On Mess

The backyard is a mess, all pot plants lined up in rows with good intentions, lovingly planted and then abandoned at the first sight of some other distraction. I garden like I do everything else in life: in short sprints, tackled over a week of high motivation and high spirits. Then a day off in bed, or a day where someone asks me to do something else and every project is abandoned to wilt and wither on its own. I have a period where I’m remarkably good at growing mint. I know, it’s a weed that will literally grow anywhere and take over any garden, but I check it obsessively everyday, noting its growth and the little spidery leaf patterns feathering out across the clay pot I found in hard rubbish last year. Then I forget about the mint too and the next time I glance at it as I shuffle past, it has been devoured by a family of snails that hug plumply to the inside rim of the pot, sleeping throughout the day and sliding in ecstasy upon my minty leaves at night. I prise each snail off the pot individually with a slight sucking sound and throw them over the neighbour’s fence.

Somewhere in the veggie patch I constructed during the first week of lockdown there exists a bountiful harvest, but its been merrily covered over by a lush growth of grass. Somehow the lawn growing in the veggie patch looks better than the lawn on the actual lawn. It’s big and bushy, extending far beyond the concrete collars built to hold its growth. My beard mirrors the lawn, strong amidst the elements, soaking up the early morning dew and slightly steaming as I perform my morning exercise: a sideways shuffle from the backdoor to the shed, clasping a cup of coffee and plate with two pieces of Vegemite toast, cursing the dew that finds its way inside my Ugg boots through the gaping holes my toes have scratched to freedom over the last six years. I made the dubious choice of giving up shaving, some eight weeks ago when I realised I’d be teaching from home. Over the first couple weeks of video lessons it seemed like a wise choice: pausing a shaving routine that regularly takes about twenty minutes, once every two weeks, and dedicating that time instead towards practicing guitar. Now it seems like I probably should have just kept shaving during the pandemic. My guitar playing hasn’t improved in two months and students gasp when I come on-screen, mistaking me for some derelict desert-island shed-dweller who has accidentally stumbled his way on to the internet and clicked on their Zoom link through sheer happenstance.

The bedroom is a mess, all cups and plates and empty biscuit packets, strewn across the bed and desk, tucked on to shelves, hidden inside drawers, spilling out of the two rubbish bins (his and hers, but somehow they’re both hers) that adorn each side of the bed. The term curmudgeon was uttered last month, in a period of intense lock-down fever, and it has somehow evolved into crumb-dungeon, and that’s what this space is, a literal crumb-dungeon of unhappiness. Biscuit packets crunch when I step out of bed in the middle of the night. I clank and clatter through the armfuls of teaspoons that have been absent-mindedly slipped under the pillow as I try to retrieve a lifetimes worth of books from behind the bedhead I bought from an elderly Croatian man last year.

The mess extends throughout the house, coalescing in odd spots, like the lump of chocolate that somehow wound up melted onto my yoga mat in a fanciful shape that oddly resembles an unrevealed eighth continent, or the seven cups that take up residence on an ironing board in the spare room (only discovered because I literally couldn’t find a mug to hold my coffee) or the load of washing that absent-mindedly gets washed and abandoned in the washing machine, only to get re-washed and re-abandoned twice more in the same week. It’s an odd storage method for clothes to be sure, but maybe it’s a new colour revival technique, bound to grace the colour of Women’s Weekly’s next edition.

My head is a mess. Imagine a sink, filled with hot soapy water. Then add in a cup of oil, two weeks worth of dishes, the flakey remnants of last week’s attempt to make sourdough, and half a dozen banana skins for good luck. Get out your fishing rod, because its time to fish for ideas. At times I question why I’m struggling to spark inspiration. Well it seems its because even if I manage to hook something in amidst this murky morose mess, by the time I’ve prised it from the depths and scraped off the layers of dish suds, oil and dough I discover it’s either one of the same seven mugs that have eluded me for two weeks or a banana skin. And I wonder why my songs recently have begun to echo the same tired tropes.

But there’s a beauty amidst the mess. Like when Neil Douglas was asked about Jackson Pollock, or when Sufjan wrote an epic twenty-five minute musing on the five stages of grief, or when The Necks did anything at all. Without the chaos around the edges of life, the ordered bits in the middle start to become stagnant. They smell off and the weeds grows thick and fast across the surface, until you have a lawn where you once had a veggie patch, a lawn where you once had a face, a lawn where once you had a life.


  1. What’s it all about Alfie? I’m not a proper muso, but every night l lock myself in the shed and play for my 3 dogs. Somedays I’m inspired, somedays I’m not. I never seem to get the things done , that l should have. But some days are alright. I suppose that’s life.

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