When you make a mess

March 19, 2012  

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

How it ended up like this I cannot say. I know I didn’t intend for it to happen. But happen it did. Not all at once—these things never unfold all at once—but slowly, like how spring turns to summer or twilight melts into full dark.

And it’s dark now, oh yes it is. Metaphorically, anyway. It’s just after one in the afternoon on a beautiful Saturday, and in this, at least, I’ve found a blessing. It’s early still. Which means if I get started now, I can get this mess cleaned up by tonight.

It started simply, as most messes do. And also like most messes, I went into it with the absolute best of intentions. And yet what was to be a quick trip upstairs to straighten my office has resulted in an apocalypse of papers and books the likes of which seem almost Biblical. My wife nearly called 911 when she walked in a few minutes ago. My kids dared me to ever tell them to throw away a notebook again. FEMA may have to be summoned.

I don’t know how this happened.

I promise you.

But that’s what we always say when we make a mess, isn’t it? Me, anyway. They’re often the first words out of my mouth—“I don’t know how this happened.” Followed closely by the points I’ve already mentioned:

I don’t know how things got this way.

I never wanted this.

I had the best of intentions.

Of course none of those matter, at least not now. All that counts is the mess. The whys and hows are irrelevant.

The only question is how I’m going to clean it up.

It won’t be easy. Messes never are. It requires digging through the garbage you’ve made for yourself. Cleaning up a mess hurts so much because along the way you always discover those things that should have mattered but were somehow forgotten instead (like the I love you Daddy! card I just found mashed into a novel I never finished reading). It hurts because so much damage has been done that you think things will never really be fixed—the mess will always be there, and things will never be the same again.

And in that moment of absolute remorse, a part of you believes that’s the way it should be. You messed up. You—the one who is old enough and wise enough to know better, the one who’s witnessed friends and family and strangers on the television news make their own messes and said “That’ll never be me.”



So here I sit, in my mess.

For me, in this moment, it consists of little more than notebooks and papers and half-finished manuscripts and, amazingly enough, a half-eaten box of Fiddle Faddle. For you, things may be much worse.

Trust me when I say that makes no difference. When it comes to a mess, there are no degrees. A mess is a mess. And you and I will get through our messes together. We will fix things.

For me, it’s book by book. For you, perhaps relationship by relationship.

Paper by paper.

I’m sorry by I’m sorry.



Minute by minute.

Day by day.

We will straighten and clean. We will dust off the important things we’ve misplaced and toss out those things we thought we needed but didn’t. We’ll put away and take out.

We will make things sparkle again.

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6 Responses to “When you make a mess”

  1. When you finish, come clean my office… 

  2. Joanne Sher says:

    Yup. So much to clean up.

  3. Hazel Moon says:

    The mess on my desk is mostly receipts and bank statements that I need to go through.  Finally I have last years receipts ready to itemize and do my taxes..  It is difficult to clean up when a person needs (or thinks they need) to save everything.

  4. Good reminders. Messes can be cleaned up, but some take a lot longer than others.

    Incidentally, my older daughter has over 160 notebooks in her room currently! Not to mention binders and scads of computer and iPad files filled with writings and drawings. 

  5. Congrads on the multi-book deal with TN BC. :) 

  6. […] when you make a mess – Billy Coffey […]

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