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Thursday, July 6, 2017

What Matters in a Messy House is Backstory & Detail

I live in a messy house. On my desk are two prints I haven’t framed or hung, ARC copies of my failing book, a gift bag that instead of holding wine, holds scissors from a lesson I taught, a balled up roll of rerolled paper towels, some photos I meant to hang but haven’t, a legal pad, a sticky note with an address of where I should send the ARC copies but probably won’t today. And that’s just my desk. At least I can see some of that. The rest of the house is worse.

My bed has rips in the fitted sheet. I can see them because it’s not made. I bought a replacement but in a week, haven’t bothered to pull off the ripped sheet and put the new sheet on. The end table by my side of the bed is balanced carefully with stacks of stuff piled high. Things like artwork from the kids’ school year that I mean to put into a keepsake box but haven’t since school let out and we’re fully into July now. The kitchen needs recaulking along the sink where I’ve partially washed the morning dishes. The dishwasher is broken so it operates as a glorified drying rack where there are dishes I rarely empty.

I want to like living in a messy house. I want living like this to be a deliberate choice I’ve made. But truly that’s not the case. Truthfully, I want to control it and make it better but I can’t. I’m not up for it. And my husband and kids definitely aren’t. So I need to find peace with the mess. I need to look at the items that lay strewn about and recall their evidence of a life well-lived, of a life lived in moments where we did things that mattered and or maybe didn't matter in their individual thingness but in their collective.

The mess on the counter. It’s the crumbs from the pizzas the small hands of my four and six year olds helped roll out and topped. We made it all together and it should remind me of the value of time where you slow down and patiently wait for small hands. The prints I haven’t hung should remind me of the young artist with fear in her eyes as I told her again and again how much I thought she’d succeed and how glad I was to get some of her work. A panda vomiting brightly-colored eyeballs and eight balls and rocket ships, graffiti-esque and cartoonish. Not art for a woman in her late thirties but still, cool in that ski-culture way I like to play with my age. The gift bag should make me think of being the kind of instructor who thinks about how to make writing a kinesthetic process. Don’t just cut & paste on a keyboard but do it in real life, with paper. Remember? That’s where cut & past came from, remember? We used scissors and cut apart paper and reordered.

To make peace with the mess, I have to think. Art is messy. Life is messy.

But the truth is I am not there. Without the deliberation of writing, I get frustrated at the disorder. Angry even. I look about and think “Oh my god! We’re pigs!” and I hate it and throw blame around. Glaring this way and that. “Why can’t they ____?” And “Who does this?” Daggers from my eyes. "Clean up this mess!"

Sometimes we work together on cleaning up. It's slower but nicer. Sometimes I don't bother with the clean up.

With time spent on detail and through writing, I recall the snorkel is on the floor because we swam and it was a trip where no one got mad and I didn’t yell even once, and then we rushed in and moved on to go ride bikes. I remember that the beds are never made because we crawl back into our beds so much to hold each other and tickle and giggle and talk.

We’re not happy all the time. Sometimes the beds are messy because the kids climbed on them with shoes on in timeout and I had to say nothing so they could finish calming down and timeout could work the way it is supposed to. I had to let footprints on my sheets happen so lessons could too.

My SLR camera is on my desk because I’m hoping to take pictures we took on hikes this summer and turn them into a coloring book for the kids at the end of summer. I was hoping the same thing last summer. But sometimes we’re living so hard. Without pause and without deliberate attention to the backstory of details. And I get distracted a lot and forget things and don’t follow through on every idea.

There are details and they have backstory. Sometimes it’s just time for us to clean up and begin new stories. But maybe it’s okay to let your mind meander and not be in such a rush to get the job done. After all that’s how the kids made dinner. That’s how they play while they “clean up.” My mind does the same when I write. Needs order and reminders. I have to jot an outline or it’s all over the place. I play with a toy car, figuratively of course, and forget all about the main point unless there’s a mom over me, an outline, gently reminding “you need to put the cars away. The cousins will be here soon. Remember? That’s why we were cleaning up?” 

Yes, I remember. And we will. We’ll live and fight with the tension of order and backstory and detail and organization. And maybe someday I consider balance a deliberate choice to live with a certain amount of mess.