Temperance: On Making Messes and Cleaning Up

October 29, 2019

My house is a wreck right now. Last night’s pack of cigarettes tossed on the kitchen counter, dishes in the sink, spent tea-lights and a day-old cup of coffee and typewritten scraps strewn across my writing desk, tarot cards spilled all over the hardwood, bed in a state of particular disarray.

 

I’m what some people would deem a neat-freak by nurture—but I let my realm devolve like this, when my kaleidoscopic brain state needs some outward expression. I make these messes so I can clean them up.

 

I also do this thing, when I’m setting my weekly intentions. I write a little note to myself (a spell if you will) to guide my week, and sometimes they go like “I want this to be the last time that (fill in the blank)” or “It doesn’t feel good when I (do such and such)” or “I wish to rid myself of (whatever it is)” in an attempt steer myself away from the thought patterns and behaviors that sent me spiraling out of alignment in the first place.

 

The little notes help, for a few days. For a few days, I’m the picture of discipline. But there’s something lingering, like a faint outline of a face in the shadows of the fabrics in my closet, open at night, some moonlight slipping in through the window.

 

Some mornings, that lingering apparition waltzes right out into my room, takes my morning coffee out of my hand, steals a cigarette from my drawer, and lights that little note on fire.

 

Pretending something doesn’t exist doesn’t make it Not Real. Those phantoms—the selves/behaviors/patterns we may find ourselves slipping into—do exist, and they’re meant to. They’re happy phantoms, really, whose haunting purpose is to show us the scope of selves (from decidedly disciplined to unabashedly impulsive) that we can be. They also carry with them a severely simple notion that’s surprisingly difficult to practice: Temperance.

 

Somewhere in the mix of cards scattered across my bedroom floor lies Temperance: the card of balance, moderation, and stabilization. Amidst stressful, frantic, and manic energy—catapulting into your sphere by circumstance or internal misalignment—you are called to recover the abundance of patience that wells within you, to invite the flow of your life force back into a semblance of order (without forcing or resisting it).

 

In our back-and-forths, our jerks in-and-out of balance, exists a “productive tension.” It’s a sing-song, zig-zag, sea-saw, sweet spot, middle ground of seemingly dueling forces that can—with the right use of personalized alchemy—link pinkies, and actually get along. I imagine this productive tension vibrates at the comma inside the phrase Write Drunk, Edit Sober.

 

I presume it teeters on the fine line between ecstatic mania zapping hard-earned confidence into a full-blown case of the Fuck Its, and a stark and equally hard-earned tendency toward masochistic self-criticism. I envision it wobbling between two and five dirty (actually, filthy please) martinis.

 

Making messes, harnessing impulse, and saying yes to spontaneity brings the color and vibrancy to our lives, while collecting our thoughts, assessing our feelings, and disciplining our habits allows us to continue moving forward in an open (and a healthy) way.

 

It’s an elusive skill, this Temperance, with striking lessons at each end of the spectrum—from phantom patterns resurfacing to desperate perfectionism. I say—bless your messes. Lean into your passions and your whims and your manias. And when it’s time (you know when it’s time) to pull back, do so gently. Settle down, come back to the ground, and get to cleaning up.

 

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