Musings on Being a Hot Mess

Photo credit: Author

“Write an essay about the importance of messy,” Jeniffer Thompson of Monkey C Media said to me. We were working on my messaging as an author. “Why does that word keep coming up to describe you?”

I reflected. The word messy showed up as both a positive and a negative by more than one person interviewed about me. And in the current era of Maria Kondo (author of The Magic Art of Tidying Up) I worry that the negative side of messiness would be seen to outweigh its benefits. But the truth is as much as I value de-cluttering my life, and as much as I appreciate my new bi-weekly cleaning ritual, I’ve also come to appreciate my messy traits.

I glance around my immediate surrounding. My desk is cluttered with scraps of paper (random “to do” lists, essay ideas), a bazillion cords strewn haphazardly, three-quarters of a sewing tape measure (which still works if I just use the 17" marker point as the start and remember to do the math), sunglasses (which I will forget I’ve left here), the Oxford English Dictionary still open to a page I was researching yesterday before I emailed an etymology expert, an old jury summons, sugar-free chocolate wrapper garbage, a new book called “Play” that I haven’t gotten around to reading yet, and an old work computer (although I quit my job last November), not to mention this paragraph which is replete with far too many parentheticals…

The mess is comforting — a mirror of my inner self, perhaps, which is not systematically organized and perfect but emotional, chaotic, uncontrolled “imperfect” by my ego’s standards. Still, messy imperfection notwithstanding, this inner self is capable of experiencing great delight, and that is a quality I value.

I don’t think messiness is a requirement for experiencing enjoyment, ease and delight, but the willingness to be messy-to get dirty, to be slightly out of control-might be.

I remember one day when my oldest child was about 3 years old, it had rained so heavily that our backyard had become a gigantic shallow mud puddle. My husband and I were trying to convince her it might be fun to go outside and play. We put on galoshes and a raincoat, then stood on the edge of the wooden deck surveying the big mud puddle. She was tentative, finicky about getting dirty. She dipped one finger in the water and yanked it back, exclaiming, “Ew!”

“Oh, no,” my husband whispered. “Maybe she’s going to be that kind of girl.” But she was just getting used to the idea. After a while she ran a whole hand through the water, splashing a little, which caused a tiny giggle to escape. We let her be, just watching and before too long she had stepped right into the puddle itself. Not long after that, she was stomping right through the middle of the puddle, laughing as the giant splashes covered her in dirty water. She ran through the mud puddle now obviously delighted with the fun of getting dirty. She played happily in her new unexpected playground until she was soaked in mud, but oh so happy! That girl grew up to love the outdoors, becoming a Search and Rescue Volunteer, a mountain biker, hiker, skier, rock climber — seeking out the wild places of her heart as reflected in the great outdoors.

Life shows us the beauty in messy. Compared to a cultivated botanical garden, a forest may be overrun with a tangled mess of vines and bushes and weeds, but it looks inviting and mysterious-enchanting. We spend hours taming our yards by mowing the grass and planting rows of flowers, picking out the weeds, but yearn still to get out in nature where beauty exists without cultivating it. Hiking in the hills of the Cleveland National Forest is relaxing and inviting. I suck up the beauty in what is, not minding that most of the yuccas have finished blooming and remain dead stalks. I like how the wild lilac grow haphazardly over the hillside. It’s wild, natural, and free.

This wild messy side of Life is within me too, and as much as I strive for “perfection” for maintaining an ordered and focused mind, I secretly relish my wild mind too — the authentic messy expression that comes out during a writing practice, for instance, when I let the words fly out as they are, instead of judging and critically editing each one. I like the experience of fearlessly crossing into taboo subject matters, of diving in headlong to the messier subjects of life-like sex and death.

Imagine sex without saliva and juices spewing forth. Imagine trying to keep your hair perfect while screaming in ecstasy. Sex is juicy and messy and absolutely delightful.

Imagine never talking about the hard subjects in life-never sharing what it feels like to live with your husband of 60 years who is dying of Alzheimer’s before your eyes because it means having to talk about how much you are falling apart and crying and how he is peeing not in the bed during sleep, but on the bed during the day. Life itself is messy.

As a society, we value order, but individually we seek a feeling of belonging and connection that is more likely to come from being seen and accepted at our messiest worst selves. This is when love shines through. When the mascara runs down our face and we have no composure left, we may want to hide. When in the throes of passion, and we grimace, belly rolls fluttering, we may feel embarrassed at being less than “perfect.” But how incredible it is when someone looks right at us, during those times, seeing our tear-stained or grimacing saliva ridden face, seeing us as we are: a hot mess. Then, with eyes bright with love says without reservation, “I love you exactly as you are.”

And, because we were willing to dive right into the mud puddle, we share something more perfect than a cultivated strived-for clean perfection. We share in the glorious messy of life and find delight and connection there.

Yep. You can call me a hot mess. I like myself that way.

Originally published at on June 18, 2020.



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Marijke McCandless

Marijke McCandless

Marijke McCandless is an awareness practitioner, playfulness instigator and award-winning writer. Her recipe? Listen. Play. Write.