The Art of Making Messes


I am blessed with:

1. Family. Beautiful, loving, nurturing, faithful family (and a couple of us even share genes and time zones)…

2. Ready evidence that what some intend for evil, God intends for good (and He trumps all)…

3. Hope. Because even when times are hard, we can work together to make them better…

4. A little boy named John in West Africa, who is bound to me by the unfailing cables of the Holy Spirit, through a heart sister and her family in North Carolina. May he grow up strong in grace and know without doubt that he is chosen and loved

5. Beautiful, daily reminders that I am not an orphan, but chosen and adopted by grace, created for a purpose, called to do good works…

When I was in grad school, one of my education professors used to exclaim, “Learning is messy!” It was a mantra of encouragement to all of us not to get caught up in the need to “control” every event in our classrooms. A mantra that promoted a certain flexibility for us, as educators, to embrace the serendipity that is often involved in the process of learning new things. Serendipity cannot be formulated or programmed or calculated or even guaranteed. The best we can do is cultivate an environment that welcomes it, pay attention when it shows up, and offer gratitude for the gifts it offers.

Fast forward fifteen years (or so), and I’m only just scraping the surface of how true that mantra is, both in the classroom and in “real” life. Certainly my years in the classroom, both as a student and as an educator, reinforced its reality innumerable times. Learning is messy, and none of us does it in the same fashion, or even in the same time frame. I suspect this is the biggest flaw in today’s “educational reform.” In their efforts to “tidy up the system,” lawmakers are focused on rigid pacing and uniformity. It is a focus that works great for marching bands and street parades. For education? Not so much. And yet, the powers that be are shocked again and again when, three or four years into every new initiative, their reforms don’t exactly bear the fruit they were expecting. But that is a soapbox for another day, and I don’t doubt I’ll climb up on it. Many. Many. Times.

Today I am really thinking about how the idea that learning is messy applies outside of academia, in the great school of life. It has been over two years since I “retired” from public education. During this time, I have been recovering some lost parts of myself. Namely, the artistic, creative side of myself in applications beyond lesson plans and school improvement committees. Instead of being an editor for unwilling seventh graders, my vision has returned to my own writing. I am learning to create art in many forms, from mixed-media collage and painting, to jewelry making, to a meditative form of pattern doodling called Zentangle.

Sometimes, in the middle of a project, my work table looks like an explosion happened. Mostly because it did. An explosion of love for the work before me. An explosion of curiosity for what will happen if I do this… or this… or (oh, wow!) this…. An explosion of satisfaction when the work and the curiosity marry into a finished piece that looks and feels like art to me. And I don’t even know what to call that explosion when someone wants to purchase something I’ve created, allowing me to live by my art. It transcends words.

Ever notice how some people reach a point where they just stop learning new things? For some it starts early… that first time in public school when they experience “failure” and shut it all down. For others, it comes later, after decades of expertise make them feel they don’t need anything more. I always feel sorry for people who lose interest in learning. The color goes out of their lives. They become gray and one-dimensional. The most interesting people I know, regardless of their age, are those who never stop exploring new things. Even if all they can do is “google it,” those who cultivate an interest in learning something new have a multi-faceted and sparkling demeanor that pulls me in and makes me want to bask warm in their presence.

Maybe one of the reasons people lose interest in learning is because of the mess. Maybe they think they’re doing it wrong. Maybe they don’t understand that learning is supposed to be messy. And that’s a good thing.

So. If it’s been a while since you made an explosion:

in your garden,

at your desk,

on your computer,

in the kitchen,

in your workshop,

in your journal,

or in the bedroom…

then maybe it’s time to get your art on.

Go ahead. Make a mess. You’ll be richer for it.




One thought on “The Art of Making Messes

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