I was at Sabrina Ward Harrison’s wonderful reading the other night, a celebration of her new book, Messy Thrilling Life. The setting was intimate, everyone sitting around a campfire in Alameda at the home of my friend and writing teacher Laurie Wagner (who wrote a beautiful forward to the book).
Something Sabrina said that night stuck with me. She said that when it comes to art, she can trust the messes, the mistakes, the wine spilling over the page. That’s how she knows things are getting interesting. She trusts that it will all come together in the end, that the process looks messy but like a camera lens focusing, it all eventually comes into view. (Her incredible artwork is a testament to this faith.)
But we don’t have the same kind of faith within our lives. The messes, the worries, the death. They make us afraid and confused and we want to quit or rewind or start fresh. (How many times have we left a relationship, or been tempted to when things started to get messy?)
We have no faith in the in-between. We have no sense that right around the corner is some extraordinary beauty just waiting to be revealed. Sometimes we don?t move through our mess for long enough to see how it all fits together.
I know that when I paint, I am fairly controlled at the beginning. Each line is precise, mapping things out, creating a structure for the piece. But there is always a moment when there is tons of paint on the canvas, the colors are mixing this way and that, lines are blurred and tangled and it just doesn’t look like it’s working. This is the point where my brow furrows, I tell myself I SUCK and consider quitting and doing the laundry instead.
But, if I stick with it, if I am willing to keep at it, something really amazing happens. It is at this very point of things falling apart when I feel like I have nothing to lose, and the preciousness and control flies out the door. In other words, I don’t give a fuck anymore.
And that’s when I go for it, and my strokes become more wild and free. I work quickly and from pure instinct, squeezing tubes of yellow ochre and cadmium red and cerulean blue without thinking, moving along with a fierce rhythm.
And then I am really painting and everything else seems like a quaint little warmup for the wild beauty of this phase.
So how do we do this? Have this kind of faith? Trust what is happening now when it’s rotten and painful and not at all what we planned?
How do we trust what we didn’t plan?
Somebody said, “Life is what happens when we are making other plans.”
I guess we miss out a lot in life. That’s the cost. We miss out on the gorgeous, textured beauty of a life filled with coffee stains and tears. We miss the possibility of gorgeous, deep, rich color on the other side.
this entry speak so LOUD to me today. my life is getting messier and messier, and i’m often looking for the out. but if i keep trusting it, i might end up really happy with what i’ve got.
John Lennon was the one who said “life is what happens while your busy making other plans”
He also said:
“My role in society, or any artist or poet?s role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all.”
Thank you, Andrea, for always stating how you feel so well.
Wow. Both Lost and Found, and Faithless are so pertinent to my life right now as I find myself in a place and predicament I had not “planned”, wondering how I got here and trying so hard to just let go and to trust in the mess and in the process. I catch myself struggling and machinating, and analyzing, forever searching for the answers and the orderly, clean outcome. It is the little gems like these that feed my soul and keep me going when I am beginning to lose faith. Out of the chaos and mess comes clarity if, as you said, I wait long enough or just a little bit longer for the shift.
So thank you for the reminder along the path.
As always, your posting is so timely in my life. Guess that’s the beauty of synchronicity. I read a quote today by Jon Stewart that says so much…”The big break for me was deciding that this is my life.” When you look at it through those glasses, it really makes you think!
Thanks Andrea, this was a wonderful post, a generous post, and so helpful.
i hear you. sigh, yet another post that speaks to me. your writing not only comforts me but inspires me. i just had to comment, to let you know that you have such a + affect. cheers.
Hello! I see your journal everyday and Today I had to post a comment. You spoke to my heart. Usually we speak who and what we would like to be, and not who we really are. But is with our mistakes and messes that we go on… To be ourselves is a difficult route, but we have to trust in our dreams, just believe in it.
Powerful posting! What a fantastic way to start my morning, your post infused vision to my day. THank you!
Deep breath. Part of “living today” or “in the moment” is about accepting and embracing messes. It writes and sounds sooo much easier than actually doing it. I needed this today-it is OK not to have a tight control on every aspect of your art and your life, right?
I look forward to whatever I’m going to find on your site. This new story is wonderful. It so applies to my life – so extra thanks for sharing – it’s good to know we are all part of the same family – that Life is Good – no matter what it seems to be at any given moment – as long as we agree to breathe – the next moment will prove out the Goodness, the Love, the Joy we are created to be. You continue to inspire me.
Brilliant Day to You!
you are a blessing! (sabrina’s celebration sounds so amazing, i’m disappointed to not be out there at thsi amazing and beautiful time for her!)
all my love,
I think that it is easier to trust “mess” when you are creating art because you have more control. That is you are choosing the means and tools with which to create mess. You can also walk away and/or start over. Some of the things which spill into our lives come from outside sources or more keeps pouring while we are trying to figure things out with the initial mess. It is important to be persistent with life as it turns out to be a vision that does not match with the one in our heads.
what a beautiful post.
What should we do not to miss out? This made me think – as your posts often do – and I wonder whether we aren’t always ‘planning’ to avoid mess. Or working to get out of the mess. And then it doesn’t happen, and we end up feeling like failures. I think you’re right, that we should stop and see the beauty in the broken mess when it enters our life. Easier said than done, though…
I needed to hear this today. I recently visited my former home, saw all of my friends and family, and it made me doubt my decision to move across the country, to a place where I knew no one. It made me doubt leaving something safe for the unknown. I am pushing through and I will make it – and this entry is a reminder of that. Thank you, Andrea.
Oh, Andrea. You, your heart and your words are such a gift!
My creative process is so different from yours and Sabrina’s (I start with too much and strip everything away until I find the sparse beauty underneath), but the underlying idea of trusting the messiness and mistakes, of letting go of that which you so desperately want, of having faith that it will work out … that is something I definitely want to learn.
and you paint too? you are a neverending pool of talent. when do we get to see your paintings? perty please?
I think this ties in so well with your last posting…
Your entry reminds me so much of soemthing I came across recently –
“If we could only find the courage to leave our destiny to chance, to accept the fundamental mystery of our lives, then we might be closer to the sort of happiness that comes with innocence.”
— Luis Bunuel, My Last Sigh
I’m going out now – to enjoy my wonderful, messy life.
i’ve never had a blog i was randomly ready resonate so soundly with what i was currently experiencing–thank you so much for sharing this. sometimes we’re so raw that we plan, we think the structure offers some sort of protection. sometimes it helps, sometimes it just impedes our progress–sometimes it’s just a plan. what a beautiful, precarious balance!
I believe that these ‘wrinkles’ in our plans occur as some sort of reality check as to how much we do really want our plans to happen… sounds a bit odd I know, but I believe some times the universe says hey-if this happens will you still really want that?
Always too, as our plans take shape, they are never as we had imagined or hoped, most often when we do wade through the messes and misconceptions they are better.
Fantastic. For all that I agree with JC’s comment.
What a wonderful, poignant, touching, inspiring post this is. We all need more faith in ourselves, don’t we? I know I do – and I think this kind of thinking would be a good way for me to do it. To trust that this mess has to exist, so that I can get through to the other side, where the air is clear, and I will be able to recognize the beauty that was there all along.
Thank you for writing this. It made me teary.
I’m reminded of the phrase “a painful progress” from Angels in America.
I read somewhere that great art is always just a “happy accident”….I guess the same is true of life. It’s the jumping in, getting dirty, and wallowing in all life has to offer, that brings real joy, and often the best results too. Great post Andrea! Thank you once again for your insight and wise words. 🙂
there are days that seem as though everything has to accumulate. and today, it’s one of those days, that all your words needed to reach me, find me… today.
life is about the coffee stains, the tear stains, it’s about the grass stains while we were laughing and rolling down a hill.
and between the getting messy and the letting go, that’s when we really let life do it’s magic.
this is poignant and wonderful. Thank you
amen amen amen
when you unlock the fear
the paintings come
when you unleash the past
the universe screams
when we accept the journey
the world unfolds
when we believe in the moments
the truth is discovered
some of the hardest work
is accepting the UNplan in it all
i SO WOULD have loved to be at SWH intimate book shindig…
she helped me thru many tough times
her quotes hang on my fridge
my sis gave me the book when i was struggling with my journey years ago
when my journey seeminly came to a SCREECHING HAULT… A DISASTOROUS END…
i found her books on my shelf
damn . universe . there you are again
given me just what i need
a gift from the past
to hold my hand thru the door of the future
much love and much peace
i just read this once,and quickly, as i have ‘plans’ about my day, how its going to go, what i have to do, i’m busy. but i am an artist. self employed. i can do these things when i want. i just got back from an incredible trip to new orleans, a whole new world. each day was a splash into beauty color like i never expected, nor could i have imagined. it was a success in life. i trusted each moment. had faith and had a frick load of fun. i was lucky too, no really scary moments. (save my two crazy nightmarish dreams i had both involving death/suicide~maybe the room i was sleeping in had voodou juju from 1872) anyway, your post makes me think about those who have seem to have no time to even contemplate those moments in between all the damn plans they have to do, so how is faith found? with some its inherent, and i guess with some its work. you’re right, when one’s life plans come crashing down to where one says ‘i don’t give a fuck ’cause i can’t even deal anymore’, if one pays attention, if they have the energy to, the universe will show one the great color, texture and vibrancy of life. through pain, blood and salty salty tears. its it’s gift. great post and great pic. xoab