friday roundup: your brain on messy, habit vs. originality, and “in his very good hands”

When I see this, all I can think of to say is, "Please pass the chain saw."

When I see this tidiness, all I can think of to say is, “Please pass the chain saw.”

Happy Friday, Reader. Later roundup than usual today, but the kids have no school and I slept in until 8:30. It’s a whole different way to be behind on everything, but I’m embracing it. Let’s get right down to business:

your brain on messy It’s possible that a piece of writing has never made me so happy as this article from the New York Times. The article summarizes recent research that, while a tidy environment “elicit(s) a desire for convention, a messy  environment “lead(s) people away from convention, in favor of new directions.” A follow-up study, which looked specifically at creativity, “found a remarkable boost from being in the messy room” vs. the tidy room.

HALLELUJAH READER! I made husband, He of Little Mess, read the article right away as proof that my messy desk area serves a purpose. And why not extend it a bit and decide that a messy household will actually produce more creative children? 🙂

I’m sure there are some very tidy people out there who are also very creative, but I’m going to try to embrace my messiness a little more now that I’ve read this article… at least until it gets to the point where the mess begins to crowd my mindspace — which can also happen. And in closing: Hail messiness!

habit vs. originality  Thinking about the tidy vs. messy article made me remember reading this article from about habit vs. originality. It seems to me that part of what a mess is extends to process, not just workspace: playing around, messily (I mean this literally and figuratively), with words and phrases in my notebook, for example. A mess of language helps me get to that stream of language that dwells beneath the surface. Taking this thing which belongs over here, and that thing which belongs over there and making them collide on the page helps me break through to new work, or just the right revision.

Embedded in the brainpickings article is a graphic that I printed out and hung above my desk to remind me to be — for lack of a better word — messy while I work. Some of the language is fairly technical and comes from Arthur Koestler’s The Act of Creation, but I think it’s still a helpful chart even if you haven’t read Koestler. Here’s a summary:


  • Association within the confines of a given matrix
  • Guidance by pre-conscious or extra-conscious processes
  • Dynamic equilibrium
  • Rigid or flexible as variations on a theme
  • Repetitiveness
  • Conservative


  • Bisociation of interdependent matrices (more an that here)
  • Guidance by sub-conscious processes normally under restraint
  • Activation of regenerative potentials
  • Super-flexibility
  • Novelty
  • Destructive-constructive

(I would put these two lists side by side if I could figure out how, because the items are in relationship to one another).

“in his very good hands”  Reader, here’s a poem from Kathleen Flenniken’s Plume. I think the poem is amazing in the way it creates a cast of characters and humanizes the subject of the poem, Herb Parker. I wrote Wednesay about how naming can boost immediacy in a poem, and I think Flenniken does that very effectively in Plume. After you read the poem, ask yourself: Would you have reacted to it differently if it had spoken of “the head of safety testing” rather than “Herb Parker.”

Ok, kids are calling, and I’m just about falling asleep at my keyboard despite my lie-in this morning. I hope this week’s roundup gives you a few things to gnaw on, and have a wonderful weekend.

2 thoughts on “friday roundup: your brain on messy, habit vs. originality, and “in his very good hands”

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