’…Sofia! I know this is sort of out of the blue, but I just wanted to call and say hi…if it’s a good time…is it a good time?”

He said yes. In fact, he sounded pretty happy to hear from me. I was surprised. I asked him what he’d been up to lately. He said, “No…I want to hear about you.”

Well, ok! I took a deep breath. I told him about Austin, about starting my career as a singer-songwriter. About all the experiences I’d had. Whenever I told him something, he would always say, “Really! Wow! That is *so* interesting!”

I was surprised. This was a new Fred. His voice sounded pretty much the same, but there was a warmth, and a sense of love, that hadn’t been there before. He seemed so eager to hear details of my life. Every time I told him an anecdote, he said, with genuine surprise and pleasure, “You know, I’ve never heard it said just that way before.”

I continued on. I told him about my activism, about volunteering for musical events that supported peace movements in Austin. I told him about going to Molly Ivins’ funeral. Each time, instead of talking about himself, he asked me, with eagerness, to continue.

I was amazed. It was like a whole new Fred! In fact, I was falling for him a little bit over the phone. I thought, he must have had some kind of enormous shift in his life, to be acting like this. Things could never have worked out with the old Fred…but this man . . . hrmm.

Finally, after about 15 minutes, I insisted that Fred tell me about his life.

“Well, ” he began. “I’m a Jungian therapist.” I was shocked, but before I could say anything, he continued: “And I have to confess; I know a lot of Sofia’s. When you first called, I thought you were someone else. But I think . . . I think you have the wrong Fred Bissett.”

What?!? I was absolutely perplexed. How could this be? I asked him — why did you . . . talk to me for so long?

“Well, to be honest,” he said, “you’re just so interesting to talk to! You have this…charming, interesting way of speaking. And all these unusual observations that I’ve never really heard expressed just that way before. And . . . yes, it’s just a genuine pleasure talking with you! . . . I hope you find your Fred. Because I tell you one thing: he’s missing out!”

I hung up the phone, in awe.

I had found the right Fred, after all.

♫ Cigarette

(c) Sofia Echegaray, 2008

I ain’t seen you yet
Holding onto me the way
You hold that cigarette

At the end of your long hands
At the end of your long day
You need something from that burning
Makes me want to say:
Hold me like you hold that cigarette
Hold me like you hold that cigarette

You touch and stroke my face
You give a warm embrace
But when the burning’s over
There’s ashes in your place

I look at your long hands
I can see in your long face
You need something from that burning
I just can’t replace
Hold me like you hold that cigarette
Hold me like you hold that cigarette

Call my friends on the phone
But I know what their advice is
They say, You give him all your love
He gives you all his vices

But oh, when he kisses me
It’s everything that nice is

Hey what you want to bet
I just can’t quit you yet
Not the way you’re teaching me
The meaning of regret

At the end of my long days
At the end of my long nights
I need something from you, baby,
Makes me feel all right

If you’d hold me like you hold that cigarette
Cause I love you, like I’d love a cigarette
I can’t quit you
Baby, I can’t quit you yet