March 2nd, 2008

My whole life, I’ve been a total mess. Some blame it on having had a maid growing up, but my sister was picked up after too, and she’s neat as a pin. Some consider it laziness on my part, and yet I can exhibit profound un-laziness in may other aspects of my life. I remember in college, contemplating the ever-growing pile of dirty clothes in my dorm room thinking, like a frightened junkie: I gotta get a handle on this.

And I tried. I really did. But nothing ever stuck. A boyfriend I had in my twenties couldn’t understand that I cared so deeply about what I cooked for myself, and yet left the kitchen a total mess. After having inhabited by body for quite a while at that point, I completely empathized with the perplexity he felt. The only way I could explain it was like this: “I need you to think of me, honey” I said, sweetening the bomb I was about to drop, “as retarded.”

I wasn’t joking. It’s as if I’m simply wired to make a mess–as powerless as someone with any other wiring issue. And there’s no getting around it. It’s like asking a gay person to go straight, or a straight person to go gay. And what I was asking for from Todd was a little compassion, a little cut-me-some-slack-because-your-judgment-is-really-stressing-me-out and-it’s-not-gonna-get-me-to-be-neat-anyway. Know what I mean?

When I lived at the Kushi Institute, a teacher there said–with disgust–that messiness was a sign of mucky instestines. That totally freaked me out. So I did everything I could to clean out my inner tubing, thinking that could make me a Neat. And I got increasingly neurotic about it by the day. Dried daikon drink. Ume-sho-kuzu. Ginger compresses on my gut. You name it. Anything to make me a Neat! Until one day, I walked past the bedroom of a really fine, experienced, Japanese cook. His name was Naoki and he was in charge of all the food production at the K.I. He had not grown up on a sludgy Canadian diet. His energy was very refined, loving and yet, razor-sharp. His hips were as slim as a supermodel’s and he seemed the last person whose intestines would be full of sludge. And guess what? His room was a pigsty. Okay, not a pigsty, but there was a big, familiar, beautiful pile of dirty clothes on his dresser, spilling onto the floor. I almost had an orgasm.

But even with that validation, we Messies feel deep shame and are often judged by others. We spend our lives trying to turn ourselves into Neats, buying books about organization, filing and scheduling systems. We sometimes even hire the Neats to clean us up, providing short-term relief, but driving the shame deeper when we inevitably what we do best–make a mess.

But those days are over. Thanks to a wonderful book called “A Perfect Mess” by Eric Abrahamsom and David. H. Freedman. It has become my bible of the last week and I can’t express the relief it has given me. It actually questions the universally accepted assumption that neatness saves time and money. Or that strict organization and planning always lead to better results in life. Turns out we Messies (or “Scruffies” as we’re called in the book at one point) are better at a lot of things because we’re actually making room for flexibility, randomness and happenstance. And guess what else? We may even be saving time and resources by NOT CLEANING UP ALL THE TIME!!! Apparently, our messes have their own unconscious systems that work pretty well for many of us, and if the Neats would just stop judging us, we’d all get along just fine!

In fact, messiness is the new thing; companies like Microsoft and Google have a certain degree of messiness in their functioning that allows for ridiculous creativity. Process and not perfectionism is considered the road to innovation. Rigidity is so last century. Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t keep a schedule and yet he manages to run California. Soldiers have to work with the constant messiness of war. Einstein was a total slob. Hallelujah!!!

In terms of yin and yang, it actually makes perfect sense; Yin is the spiral governed by expansion, like a hurricane (messy). Yang is the opposite, governed by contraction (neat). Nature’s tendency is toward entropy–disorganization, expansion, falling apart–which makes sense because the universe is on expand mode. So wait… I guess it’s actually AN INCREDIBLY SPIRITUALLY EVOLVED THING to be messy. Which really begs the question: why do the Neats end up so neat? I have no idea. Those poor, poor Neats. Let’s get scruffy Al Einstein on that one.

5 Responses to “Hallelujah”

  1. Jimmy says:

    Jessica: I have heard rumors that this is one of the things you and I share. Oops…gotta go clean off my desk!

  2. klara says:

    But what happens when Scruffies live with Neats and judgment continues? and not only judgment from the other, but our own??? I too am on the ever lasting search to bring Order into my life. I too believe in my brain my life would work better if I’d just let go of the too much (but still can’t) and would have a nice simple home like the Japanese do. I read Flylady and love her wit and wisdom (she calls us SHE’s, Side-tracked Home Executives, which we will always be, but we can learn to be – ha, forgot what she called those with Order, I’ll get back to you on that – got to go cook my food in dire hopes it will help in my search of Order.

    SOOOOOOOOOO glad to read another post – so love and identify with alot of it -

  3. klara says:

    Those with Order in their genes are called B.O. – Born Organized – poor things, they can’t help themselves either.

  4. Meg Wolff says:

    I just found your blog!! I am so sorry about your mother. I cried.

    Then I watched your videos and I laughed, and I laughed, and laughed. And so did my sister, Ruth. This is my favorite blog!!

    I think you are doing what you should be doing with your mom (what we all should be doing!) cherishing your time … and not giving up!

    Jess, you are the greatest human bean!! ox Meg

  5. You forgot about all the money we neatness impaired save on cleaning supplies…

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