#52 | The Ugly Part

“When I am in that darkness, I do not remember anything about anything human.” —Angela of Foligno (1248–1309)

An unhoused woman gave me this painting she had painted. Glad to finally get it framed.

In every renovation, building project, there are two parts – the pretty part and the ugly part.

The pretty part is what you are building toward – the end result, the reason you ripped out that wall, you pulled up those bushes, the inspiration derived from a picture you saw on Pinterest or in a magazine whose page is now ripped out and on your refrigerator. The pretty part is what you want the world, or at least your little section of it, to look like.

But to get there, you have to go through the ugly part. You have to have visqueen hanging in your house, you have to have a dumpster in your front yard, you have to have sawdust everywhere, you live with a pile of mulch in your driveway for a month.

And if you are not careful, the ugly part will wear you down. You will fall into despair, and will wonder if your dream will ever come to pass, if you will survive this, if the page hanging on your refrigerator is worth all this… mess.

Yesterday I cut down a hedge that surrounded our patio and took down a 12-foot-tall landscape screen that was 40 feet long. The task involved chainsaws, a sledgehammer, and garden loppers. And honestly? It looks like hell right now. Brush everywhere. Sawdust on everything. My arms have deep scratches. The ugly fence the screen was, well, screening is now in full view. I am ass deep in the ugly part.

But if I hang on, if I can just get through it, this summer I am building a 384 square foot deck over the site of the previous patio, that will have a magnificent view of the backyard, that will act as an extension of our living room, that will dramatically enhance our enjoyment of this house. And yes, I have a whole board on Pinterest devoted to this deck.

All of this is true, but yes, it is all metaphor, too. There is a lot of ugly right now. Things are falling apart. What was previously broken is being unveiled. And some of us wonder if it will ever be beautiful again.

But it will if we see it through. If we hang on, if we keep the vision in our heads of that better world we dream of, if we do not quit, then it can be beautiful – not like before, but better than before.

But first, we have to get through the ugly parts.

Five beautiful things

  • Like many folk my age, I grew up on Looney Tunes on Saturday morning. This collection of 90 vintage Looney Tunes films is everything. I am slowly working through them, and while some are cringe-worthy, most hold up well.
  • The New Yorker did a beautiful photo essay tracking 24 hours in New York under the Pandemic. This is not one of the ugly parts, for sure.
  • A few weeks ago would have been the peak of cherry blossom season at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Sadly, the garden is closed because of Covid-19, but this lovely video walkthrough is stunning. (Here is a short drone film to give you a bird’s eye view.)
  • Kevin Kelly is one of my internet heroes, and may really be the world’s most interesting man. He just turned 68 and composed a list of 68 pieces of advice. Lots of good stuff here, as well as some snark.
  • Several of my Psychologist and social worker friends shared this very helpful list of resources from the World Health Organization about coping with adversity during times of stress. (Sound familiar?)


I am not doing as much reading during this pandemic-related pause as I thought I would be, but one book I have really enjoyed is Lloyd Khan’s The Half-Acre Homestead: 46 Years of Building and Gardening. Lloyd is the real deal – he was doing this stuff long before the rise of Instagram and Pinterest “backyard farmers.” He is very realistic, but with his head firmly in the clouds. The photography is beautiful, I love his aesthetic, and it has driven me to change my thinking about home and what that means, as well as what it would mean to imagine living here for at least 46 years. Highly recommended.