As a kid, I was a frequent journaler. For birthdays or at the height of the school year, I’d receive fresh new stacks of composition notebooks, ready to be scrawled upon in childish loops.

They were my favorite things. The possibility, the hope, the faith of discovering something new via the written word. A hundred blank pages awaited me, and I’d lay belly-down on a lazy afternoon to find myself amidst the metal spirals, the opaque lines.

But something happened, every time.

I’d write the wrong word on that fresh new page, would need to cross it out. Or I wouldn’t like the slant of my “A” and would scribble over it, start over. Or my pen would dry and I’d have to stop mid-sentence and finish with a pencil.

The page looked messy, so I started a new one.

But of course, that page would get messy, too, and soon enough, I’d have three pages with half-filled, incoherent doodles and scratches and scribbles, and I’d think, Nothing to salvage here. Let’s move on.

I have never used an entire notebook. I have never made it to the final page, have never allowed the mess long enough to look at it, to see it, to hold it up to the light, to attempt to find beauty in it.

I’ve just always turned the page, made a mistake, turned the page, made a mistake, and ten pages and mistakes in, I’ve abandoned the notebook entirely to start afresh.

Write, wreck, abandon.

And this is how it is with my friendships.

I could offer a million excuses. The pens weren’t ideal, the pages were skewed, that the surface I’ve been writing on for years has bumpy and uneven, hardly strong enough to withstand one hundred pages.

She wasn’t the right friend for me, I’d tell Ken.
She was unfair, she was unkind, she was unsupportive, he’d say.
But it was me who was unforgiving, I’d tell him.

We all know writing is a matter of perspective.

We all know the pen holds more weight in an author’s hand.

Once, a gallery director I know told me about the work of Harold Hollingsworth. It’s full of mess: scrawled handwriting, wrinkled paper, shredded words.

It’s beautiful.

Can life not imitate art?
Can friendships?

It’s hard work to bare your flaws, to piece them together, to allow them to be seen – unframed, exposed – against the walls of another. It’s hard work to look at the cutting room floor and see a string of misunderstandings, misplaced expectations, cropped truths.

The simple solution:
Write, wreck, abandon.

The more complex, more difficult, more beautiful one:
Write, wreck, salvage.

Perhaps this is the truest form of friendship, then: to trust that even amidst scribbles and silence, scrawled words and selfishness, uneven loops and strained words, the whole can be made lovely again.

That we needn’t start over from scratch with a new page entirely.

Collage artists are famous for knowing what can be salvaged and what can not. Once, in a Portland diner over greasy burgers, an artist friend of mine said this:

All can be salvaged. All of it. You can’t throw it away, because you’ll need it. Each and every time.

The trick, in some circumstances, is to live amongst the chaos, the strain, the mess. To scribble out what you need, edit what you don’t, keep the page as long as you can. Allow a friendship to sit openly, bare, to run its course, to gather dust at times, to ignite inspiration at others.

You can’t throw it away, because you’ll need it.

I’ve never witnessed a collage artist’s process, but I do know this: it gets worse before it gets better. The mess comes before the beauty. Cuts must be endured, reconciled, salvaged before a page can be used anew.

Written and wrecked.

Some art is abandoned, left behind among dustbunnies and scraps. Others are reconciled, glued together into a glorious piece of complexities, of art, of layers, of depth.

Can life not imitate art?
Can friendships?

All can be salvaged. All of it.

The notebooks, the scraps, the artist herself.

  • Erin,
    I have been reading your blog for about a year, and have constantly been encouraged by your honesty and vulnerability and wisdom. So often, you write things that I understand exactly and things that I need to hear. This post was full of those things.
    Of course, I know you no more than what you show of yourself here, but I think we might be a bit similar — perfectionists with roots in worthy desires for beauty and goodness in all we do. I, too, am a lover of Jesus, forever learning how to live my life in his love and freedom and grace. I, too, am a journaler and a journaler who rips pages out and abandons entries and notebooks (literally and metaphorically). At the very moment that I read this post, I was taking a break in the midst of journaling about a situation that I made a bit of a mess of — certainly not the first one, either.
    In my perfectionism, I would prefer that I hadn’t made the mistakes. I, too, try to justify, but sometimes I was just wrong. So, I usually chastise myself quite severely and move away from the situation to avoid any further imperfection and discomfort,
    But, lately, Jesus has been teaching me about intimacy without fear in his perfect love. This means pressing on and pressing in to look at my mistakes and learn from them because his discipline and teaching are gentle and perfect and good, and He is gracious and redemptive. He remembers that I am dust and His arm is not too short to walk with His stumbling little children when we want to hold His hand.
    This God who sees our sin, failure, mistakes, and imperfections has never been a God who abandons His creation. He has always been a God who salvages and redeems. This gives me great peace and joy because of who He is, because of what it means for our lives and our world, and because I know that we are created in His image and can do the same salvaging, redeeming work by the power of His love and His blood shed for the world!
    I don’t really know if any of this is as coherent as I hope it is, and I don’t know if it will mean anything to you. Mostly I just wanted to finally say thank you for your writing, for what you have taught me, and for the beauty that is cultivated by your life. So, thank you.
    My prayer for you is that our perfect, redeeming, and patient Father continues to teach you this art of salvaging and redemption in His love and grace.

    • Oh Megan, thank you for this note of encouragement! I appreciate you taking the time to write it, to send it, to share it. What a gift.

  • “Allow a friendship to sit openly, bare, to run its course, to gather dust at times, to ignite inspiration at others.” Love this. Love you.

  • I try not to offer unsolicited advice but… be the friend you want to have; forgive yourself, forgive them, love yourself, love them; trust in the ebb and flow of friendships, know some will last a lifetime even if you only see that person once a year, others will burn bright for a few weeks then burn out. It’s all okay. Listen deeply to that inner voice that says “fix this one, do something” or “it’s okay to let it go, don’t beat yourself up” because I know it’s there if you listen. Love with all your heart (yourself most of all!). Hugs, Erin!! There’s nothing wrong with you, your friendships, or your use of journals. = )

    • I LOOOOVE your unsolicited advice. Thank you, friend. Forgiveness is tricky, isn’t it? I once heard an unforgiving heart compared to burning down your own house to rid it of snakes. The snakes slither away, and you’re left holding the ashes. So true, so true, so true. Thank you for your kindness. :)

  • Hi Erin,

    I recently started to read you, your words are literally like a poem to me. They speak so much to the depths of my heart. Stuff just lying in deep layers of my heart, things I never thought anyone would care to know about. You speak to that decadent part of my heart. Keep writing, you sound like the most honest person ever can be. Thanks for your gift.

  • I’m similar. I lose faith in my writing, my friends and find a little flaw in everything so it all needs to be scrapped and redone, nearly constantly. It’s tiring and erases all of my footprints like the tide.

    • Yes, yes, yes. I’m working on this as well. Progress can sometimes be a clouded mirror, but I think I’m getting there. :)

  • Oh this is just so beautiful! And honest. And ‘me’. Thank you for sharing your heart. I just ‘found you’, and am going to spend the day getting lost in your words. Or at least until my responsibilities start shouting at me ;)

  • Mess makes us uncomfortable, doesn’t it? We have to be willing, I think, to live with it at least for awhile. There are stories to hear in what’s laid bare on the floor. I need to learn to sit with discomfort, mess, and all the scraps and stop trying so hard for tidy.It’s a control thing.

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