A mess, two books, and Lent

Have you ever read two contradictory books at the same time? It’s an interesting little experiment. When you pick up one book, your mind sets off running in one direction; with the next book, every page sends your thoughts exactly the opposite way.

My literary dual happened mostly by accident. Two different people recommended two different books, and I happened to pick them up from the library at the same time.

A perfect mess: The Benefits of Disorder by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman presents a convincing argument on “how crammed closets, cluttered offices, and on-the-fly planning make the world a better place”. When I hit the second chapter, I flip back to the first page to check the publication date.  2006.  I can’t believe it has taken me seven years to find this book! I scribble messy notes on odd-shaped paper scraps jubilantly, stopping only to pick up my camera and take these photos with a lighthearted guffaw:


Craft cabinet in main living area–I arranged NOTHING before this shot–I didn’t even have to open any doors or drawers.


This is not pathological mess, just what happens naturally if things are not picked up for a day (or even a few hours).

*Side note: My house is like a boiling pot of pasta; if I’m not right on top of it, it boils over.  Sometimes, I feel like all I’m doing is clamping down on the lid, or giving it a quick stir before the whole thing explodes over the top.

The authors’ stories of successful hardware stores outselling big box stores, precisely because they are chaotic and overstocked, and scientists who make world-changing discoveries (penicillin) are fascinating. The thread of their argument–we incorrectly assume order/neatness/planning is beneficial in any organization, home or relationship and we underestimate the efficiency, creativity and innovation that comes from disorder–is thrilling for someone like me.  I am halfway through A Perfect Mess when I pick up the other book I had checked out: 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think.

The author, Laura Vanderkam makes a case for order. Specifically, ordering your priorities so every hour of the week–all 168 of them–are spent wisely, according to your “core competencies”, life plan and vision. She makes some good points, and I am inspired enough to take notes (again, messy notes on shreds of paper), but by Chapter 5 I start getting panicky. Addressing professional time management, she counsels readers to forge the right connections, start blogs to attract thousands of readers, and spin a story to make a name for themselves in their industry. Most importantly, she advises readers to spend every minute of their 30-50 hour work week (her recommended minimum amount) in a way that directly contributes to their professional goal.

The next morning I reach for the mouse, to check my email and blog stats, even before I start making breakfast. I still feel a little jittery, wondering how I will ever be able to “brand, name, spin, and connect” enough to accomplish my own professional goal: to write a book and get it published. And so, with sleep in my eyes I click on logins and passwords, eager to start my day with a message, a comment, or some such “hit”.

Soon Belén wanders into the kitchen and I dutifully minimize the screen as every mindful-mom would.

She reminds me that today is Ash Wednesday: “We’re all going to mass, and I don’t really want to get the ash on my forehead, but the bus ride with my friends will be good… Hey mom, what are you giving up for Lent?”

I haven’t really had time to think about what I’m giving up with all this mind-chatter and reading about what I’m trying to get.

Belén suggests, “Maybe you should give up chips?”

She nails one of my many weaknesses on the head, but before I can agree or disagree, she tells me she’s giving up cleaning her room.

“That’s not fair,” I tell her, “And anyway, it’s not going to be chips this year.”

I don’t always observe Lent, and I wasn’t really prepared to do anything this year, until a few moments ago. Suddenly I know what I want to do without.

For the next forty days, I want to wake up without the internet. In fact, I’m going to wait until noon until I check my email or wordpress site. And maybe, instead of worrying about all the connections I’m failing to make or the great leaps ahead of me in my professional life, I’ll start my day in stillness. Stillness without a flickering monitor. The kind of stillness where I might calibrate my agenda with a verse or a prayer, instead of a self-help guru.

It’s really an embarrassingly small sacrifice. Denying myself a few messages in the morning seems paltry compared to other great acts of spiritual discipline, but that is where I am at today. Perhaps this change in my daily routine–seven days of slower starts–will add up to nothing more than a mere hour, or two, per week. Even so, I’m hoping this changes the other 166 hours!


PS. I don’t think I explicitly said this, but I recommend both of the books I mentioned in this post, especially if read simultaneously!

PSS. I hope you feel well loved tomorrow!! We will be spending a romantic evening together doing more snow sculpting :)… photos to come later…


4 thoughts on “A mess, two books, and Lent

  1. Here’s a loving “hit” for you 🙂

    YOU are amazing! It was lovely to talk with you this morning…. I hope you have a fantastic week, that you count and measure not a single hour except in how much joy and love you feel during it! Enjoy the snuggles and conversations with your friends and family!

    My house looks amazingly like yours! Totally lived in and loved! I think my “pirates” are about to set sail once again on the living room couch cushions while simultaneously unmaking every bed to turn them into snake pits. Sigh… a boiling pot. Yes, perfect.

  2. I think I’ll read the first and skip the second. 🙂 I’m not meticulous by any standard, but I tend to feel a little crazy inside if the house is too chaotic and could probably let out the reins a bit more here and there…anyway, another great post dear friend, and a great lenten challenge! Dratted internet! (Except for inspiring blogs like this one…)

  3. tricia, dad and I are sitting in our little home in Arizona and enjoyed reading your blog again. It inspired us, the mess, the chaos, the lent, the Belen comments, not giving up the chips and all the rest. We miss you all and love you
    Marisa I also much enjoyed your comments if you’re reading this. You are so full of beautiful love.

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