In praise of the mess

29 09 2011

There are these seemingly strange coincidences which happen in life. You hear about a random thing, like the artwork of Ursus Wehrli, and suddenly the name and his work are everywhere: on your cousin’s facebook page, in “Freshly Pressed” on WordPress, at Juxtapoz.com. (To see his work, go to http://www.juxtapoz.com/Current/the-art-of-clean-up-by-ursus-wehrli)  Wehrli, for those who haven’t been running across him almost daily for the past week, is an artist whose work is obsessed with bringing order to what normally appears random or chaotic. I admit to looking at his work (a photograph of alphabet soup followed by a photograph of the same soup with letters arranged alphabetically, for example) with a certain amount of awe for the sheer labor-intensity of it. The compulsive nature of it. The high-magnitude need for order it reveals.

The other night, I went directly from the office to an appointment, to a drive-through for a dinner salad, then back to the office for a program sponsored by my department. When I arrived home at 10:00 p.m., I popped some popcorn, kicked off my shoes, and reclined in the LaZyBoy in my living room. Looking around me, I saw the accummulated mess of several weeks of a busy schedule: on the sofa, stacks of clean laundry crammed to one end, down comforter and pillow jumbled at the other; table tops cluttered with empty soda bottles, empty microwave popcorn bags, empty take-out containers; five pairs of shoes/sandals scattered on the rug…and I briefly imagined Ursus Wehrli walking into this environment and attempting to bring order to it. For a moment, I felt embarrassment at what he would make of things. Then I mentally shrugged my shoulders and opened my 1,000 page fantasy novel.

When, a brief time later, I fell into a half-sleep sitting up with my book open on my lap, I had a very strange waking dream. In my dream, Ursus Wehrli, did in fact pay a visit. His dreamland alter-ego was played by this actor:

Alan Tudyk Picture

(Alan Tudyk) who played the German rehab patient, Gerhardt, in the Sandra Bullock film “28 Days”. Ok, so I type-cast in my dreams – doesn’t everyone?!

Anyway, Ursus was acting as a “life consultant”, and I had hired him to help me get my life and house in order. Literally. He insisted that my calendar be arranged so that the shorter appointments occurred earlier in the day, while longer appointments followed later. Of course, every activity was considered an appointment, meaning that every activity was blocked on the calendar. Sleep, as the longest block of each day, therefore came last. No napping allowed. All belongings: clothing, beads, towels, tchotchkes were grouped together with each other, then also size- and color-coded. My house began to look like a crazed organizer or Martha-Stewart-on-steroids had been there. At first, my dream-self loved this newfound clarity. I was getting caught up on paperwork, there were no dirty dishes or laundry haunting my activities, and every night I slept in my bed (as opposed to sitting bolt upright on a chair in the living room) at a completely regulated time. But I began to think of poor Ursus Wehrli as an evil taskmaster devoted to making my life completely regimented. I became agitated, looking for a way out of this overly regulated life.

Then I fell asleep in earnest, and at some point the dream segued into one in which I was stuck on an elevator and no one would help me get out. Then my alarm went off.

I felt relief when I woke, looked around, and realized that the mess of my life remained unchanged from the night before. A fully lived life is messy. Not every activity can be categorized and advance-planned. If one makes it a mantra (as I have) to “choose people and doing over solitude and navel-gazing”, perfectionism drops off the list of important values. Symmetry is lovely when it occurs naturally, but when it is forced and regimented it loses its appeal. So my house is messy – in the past few weeks I’ve worked a lot, worked out a lot. I’ve talked deeply and thought deeply. I’ve travelled and I’ve relaxed. I have listened and served. I’ve been pampered. I’ve played a part in possibly saving some lives (or at least weaving a safety net for some fragile souls). Some nights I’ve slept for ten hours, others not at all. On at least one occasion, I even slept in the afternoon! Why would I choose dusting or dishwashing over all that?

The people, the places, the time blocks of my life are rich and rewarding. They are also messy, crammed, thrown together in sometimes strange combinations. And I couldn’t be happier. Seriously, I would choose this chaos over well-ordered days and a clean house every time. That might disappoint my mother, and cause Ursus Wehrli to hyperventilate. But, so be it. I love my mess.

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2 responses

30 09 2011
srfcreativestudio

You have just written about my life! Excellent choice Jen! Everyone likes a clean house, but life is to short and there are to many things to enjoy to spend time worrying about everything being perfect! I struggle with it sometimes and I occassionally have screaming outbursts about the condition of my house but in life we must make choices, and I choose art, community, family and life. As far as the artist goes – I think he almost makes a better statement for the un-orderly (is that a word?) which is far more beautiful and interesting to me!

30 09 2011
jenion

Thanks, Steph! I know I greatly over-exaggerated my response to Wehrli in order to make my point. I actually think his work is fascinating. As for your choices, I clearly love your priorities, since I beg to enter into your space, life and family whenever possible!

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