Sometimes I feel whole. And sometimes I feel like a fraud, like my life is cropped out of the square images of my Instagram feed. I crop, you crop, we all crop for comments.
Today I am interviewed by New York magazine for an article on blog “celebrities” and the toll that sort of success takes on one’s personal life. The reporter’s assistant sends an email asking me to offer my perspective on the internet, authenticity, and criticism online: What is it like having your life publicly scrutinized? Is criticism justified when it arrives in emoji grids and anonymous comments? Is anyone and everyone entitled to shout into the megaphone of social media?
I do not know the answers to her questions, but the phone rings, and I answer. I warm to her immediately as we chat about recent travels, summer plans, and then a question.
“Is your house really that white and perfect?”
I am caught off guard. I am sitting cross-legged on my unmade bed. To my right, the twisted plug of our carpet cleaner—the dog has peed again—peeks out from under a pile of laundry. To my left, the open window reveals a backyard overtaken by weeds and the rotting remains of a hand-me-down wooden swing set badly in need of repair.
Just this morning, I discovered a blue chalk doodle on the wall in front of me, evidence of Bee’s creative but maddening habit of drawing “murals” in every room of the home.
I do not remember how I answer the question. I remember only that in answering the question, I begin to question it all.
Am I encouraging perfection within my own white walls? Am I promoting consumerism each time I share the newest mascara, the floral notebook, the graphic “But First, Coffee” tee? Am I offering the false impression that this eco-friendly wooden toy will make you a better mother? That this brambleberry lip stain will make you a better wife? That the new Eckhart Tolle book, the new Birkenstocks, the new fill-in-the-blank will make you a better woman?
Have I been doling out small, stale consumerist bread crumbs when what readers need—what we all need—is a tall drink of water?
I am no longer listening, and the interview is finished. I lean back on my duvet, recalling the reporter’s curiosity about the state of my perfect little white home.
My house is not perfect. And my house is perfect. It is both and it is neither. It matters only what we see.
In Los Angeles, on Catalina Avenue, I saw rusty porch swings. I saw the dirty bar on the corner, the chain-link fence down the street, the ocean just blocks away, but would you look at that garbage can overflowing onto the pier?
In the Midwest, I saw a dying father-in-law in hospice. I saw childhood sheets, bankruptcy, failure, midnight crossword puzzles, and the occasional cheerful houseplant.
And now, on Winterfield [in Indiana], I see everything. I see that the messy pantry is cause not for reorganizational purge but a prayer of gratitude for plenty. Nourishment.
That a sink full of dirty dishes presents not a mindless chore but lingering evidence of a gift. Community.
That overturned glitter in a toddler’s room is not an intentional interruption in my day, but a child’s attempt to capture beauty. Creativity.
And when I see these gifts as a long list of daily defeats, this is okay too.
A speck of dust in my eye, that’s all. (I blame the glitter.)
Once when I was a kid, my grandparents took me to a mall with a merry-go-round in the center. My sisters and cousins piled onto circus animals. I grew sick after the first orbit as I watched the crowds become a cloud of oblivion. I dizzied, and rested my head on the jeweled camel to my side.
My cousin shouted over the pouncing tiger she’d saddled, “Just focus on one point! Look at the center!”
This is hard to do today when there are a million faces in your crowd. There are hundreds of friends, acquaintances, colleagues on your Instagram feed sharing their own bejeweled camels, their own painted donkeys. The big tent looks brighter from the outside. And have you seen that three-ring circus cake on Pinterest?
It is enough to dizzy us all.
It’s a fear of missing out on things, perhaps. What if the reason no one else seems to have gigantic suitcases under their eyes is because they’ve all discovered the magical tightening serum on clearance while we’ve been distracted by the cucumber exfoliant?
On paper, on a good day, I know these doubts to be silly and trivial and enormously vain. But on a bad day, with wet hair and an empty coffee cup, when my toddler is playing bongo drums on my rear and I can feel the jiggle-jiggle, the silly and trivial and enormously vain seep in and I jot down a mental note to peruse Amazon reviews for Spanx.
You cannot imagine the frustration this causes my husband, Ken. He will do the good and worthy work of offering me a compliment on my latest skin regimen, and then, two weeks later, I’ve switched up the routine and there is a Mount St. Helens on my nose.
“Why mess up a good thing?” he asks.
“Because I wanted to try out a better thing,” I reply.
My house is not perfect. Your house is not perfect. Our lives aren’t, either.
And yet they are uniquely ours, dizzy with the choices that have shaped our past, that are shaping our now. We are doing ourselves no favors when we look to the crowd to tell us who we are.
We are here. We are riding our painted horses into the sunset, our jeweled camels through the desert. We are here, today, for now, and you can simply forget about the rest.
Copyright © 2017 by Erin Loechner. Used by permission of Zondervan, zondervan.com. All rights reserved.