What Do We Mean By “Messy?”

Thanks, everyone who left thoughtful comments on yesterday’s post!

from Flickr user JugglerPM, used under CC license
from Flickr user JugglerPM, used under CC license

I wanted to clarify a few points:

#1 Some of you pointed out that “messy” can be a useful term and shouldn’t be lumped in with the careles use of “manic,” “bipolar,” “psychotic,” etc.

You’re probably right. ‘Messy’ is in a different category, and we all have messes in our lives.

I’m not objecting to the use of ‘messy’ per se. I’m objecting to the way “messy” is thrown out there on the Internet as a “just folks” line when every other marker indicates the absolute opposite. (See the example under point #3)

It’s like when people who were clearly cool and popular in high school try to backtrack and say they were actually nerdy outsiders once being a nerdy outsider became its own kind of cool.

#2 I do realize that wealth and privilege are no barrier against mental illness, alcoholism, and abusive, horrific family situations.

And I’m sorry if that wasn’t clear.

Those who’ve read The Glass Castle know that (spoiler!) Jeannette Walls’ mother was in fact sitting on real estate valued at over a million dollars while her children scrounged in the garbage cans for food.

{There’s also this horrific story of the “Poorest Rich Kids in the World” in Rolling Stone}

However, I wanted to make clear my appreciation for Jeannette Walls’ refusal to romanticize her upbringing, especially in a cultural moment that occasionally indulges in nostalgie de la boue–this sense that poverty is somehow ennobling and simple and even desirable. I’m

#3 I do (tentatively of course) stand by my hunch that middle- and upper-middle class folks curate a certain image and then protesteth that image much.

Example? Jen Hatmaker’s post on her family’s new reality show on HGTV, where she talks about how chaotic and crazy they all are (“we are doomed, cause we can lay us down some crazy”) and how horrible and wrecked their fixer-upper of a house is and yet, somehow, every person and every room in every photo is nothing less than adorable.

Edith Schaeffer kept quiet about the ‘messiness’ of her life with the well-known teacher and author Francis Schaeffer and presented a highly polished and competent picture of herself to the world. That’s what was acceptable and desirable in her day.

In our day, it seems, we want people to admit to ‘messiness’ but only if can still be picturesque, somehow.

That’s weird to me, and, not to belabor the point, may trivialize real suffering. I’m not calling people’s ‘first-world problems’ unimportant or non-existent. I’m just saying we shouldn’t give credit for being ‘confessional’ and ‘raw’ if what’s being confessed isn’t all that raw, and just allows one to seem quirky and adorable instead of actually messed up.

Otherwise, we’re no better off than we were when we were just keeping up appearances. Only now, we have the pressure to keep up an “honest” and “raw” appearance that’s still cute. (See also: Manic Pixie Dream Girl or, better, Mindy Kaling’s New Yorker piece, “Flick Chicks.”)

#4 The point about the Trader Joe’s frozen dinners and Annie’s Organic boxed mac & cheese was not meant to imply that people who can provide such things have no problems.

Rather, as Emily Matchar pointed out in her very intelligent book Homeward Bound, the pressure on mothers to DIY it all perfectly and picturesquely has meant that for some people, Trader Joe’s frozen food represents failure. My point is that it clearly does not.

#5 Thanks for bearing with me.

Often my blog is a place to work out ideas in draft form. Thanks for helping me think through things a little more carefully!

Wait, Why Is Canning Your Own Jam Suddenly ‘Cool’?

I have a review of Emily Matchar’s new book Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity up at Christianity Today.

If you’ve ever wondered how and why knitting, canning, and quilting are ‘cool’ again, even–especially?–among urban twentysomethings, you’ll want to check it out.


My mother doesn’t knit or sew (much) and her mother didn’t either. My grandmother Charlotte was an editorial assistant in New York City in the 1960s and a self-described feminist; she owned a first-edition copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves. Boiling frozen Green Giant vegetables and broiling steaks were about the extent of her domestic work, and she reveled in fashionable clothes and in knowing at least a little something about the books “everyone” was talking about. When I was in second grade, we guffawed together over an illustration of a grandmother in a picture book I’d taken home from school. The grandmother was white-haired (my grandmother dyed hers until she died) and sitting in a recliner with a cat in her lap (my grandmother was violently allergic) while knitting something from garish colors of yarn (my grandmother never picked up a needle in her life unless she’d been forced to). “You’re not that kind of grandma, are you, Grandma?” I’d asked. “No, dearie. I’m not.”

If you think it strange that the granddaughter of a 60s urban feminist and anti-domestic relishes home cooking and sewing quilts and knitting sweaters for new babies, and, yes, gardening and preserving my own foods, think again. Americans are increasingly turning toward what writer Emily Matchar, in her new book Homeward Bound, calls the “New Domesticity.” It’s marked by an almost militant commitment to all things DIY (do-it-yourself); by a resurgence in interest in handcrafts like knitting, sewing, and embroidery; concern about food safety and environmental sustainability that expresses itself in a mania for home-grown, home-preserved, from-scratch cooking; a distrust of government and corporations that leads to things like homebirth, vaccine refusal, and homeschooling; and a disillusionment and dissatisfaction with contemporary work culture that leads people to “opt out,” filling their days instead with the kinds of homesteading work I’ve described along with a demanding style of parenting known as “attachment” parenting.

{Continue reading…}

Harnessing the ‘New Domesticity’ Without Diminishing Women

from my most recent post at the Christianity Today women’s blog

“In a recent opinion piece for the Washington Post, Emily Matchar, who writes regularly on the phenomenon frequently called the ‘new domesticity,’ wonders whether the resurgence of interest in canning, knitting, and generally DIY-spirited homekeeping is not, in fact, regressive–a ‘step back’ for women. Homekeeping, and all the domestic arts, are a minefield in our culture, often thought of–and treated as–degrading and menial work. The more creative domestic arts–sewing clothes, preserving food–are enjoying renewed popularity, and while Matchar concedes the pleasure to be found in making for yourself that which you’d otherwise purchase, she’s suspicious: after all, domestic work is unpaid work, and in a culture where women still earn, on average, less than their male counterparts, celebrating the domestic arts as creative, liberating fun is, for her, potentially dangerous:

If history is any lesson, my just-for-fun jar of jam could turn into my daughter’s chore, and eventually into my granddaughter’s “liberating” lobster strudel.”

For many within evangelicalism, the issue is further complicated by the ongoing debate on gender roles.


But if God keeps house, then housekeeping is both worthwhile and loosened from gendered stereotypes.”

(although one of the commenters doesn’t think so–“I maintain that Proverbs 31 and Titus 2 show pretty clearly that domesticity is the primary domain of a wife, not a man.”

Read it all here!

And leave a comment or question, if you so desire.