A Beautiful Mess

June 17, 2015

My husband and children are out of town for a week, which is wonderful and terrible all at once. It’s terrible, because I miss them desperately. But it’s wonderful, too, because I get the house to myself, and having the house to myself is wonderful because I get to wrangle it into a state of order and keep it there. (I also have time to myself to work on my book and binge-watch Girls, which is, admittedly, also very nice.)

I love order. I love tidiness. I love systems and organization. I am the sort of person who tidies her own hotel room and who lines up teas in the cupboard according to the time of day they are best consumed (green teas/guaranas to the left, chamomile to the right.) I can spend hours organizing my bookshelves (by theme, vintage, size and color). I love file folders. I am a pain in the ass to anyone who does not love order.

The rest of my family does not love order. Well, Emilia does, kind of, but she also loves chaos, and because her brother also loves chaos, and her father never really learned how to avoid chaos, and so there’s generally a certain quantum level of chaos persisting in our home and she couldn’t fight it if she wanted to. I want to, and I can’t fight it. I’ve tried, and I can’t. I gave up years ago. You would think that the constant state of disorder in our home would make me crazy, and sometimes, you’d be right. But most of the time, I live with it, and it’s okay. It’s okay because I’ve come to understand it as a reflection of not just who we are, but how we feel and how we live. How we love. I’ve come to understand it as beautiful.

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I’ve come to understand it as beautiful, because it is beautiful. To say that my children are spirited is to understate things dramatically: they fairly burst with spirit. They have big ideas and big imaginations and very, very big feelings. They vibrate at an intense emotional frequency that, at its best, manifests as an extraordinary kind of play (at its worst, it manifests as epic sibling battles that end in tears.) They are imaginative, curious, creative, theatrical, playful. And they are messy. Really messy. They are almost always in a state of play, and play is almost always messy. At its best, it is spectacularly, gloriously messy. At its best, it is epic chaos. My children only ever explore the very best state of play. And I’ve come to realize that this epically chaotic, gloriously messy state of play is not only a condition of our living, but a condition of our loving. We love this state of things. We are our best in this state of things. We are ourselves in this state of things. We live out our frustrations and our fears and our hopes and our passions here. We move through them in a state of play.

We move through them in a state of mess. But it’s our mess. It’s us.


I have a tattoo on my upper hip that reads amor ordinem nescit. It’s a quote from St. Jerome, via Montaigne, and it means, basically, love knows no order, and at one level it means, simply, that love is chaotic. Disordered, in the sense of putting things or keeping things out of order, which can of course be interpreted as a bad thing, but I’ve always thought of it as positive, or at least just true. Love is dynamic, fluid, active, chaotic. It is messy. It is messy, because it is the biggest and most forceful and most complex of all our feelings. It can’t – it shouldn’t – be contained. It should just burst out all over the place, like spilled paints or scattered LEGOs or smeared cake. It isn’t rich, it isn’t fun, when it’s kept in its place. Love isn’t something dainty or delicate. Love is sloppy, and glorious.


I’m still spending the week wiping up all the splattered paint and putting all the scattered LEGOs away. But I’m mostly looking forward to everything being spilled and splattered once more. I’m mostly looking forward to more mess.


Published in partnership with Pixar’s Inside Out and Clorox. (They’re hosting a Family Fun Away in San Francisco sweepstakes. You know you’re into that.)

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