Slack 12/Flickr*
Slack 12/Flickr*

In the often-surprising “Lives” page of last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, Robin Black told the story of how her family’s dilapidated home was scouted by a reality tv producer for a show about houses so “spectacularly unkempt” that they make their neighbors mad. At first Black and her husband are shocked and somewhat embarrassed, then they warm to the idea. Caught up in the idea that “our failings would turn us into stars”, they convince themselves of a pat sitcom-ish pitch for the audition tape as to why their place is so untended: of good-natured overachievers – lives rife with interest and accomplishment – who couldn’t possibly do it all. It was a far cry from the actual reasons for their house’s disrepair, which she and her husband see all too clearly when they weren’t chosen for the show after all:

How did this happen? Really? There were unanticipated losses, grief that enveloped us for years. A stillbirth. A beloved child with special needs. Challenges we never imagined we’d confront. None of it amusing. Nothing like a situation comedy. We’d let go of so many easy assumptions, and in the process we let other things go as well. Gradually, we adjusted, even became stronger. But the evidence of our faltering remained, the facade of our home stubbornly unable to mend itself.

The REAL story is a valiant and and unglamorous one: of people busy dealing with truly difficult things, improvising solutions moment-by-demanding-moment, showing up for what was really important; they didn’t have the wherewithal to maintain the house and compete with the “monolithically well tended” properties around them.

Unanticipated losses, “challenges we never imagined we’d confront”, are all part of ‘the improvised life’, often calling forth more strength and creativity than we even know we are capable of, as we are forced to let go of things we thought were supposed to be.

Messy, shabby or in disarray can be a reminder of just how wild life can get, and how fierce the unkempt heart…


Top photo courtesy of Slack 12 via Creative Commons License.

Last photo courtesy of Rutlo via Creative Commons License.

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7 replies on “what unkempt or messy or shabby can mean

  1. What a fantastic tidbit of life. As the parent of a child with special needs, this post offers amazing comfort! I just love your blog —

  2. What a thoughtful post. Now I’ll think about the people inside those houses when I drive by them, rather than the mess outside.

  3. There is something charming about the red front door with the flag suspended above it and the paint holding on for dear life. I live on a street with a house such as this one. Never have I ascribed it as “charming”-thoughts of blowing it up have actually crossed my mind. I think will walk by it today with a renewed and altered perspective.
    Thanks for the gentle reminder.

  4. The outer always reflects the inner. When I am in turmoil internally, my house is always a mess. When I resolve to clean the place up, it’s a sign I’m getting clearer inside.

  5. Why is this building so beautiful?

    It reflects something true and different. It is not an unoriginal cookie-cutter house without spirit.

  6. Except for the slightly unsafe appearing stoop I love the cozy welcoming look. The perfection of NEW can be boring, this home has personality!

  7. I love this house, too; wish I could see a fuller picture of it. It looks a hundred years old, and the white-painted wood siding flaking off is always charming in an older home, a prerequisite for any lover of old homes.

    And without question, someone loves this home: the purple flowers pushing through the porch rails and the red ones flanking the porch in baskets testify to that! I think I might frame this photograph and hang it on my wall…just beautiful!

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