on (not) getting messy

stencil graffiti of a bunch of mushrooms growing out of the concrete, painted at the base of a  post

amazing stuff comes up out of mess, when we let it...

Good morning! On today’s short short walk, we saw a long-eared jackrabbit, sitting quiet in the road (at least until he was accosted by a puppy), and then, so quiet overhead, slung the enormous wingspan of a great blue heron — silent amid all the cacophony of birds around us.

Right now I am sitting on the floor, legs in a diamond shape, typing over the puppy sitting in the middle of them. This is a good morning for sure.

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Just a quick one today, about messiness.

Yesterday at work, I was a mess. Exhausted and trying to focus while my sweetie and pup spent their first day at home alone together — I missed them, it was hard to focus on work tasks, not because I didn’t want to do them but because I was so tired. Then I got a message that brought the tears just erupting to my eyes (see the comments from yesterday’s post) and I tried immediately to stuff them down, to deep breathe them back into my eyes: Ok, Jen, it’s ok. Ok. But I couldn’t stop them, got up and hustled down the hall to the bathroom, where I patted my face with paper, breathed more, did not let myself sob.

But why not?

And then it happened again when I went back to my desk, the scene of the ‘crime,’ body memory takes over, we’re still not done with this feeling yet. I put on my headphones, redirecting myself. The internet radio station plays Moby’s At Least We Tried (which includes the lyrics, “Oh now baby, don’t cry / Oh my babe, at least we tried”). This did not help. I changed the station to KCRW, which was playing Peter Gabriel’s Don’t Give Up. Are you kidding me? I took off my headphones — and yet, it felt like a clean message from the universe: Go ahead. Break down.

But I didn’t. I let a few more tears come, because I couldn’t stop them, but I didn’t let all the sobs come: I was at work! We’re supposed to be together at work, not messy, not crying, not overly upset, not overly anything. Workplace is for modulation, where we ride that mild middle ground of feeling, never too much. People who are doing too much, we look askance a them, like they don’t know how to modulate their emotions.

We keep the feeling out, because people are easier to control that way.

I cried later, when I was telling the story to the Mr., and that was good. But why not just go to the bathroom and let my work-self get all messy? What would happen? I go back to my desk, red-faced and eyes puffy, maybe a little emptier, maybe one more wave in a long ocean of grief passed through me.

There are plenty of other places where I don’t want to get messy: this isn’t just about work. This is about those public personae, maybe about a white or Protestant-mainstream culture that devalues emotional displays as irrational, about being socialized as a woman and learning, quick and early, crying girls are not smart or respected girls (and let’s not even mention crying boys…). Even in bed, during sex, I mean, I worry about being messy: not my-hair-is-f-ed-up messy, but my-feelings-are-coming-out-and-I-want-too-much messy.

Messy is out of control, maybe that’s it. This is a trauma aftermath thing: learning to be ok with being out of control, and with what new growth can emerge from that release. Yesterday, I felt no control over those tears, they came up fast and immediate and were suddenly there — this is ongoing learning, how I let myself just be in all those different places, feel exactly what I’m feeling, remind myself, my inside selves, and even the people around me (should they wonder or worry): it’s ok, I’m ok, even when I look not ok. Even when I’m messy.

So, here, now, in these 10 or 15 minutes: what happens if you get messy, or for your characters if they get messy? What does that mean, that phrase: do you see physical mess, emotional mess? What do you look like? What does it feel like inside your body? What do you want when you’re messy? Follow your writing where ever it seems to want you to go — even if it doesn’t make logical sense; yes, even if it’s messy.

Thanks for your bravery, you deep innocence, the parts of you that can still splash in the mud: those are deep, creative parts, I think. Thanks for how you can be present with others’ mess. Thanks for your words.

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