When I hear the word “glue,” I get an image of a square Elmer’s bottle with an orange twist cap. It was a staple school supply through my early educational years, and I still keep a couple of bottles around for when I’m feeling crafty.
Glue. It’s sticky. It binds. It holds things together. It keeps things in their intended places and ensures that pieces won’t shift over time. It helps children and crafters around the world create the exact projects that their minds have imagined, and it does all of this while being transparent. It’s as if it works its magic in silence. It’s not boastful, and though it’s not in the foreground, you know it’s there.
I’ve recently made some collages, and while the projects were under construction, they were nothing more than a smattering of related images sliding to and fro about the surface. Uncontrollable, messy, frustrating, and jumbled. My unglued images behaved like unhinged puzzle pieces looking for a place to belong. Searching desperately for their rightful place, wanting nothing more than to settle down and create some roots—they shifted and danced across the surface with the passing of a slight, gentle breeze. An unsteady movement of my hand. An accidental bump into the work station. The most modest, unwanted activity would send my unfastened images into a frenzy.
It was time. They had to be glued. It was as if they were calling out for it. There was no way that the project could be complete without it. This was intended to be a piece of art. Everything had its place, and there was a place for everything. Glue made that possible.
Glue plays a similar role in my life. Though I’m not using the Elmer’s variety, I use other tools, tactics, and devices to hold the seemingly unsteady pieces of my life in their rightful places. The last thing I want to do is go through life as an unglued mess. My goodness—that would be awful. The Picasso woman makes more since than the jumbled, haphazard form that my life would take if I decided to leave my pieces unaffixed.
Responding wildly to every gentle breeze, reacting uncontrollably to the slightest touch, behaving recklessly as a result of the microscopic shifts around me. The thought puts butterflies in my stomach. It’s frightening and chaotic, and I can’t imagine living such a life.
The truth is I can’t imagine living a life that unhinged, but over time I have learned that a little mess won’t kill me. As much as I love glue and the perfection that it allows me to create, I know that I’m not perfect—nothing close to it, and my life isn’t a vision of impeccability. Honestly, on my best days, my life is far more Weeping Woman than Mona Lisa, and I’ve learned to be ok with that. It’s taken some time (well, lots of time), but I’ve learned to appreciate small doses of chaos. It lets me know that I’m alive, that I don’t have it all figured out yet, and it motivates me to work harder.
Self-discovery, self-development, and self-improvement can only happen as a result of a little mayhem. It’s only when we stumble over a bit of confusion and clutter in our lives that we decide to do a little spring cleaning in an effort to restore order and put things in their rightful places. Such spring cleaning might come on the heels of a break-up, after the loss of a loved one, or after completing a daunting task that seemed to take over every aspect of your life. However it happened, you looked up one day and realized that you’d made a mess of things, or someone had been thoughtful enough to gift you a piece of their hell. Either way, that’s when your spring cleaning begins, and that’s when you pull out your glue. I guess what I’m saying is slightly clichéd, but it’s so dog’on true: you need a little mess to fully appreciate all of your spick-and-span bits. And to go a step further, most of the time your mess is the fuel of your strength. Try to remember that the next time you experience a system failure in your life. That off-kilter moment could be the set-up that your next dose of good fortune was waiting for.
Jasmynne-Shaye Robbins is the author of Still Standing and The Golden Penny. She is also the writer, producer, and performer of the acclaimed one-woman show, Stepping On a Few Toes. She is a current doctoral candidate at Pepperdine University. Connect with Jasmynne-Shaye at JasmynneShaye.com.