On Creating and Messes

On Creating and Messes

A few weeks ago, I was attempting to make homemade mayo in the food processor, while cooking dinner at the same time. My 11-year-old daughter was nearby, doing homework on the family computer. The egg yolk, vinegar, dried mustard, and salt started to emulsify into light, creamy goodness as I painstakingly tipped in olive oil one drop at a time — oh, wonder of wonders! — and then promptly “broke,” turning grainy, oily, and generally unappetizing.

Darnit! I said, banging on the countertop with my hand, and then repeated darnit, darnit, darnit! three more times for emphasis.

{Except I didn’t say darnit.}

My daughter looked up — she’s a pretty good swearword watchdog, because it’s something we don’t do {with the occasional parental lapse} in our house. Later, she was concerned: I’m sorry your mayo didn’t turn out, she said. I assured her there were far worse things and that I should have bit my tongue — not to mention stuck with my tried-and-true, whisked-by-hand recipe.

But, here’s the thing.

I’ve been realizing lately that, for all our successes {whether spiritual or writing or crafty or cooking or whatever-related}, there is a lot of trial and error, and even more mess.

And, I think mess — at least for me — represents a barometer of how much my creative life is flourishing.

dirty dishes

Right now, there’s spilled nut flour and puddles of coconut oil on my perpetually smeared countertop; there’s bits of herb and chopped veggies smashed into our kitchen’s faux peel-and-stick tile. There’s some funky smell in my basement that made my husband take out the trash and open the windows. {Then I had to break it to him that I’m attempting to ferment sauerkraut and the funky smell is here to stay for a couple of weeks, at least.}

There’s paint and magazines and fibers and washi tape and mod podge and books all over my dining room table. {Thanks to Christine, a self-taught spiritual art journaler, who facilitated an art journaling session at Kris‘ Refine retreat in April, I now have another way to make a big mess on yet another large surface.}

Here, I dig into the Word, here I attempt to sort out thoughts and emotions, and here, I hope to paint a visual image of where I am now and how God figures into it all.

art journal

Your creative mess is probably different. Maybe, it’s related to the women’s bible study you’re writing and the piles and piles of notes and books that threaten to engulf your nightstand. Perhaps, it’s the mass of flowers you’ve yet to pot for your amazing patio garden.

You know your mess. And, like me, I hope you’re coming to terms with it. Because mess = life.

You see, we’re all creating, all the time. And, it’s rarely neat, controlled, or tidy.

We’re creating our faith lives, crafting them one verse, one experience, one prayer at a time. We’re falling away and then returning. We’re taking steps forward and steps back.

We’re creating our family lives. Caring for kids and husbands, grandkids and aging parents. We’re realizing as soon as we think we have things figured out {with an illness, a life stage, a job}, the rules change, and we’re re-creating.

We’re creating with our words, spoken and written, shaping relationships or stunting them, infusing love or imparting harshness {sometimes both on the same day}.

We’re creating with kitchen hands and craft-table fingers– making pork stir-fry or playdoh smushes. {Or we’re calling out for pizza or popping in Planes for the 10th time.}

I like to think that the better we are at creating, the bigger our messes — and the more we learn to be okay with that.

I used to think I couldn’t create until my email inbox was cleared, the dishes done, laundry folded, and the kids all off at school. You can imagine how well that worked.


Setting ourselves up to be creative perfectionists sets us up for failure. But, when we are willing to let things get messy {or stay messy}, we open up space to create. When we try new things for the sheer joy of it — while still knowing they might fail spectacularly — we are saying we value the creative process and the experience of making something more than a Pinterest-worthy end product.

As for me, these days, the dishwasher always overflows; the bathroom is often a few days’ past its “clean-by” date; and the laundry heaps on my basement floor have been there long enough to harbor creepy-crawlies underneath. My husband finally gave up and put our Easter decorations into their bin in because the pile has just been sitting there since, well, Easter. {I was hoping it might migrate magically into storage.}

I’ve been busy — you know? I’ve been cutting letters out of old cards and getting paint all over my hands, having dinner with friends, making homemade fruit leathers and jewel-like beet puree, and wrangling my three small people.

It’s been, undeniably and indisputably, messy. But, it’s been good.

What lovely messes have you been creating?


Part 2: The Long Story About Cutting My Hair Short

Part 2: The Long Story About Cutting My Hair Short

Just joining me today? Check out Part 1 of The Long Story About Cutting My Hair Short.

The stories I loved turned practical. The words became “copy” and earned me a paycheck for 16 years.

The hair ranged from shoulder to chin-length and back again, and we always wrangled, that hair and I. Too wavy too be straight and too straight to be curly, with a tendency to frizz.

And, then I stopped. Even more suddenly than I started. I quit my job. I stopped measuring my life’s meaning in flimsy paper currency and empty bylines — those recognitions that fed my pride but starved my soul.

And, I started. I began by ripping the door to my heart off its hinges and inviting God straight on in. I launched this blog. And, in the process, I discovered that stopping the writing that pays allowed me to rediscover the writing that plays. And, when the writing that plays intersects with the writing that praises — that’s when I live closest to God. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

I let my hair grow long, longer than it had in years. As my heart changed, so I wanted my physical appearance to alter, become more beautiful to match my desire for God.

Then one day, I woke to the weight of the locks, and for days on end I twisted them in my fingers and impatiently clipped them up off my neck. I sweated through them, and wrangled with them, until one day, I was ready to let go:

  • Their weight became the weight of maintaining appearances I no longer cared about.
  • Their weight became the weight of hewing to a worldly ideal I no longer bowed to.
  • Their weight became the weight of struggling to be someone I wasn’t just to make those around me more comfortable.

It took two to three hair cuts to get it short enough. My stylist couldn’t believe I really wanted it all off. While I struggled with what others thought of me for a month or so {such drastic change can be disconcerting for others, and I’m an inveterate people-pleaser}, my hair had found its new home. Shortness suited it. Its texture responded well. Its tendency to frizz vanished.

But, I didn’t get all rave reviews. In fact, as I experiment with exactly how short I will wear my hair and how I’ll style it {it’s a process} , my husband will often look at me right after a cut and proclaim bluntly: Too. Short.

I’ve had acquaintances look at me quizzically and then proclaim: “You cut all your hair off!” Period.
I’ve had people I know quite well flat-out ignore the cut. {Trust me: This isn’t something you’d miss, but perhaps, they stick to the old adage, if you can’t say something nice…}

But, the lightness has helped immensely:

  • The lightness has helped me remember who I was 26 years ago – the last time my hair looked like this.
  • The lightness has challenged me to put aside cultural images of beauty and constant comparison.
  • The lightness helped me recall the beauty of being fully myself.
  • The lightness has made me new.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
2 Corinthians 5:17

Part 1: The Long Story About Cutting My Hair Short

Part 1: The Long Story About Cutting My Hair Short

I cut all my hair off this past May.

You see, I’m working toward making myself unrecognizable … so I can become myself again.

Let me explain.

I launched into last Fall, stuffed empty with the World and void of the Word. Grumpy, selfish, striving toward perfectionism, making a hefty $50 -$75 an hour for the few hours a month I managed to work, {while caring for three young kids full-time}, and complaining the whole way to the bank.

Yes, I loved my kids and husband.
Yes, I took care of them.
Yes, I worked hard.

Yes, I went to church.
Yes, I prayed and read my Bible – sometimes.

Yet, I was unfilled and unfulfilled. I lived hollow and echoing with the empty promises of my childhood – those days I spent clambering over rocks and into gullies and came back hours later with stars in my eyes and stories in my heart. Those were days when appearances didn’t figure, when authenticity was a given, when my hair was short and my creativity long.

You see, as a child and tween, I always kept my hair short. First, it was mom’s idea, and then mine. I simply couldn’t be bothered . But, one day, I started caring. I started paying attention. I began listening to peer feedback. {You look like a boy.} And, I began bothering.

And bothering became my life.

Check back Monday for the rest of the story.

But I’m Not Creative… and Tomato Basil Tart

But I’m Not Creative… and Tomato Basil Tart

Saturday night, my friend stops by to drop her daughter off for a sleepover with my girls. She knows we are having a late dinner {after a spontaneous ice cream dinner-spoiler at 5 p.m.}, so they enter my kitchen as I’m in full dinner prep.

I tell them about the unusual dinner I’m making — chilled cucumber soup and tomato basil tart — and then promptly offer my friend a glass of white wine and escort her to the deck, as the kids romp in the yard. As we sit and talk, I excuse myself several times for various steps in the complex pastry process.

My friend seems skeptical. Is it really worth it, she wonders out loud? I assure her that, yes, it is, and tell her this is a family tradition, this late-summer combination of buttery, flaky dough with fresh mozzarella, of pungent basil with tomatoes at their peak.

At the same time, I notice her plucking dried leaves and spent blooms from a red geranium plant on my deck railing. She apologizes that she can’t help herself. It’s a gardener’s habit. And, I appreciate that, her different view of the world. Just as I’ve passed that plant scores of times without noticing its dried leaves, she would probably skim right past that tart recipe with the crazy-involved crust.

We women are all deliciously different.  We approach our lives in fresh and creative ways that don’t look the same, but that enrich our surroundings just the same  — even when we’re doing something as simple as making dinner or tending annuals.

You see, I believe creativity comes in all kinds of packages, not just those perfectly wrapped ones our culture presents us. I believe we all have creativity within us, and we all express that in beautiful and singular ways — that may, in fact, look quite different than what we’ve been conditioned to believe.

Since I began writing about creativity back in May, I’ve been amazed at the number of women who feel deeply uncomfortable with the word “creative.” They protest: But, I’m not creative!

See if you identify with any one of these reasons.

Four Reasons You May Think You’re Not Creative:

1. Someone told you that once.
For you, creativity may be a painful reminder of the past when you ventured forth and were hurt. Perhaps you were told outright you weren’t talented. Or maybe it was more gradual, and, over time, your creative self withered from fear and lack of encouragement.

2. You work or are gifted in a supposedly “non-creative” field – math, science, law, etc.
You’re probably like my friend, Gindi, a logical thinker and super-organized lawyer {who’ll be guest posting here next week}. You possess stereotypically left-brain skills, so you think there’s no way you can be creative too.

3. You like to create, but you think you’re not good enough to be called creative. You think that label’s reserved for famous people who make a living at their art. You attach lots and lots of modifiers to the word creative. For you {see Elise’s post}, “creative” doesn’t mean painting little boxes to sell at craft shops; instead, it’s publishing novels or selling your work in a New York City gallery.

4. You don’t enjoy {what you think are} “creative” endeavors – such as painting, composing music, writing poetry. You know all too well how the world defines the word creative, and in no way does it resemble you.

And, here’s the thing. We all have a sense of what Creative with a Capital C means. Give yourself a moment to jot down a phrase or example of what you think “creative” means.

Now, let’s compare that to Webster’s. The dictionary defines creative as:

1. Marked by the ability or power to create: given to creating.
2. Having the quality of something created, rather than imitated.

I don’t know about you, but this definition surprised me. It doesn’t say creative people must achieve renown. It doesn’t say you can’t be equally skilled in science. It doesn’t say you have to possess a certain set of abilities. It simply says creative people create.

Creativity is defined as ability, pure and simple. We are all marked by the power to create. <—-Click to Tweet!

Be sure to tune in next week for Gindi’s personal creativity story. Don’t want to miss a post? Subscribe and get new posts delivered to your inbox.

Which of the four creativity myths do you relate to the most?