Underneath the mess everything is marvelous. I’m sure of it.

“What I want is to open up. I want to know what’s inside me. I want everybody to open up. I’m like an imbecile with a can-opener in his hand, wondering where to begin – to open up the earth. I know that underneath the mess everything is marvelous. I’m sure of it.

I know it because I feel so marvelous myself most of the time. And when I feel that way everybody seems marvelous… everybody and everything… even pebbles and pieces of cardboard… a match stick lying in the gutter… anything… a goat’s beard, if you like. That’s what I want to write about… and then we’re all going to see clearly, see what a staggering, wonderful, beautiful world it is.” -Henry Miller

I have had this quote tucked away in my special cigar box for over 20 years. The cigar box is full of sacred items – old photographs of family, love notes, birth certificates… And this.

Photography is one of my ways in. It’s my superhighway into the marvelous. I see those pink petals against the fog and my heart leaps a little. I look through the viewfinder and get that zing in my belly just before the shutter goes click. Even on the hardest of days, the beauty of the world can pull me back. I can literally see the world through a different lens – one that honors the miraculous. The bright green sprig of life bursting through a crack in the sidewalk, the way the white petals fall like confetti onto the concrete, the impossibly long lashes of my boys.

Underneath the mess everything is marvelous. I’m sure of it.

For many years, gratitude practices eluded me. I didn’t feel grateful. I just felt ashamed… for all that I was blessed with and how sad I still felt.

What I was still able to do however was appreciate beauty. And this saved me. Those glittery beads of dew on the grass, the clouds I found in puddles of water, the inside of a dandelion. They saved me from being swallowed up by grief.

When we can catch glimpses into the marvelous, it is a gift. Be on the lookout today. And if you are in a place where gratitude is hard to access, see if you can find some simple beauty. For me, it was the most powerful kind of medicine.


  1. M Payne
    Posted February 25, 2014 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    I love this, Andrea. I, too, have struggled to find a grateful practice that fills me up- photography might be a way to step outside all the noise in my head and just be. Brene Brown says the same thing, as do my friends who are photographers for a living – I will try it! I’m so excited the blossoms are out again!!

  2. Posted February 25, 2014 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    I’m so with you. I know that even on a “bad” day my life is enviable to someone else. And I’ve never been able to keep up with gratitude practices for the same reasons. But I’m feeling a bit more inspired to look at it a new way.

  3. Posted February 25, 2014 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Taking photos has pulled me through a lot of bumps and grounded me when things are tricky. When things are easier it is still my quickest way to joy ? Lovely post Andrea and great quote saved all that time.

  4. Posted February 25, 2014 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for reminding me to look for the moments of beauty. The moments are everything, really.

  5. Posted February 25, 2014 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    I am going to put this quote in MY cigar box now. You nailed it. 100% this is how I feel about life. If you can see the beauty in the littlest things, you are golden. I think it is the impetus behind everything Maya and I are doing. We don’t even need to look that hard, it’s right in front of us. In the Pez and the tulip bulbs on my kitchen counter. The smell of the chili I’m cooking. The song playing on Pandora. The sounds of her fingers on the keys next to me. The sight of the snow melting on the deck. My wind chimes on the front porch. Everything. Everything.

  6. Mariella
    Posted February 25, 2014 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    Yes! Me too! Reading this makes my heart happy.

  7. Posted February 25, 2014 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    I think about photography and beauty a lot, and that the reason I took pictures was because it was a way to hold onto beauty and my vision. I could find beauty through my lens, in nature. It showed me a vision of the world of possibility and hope and wonder I always believed was there, even if I couldn’t see it in my life, in me, back then.

  8. Posted February 25, 2014 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    Sometimes I think some of these practices, like gratitude practice, falls flat at times because we’re trying too hard to conjure something up inside ourselves, which if we’re unsuccessful, just feels like another way to beat on ourselves when we fail in the conjuring.

    But beauty is another thing altogether. It is always around us, everywhere, whether we notice it or we don’t. And it is impassive regarding our noticing. The flowers are going to bloom and be beautiful whether we stop to look at them or not. They won’t even hold it against us if we just walked on by without a glance. And they will be just as beautiful and welcome us back when we do stop to notice.

    These quietest of moments, of noticings, of humility and grace…there is nothing in them to harm ourselves with.

  9. Posted February 25, 2014 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    At a time when I could hardly see, you handed me a can-opener and a map. I adore you.

  10. Posted February 25, 2014 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    This is wonderful. I’d never seen that quote before – makes me curious about Henry Miller! Enjoying the simply beauty of the path in the grass made by our dog.

  11. Milly
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Andrea. As ever, you find a way to verbalise thoughts and feelings that hover elusively in the outer reaches of my mind. Thoughts and feelings I thought were quirks of me, but it turns out I am far from alone. When I am taking photos, when I am truly looking and seeing the world around me, then I feel all at once vibrantly alive and totally at peace.

  12. Posted February 27, 2014 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    Having struggled with depression for quite a while and stubborn about any sort of pills, I find myself in total agreement with you: gratitude is the most powerful kind of medicine. My journey out of misery began when I started taking your photography courses and continues with my daily gratitude journaling. Thank you!

  13. Posted February 27, 2014 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    This is exactly what I needed to read today as grief and I become fast friends. I will take your words and my camera with me today as I spend another bittersweet day with my beloved father. Thank you for this post.

  14. Posted February 27, 2014 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    I love your blog. Sometimes I’m moved to tears about the beauty around me, in all things- people, experiences, music, animals….it’s just a matter of being present I find. Other times this beauty eludes me, as I become consumed and stressed about mostly insignificant things and “chasing my tail”. I just picked up my SLR camera last night, after a long hiatus, funny I should come across this today!

  15. Posted February 27, 2014 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    Taking those photos is like capturing a prayer. And aren’t you grateful you saw those dew drops? You just need to change the aperture on your personal gratitude viewfinder. When you send out the photos of your kids, I know those moments are ones you’re grateful for. I think sometimes we save gratitude for really big occasions and that’s not where it’s at. I’m just blogging about this today.

  16. karen
    Posted February 27, 2014 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    such a beautiful quote. thank you for sharing your cigar box treasure. i can’t believe Miller wrote it. i never associate him with beauty. always found his books a tad self-centered and macho. but i did read them in my 20s so maybe i need to revisit. or maybe he was on lsd when he wrote this ?

  17. Posted February 27, 2014 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    What a lovely post, Andrea. Thank you! thought my tussle with sustaining a gratitude practice was mine alone. I will follow your lead and use my camera to fill my heart with beauty as a way to practice gratitude.

  18. Posted February 27, 2014 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    Andrea, Thank you for sharing the gift of the Henry Miller quote and your response to it. I am going to copy the quote into my sketchbook: a place where I keep treasured quotes along with drawings and ideas for new images. We can all stand to be reminded to breath and to look outside ourselves while drowning within.

  19. Viv
    Posted February 28, 2014 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Thankyou for sharing your thoughts they have really hit home..

  20. Posted March 1, 2014 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    your words hit home and resonate with my heart…i understand.

  21. Posted March 1, 2014 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    Lovely photo, lovely words. Beautiful share from your secret stash. Thank you for the gifts you share here.

    “Taking pictures is savoring life intensely, every hundredth of a second.”

    – Marc Riboud

  22. Posted March 2, 2014 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    Yes. Yes. The bits of visual and written poetry have saved me time and again.

  23. Posted March 5, 2014 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    You had me at the title. Since it’s something of a mantra of mine that grows stronger and more insistent with every passing year. Having a blog, having creative projects of many varieties, and having a personal Pilates practice all save me from my mind day in and day out.

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