This is not my laundry pile. But it could be . . . if you multiplied what's here times three.
Her house wasn’t just small, it was tiny.
The shower was quirky and a litter box sat behind a curtain in the bathroom.
The kitchen wasn’t much more than a hallway and we met outside seated in a variety of plastic and canvas camp chairs.
What I mean to say is it wasn’t fancy.
I’d never been to a writer’s retreat before, so I’m not sure exactly what I expected, but these were things I noticed.
I want to say it didn't matter, but it did.
The little bits of mess and imperfection were some of the main things I carried away from the weekend. Her mess was a gift to me and rather than being overwhelmed, I drove home thinking, maybe I could do that too. Welcomed into the REAL of her life, litter box and all, I found the gift of freedom from perfection.
Six months later I invited my new writer friend to lead a retreat at my house.
My house isn’t tiny, but it does have litter boxes in conspicuous places and the shower isn’t just quirky, it’s dirty. Participants sat in secondhand Ikea furniture and lined up on an old leather couch I’d dragged off the side of the road a week before. I can’t tell you how many times I thought of my friend and her gracious example in the days and weeks leading up to the retreat, how much I clung to the gift of freedom she gave.
Tonight I’m welcoming a group of seven people to our house for a brief workshop. Some are complete strangers, others good friends, but only one has ever been inside our house before.
Some will sit around our dining room table, the one we bought on Craig’s List and I’ll do my best to make sure the hardened remains of a month’s worth of meals are duly scraped away. Others will line up in plastic folding chairs (thank you Target clearance) along a plastic table which will be oddly placed in the winter room. I will write with broken bits of chalk on our handmade black board. I’ll do my best beforehand to de-clutter surfaces, sweep the kitchen floor and clear a pathway through the mudroom.
But the laundry will still be piled high on the washer and dryer, the litter box will sit ramshackle in the corner. The kitchen ceiling will still be peeling and the ceiling fan’s blades lined with greasy dust. Paint will be chipped in various places and the record player my husband had to buy will sit in a heap of records in the corner.
There’s only so much I can do. Only so much I can ask my family to do.
But when I look at the mess, the glaring imperfections staring me in the eye, I think of my friend and the gift her mess was to me. Maybe it’s enough to do something well in the midst of your mess. And maybe someone will leave here tonight thinking, “I could do that too.”
Next time you have someone over, try to worry a little less about your mess, maybe it will be a gift to someone who needs freedom from perfectionism. Maybe, even, it will be a gift to you.
My friend, Andi is a writer, editor and writing teacher and hosts a number of amazing events on her property, "God's Whisper Farm." She also runs an online writing group on facebook. I only dare write about her "mess" because I know she knows I love her! Maybe I'll see you at her retreat next year?