There are 110 bad things you can say about Twitter without having to stretch your brain much, but it can be great. Just this weekend for example, Dr. Lee Skallerup Bessette (a writer/professor/learning design expert) tweeted about having a “messy desk/house.” She linked to a blog post from René Brooks, who has a website called blackgirllostkeys.com. This particular blog is about ADHD and shame, which is something I feel fairly often related to my various messes.
This “Pedagogy Stew” follows up on my last, in which I described my family’s enthusiastic participation in the Spring Green community-wide garage sale. I am happy to report that we made a decent little chunk of cash, but more importantly, broke up the logjam of clutter in our household, especially on the front porch and in our two shed-garages. This process is very much a case of valuing “progress, not perfection,” but it seems entirely likely I will get to park inside one of those garages this winter instead of clearing off my windshield every single morning from November through February. I especially hate that really, thin, practically cemented frost that I once demolished a library card trying to remove.
Here’s a full tweet from Skallerup Bessette: “People expect you to say ‘Sorry it’s such a mess’ and I don’t anymore. My space is my space and I actually like clutter and a bit of controlled chaos. I find it soothing. And people don’t know how to deal with my ok-ness with it.”
I responded that what I aim for is something I call “sustainable chaos,” by which I mean chaos levels that sustain me, which I can maintain (without becoming an episode of “Hoarders,” which I also mentioned in my last column).
I do still apologize for my messes, but when sustainable chaos is working for me, it’s chaos in the sense of primordial matter, not overwhelming disorder. I am happy and creatively productive when there’s a fair bit of clutter around. But not too much, because then I run the risk of either shutting down or using precious energy to ignore the “too muchness.”
This attraction to mess, this benefitting from mess, doesn’t have to be pathologized. “A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder” has 310 pages of examples and explanations that show I’m not alone in finding something sustainable about chaos.
The authors discuss how Frank Gehry’s design for a building at Case Western Reserve University caused, first, consternation with the contractors, because there was no blueprint. Then caused, eventually, the opposite of consternation: “… most of the contractors were so pleased with the invention into which they had been pushed that they ended up changing the way they do business. Even in the highly conservative construction industry, not all surprises have to be nasty ones.”
What if creativity doesn’t come from tidiness? What if it comes from the opposite of tidiness? What would happen in our messy houses and offices and classrooms if we felt the opposite of shame?
Marnie Dresser is a poet, creativity researcher and English professor at the University of Wisconsin-Richland. She lives in Spring Green with her husband and son and contributes to this space on a rotating basis ideas about creativity and education.