Chaos Theory

Fractal by Sharon Apted

Writers and physicists don’t often think alike. For a scientist, chaos theory is the study of complex systems that can change wildly based on small, initial differences. The classic example is the Butterfly Effect, the idea that a butterfly flapping its wings in China can change the weather in Idaho. Chaos theory doesn’t actually describe “chaos” in the literary sense. It describes patterns that mutate within underlying, if complex, rules.

Chaos in a literary sense is more, well, literal. It’s a mess, an unresolvable conflict, a total free-for-all, no-holds-barred, breakdown of order. It’s chaos.

I never was particulary good in physics.

And I have my own, more literary, version of chaos theory.

In my version, chaos is what happens when I take a perfectly calm, orderly life and throw a monkey in the middle. It’s sticking a long-handled spoon in the sea, stirring up waves, poking the shark in its roving nap.

It’s finally achieving  an uneasy, fragile equalibrium between writing and motherhood. And then getting a puppy.

Now, a dog was definitely on our horizon. I just thought the horizon was farther away. My seven-year-old daughter, Rainbow Girl, needs a doggy buddy the way some kids need soccer balls or lollipops. We all loved dog-sitting Bella, and we missed her when she left. We knew we’d get a dog of our own. Someday.

But I was supposed to sell my book first. I needed to finish revisions. And start submitting to agents (again). And get an agent. And go on submission to publishers. And get a book deal. And see my pretty, shiny cover at Barnes & Noble where I could pester strangers and jump up and down shouting, “That’s my book!”

My patience might have worn out.

That, and I’m pretty sure my daughters wanted the dog before they moved away for college.

The revisions aren’t done. My stack of rejections for short pieces is reaching tottering proportions. Shape Up Summer — my moniker for July and August — has so far resulted in exactly one cleaned out closet, one pound lost, and zero pieces of writing ready for submission. We’ll start our regular homeschooling again in a week. It is not the best time to add a furry ball of crazy to the mix.

We added Mocha.

Mocha is a perfecly adorable puppy. Strangers stop in the street to adore him. The entire family (even my skeptical husband) has fallen head-over-tails in love with him.

Mocha is cute and cuddly and . . . a pest. Mocha needs to be housetrained . . . and leash trained . . . and trained not to nip at the kids or chew up American Girl dolls. Mocha is, in the words of my five-year-old daughter Boo Monkey, “a lot of work.”

Mocha is my chaos, my sharp stick in a sleeping skunk’s den.

It’s got to be part of my hardwiring, this impulse to keep the waters churning, to resist encroaching lulls. It’s my own brand of chaos theory, the idea that inertia must be countered with sharp little teeth, large pet store bills, and one a.m. wake up calls. Somehow, I never settle.

And maybe that’s okay.

If calm isn’t in my repetoire, neither is giving in or giving up. My persistence is what will eventually get my novel on the shelves of B&N. It will get my kids through years of homeschooling, piano lessons, swim lessons, theater camp, art school, and — most important — lazy afternoons of dreaming that I preserve for them. It’s what will (with the patience of my dear, dear husband) get the dog housetrained and crate trained and leash trained and nip trained.

Persistence, it turns out, is my underlying rule, the pattern of my butterfly wings. I may have trouble letting go, but I get a lot done while I’m holding on. If my balance is wobbly, my juggling is superb.

We don’t get to choose our weaknesses, our strengths. We do the best we can — with kids and books and puppies. Mocha is my chaos, yes, but oh, what a welcome, sweet diversion. Sometimes the best stories come from the biggest messes. Writing may be “butt in chair”, but it’s also feet on the pavement, gathering blisters, following hummingbirds. And walking the dog.

Welcome home, Mocha. We may be messy, but we’re never, ever dull.

What about you? Do you find yourself drawn to calm or chaos? Do you like to rock the boat and, if so, what stories have you won from the splashdown?

12 thoughts on “Chaos Theory

  1. Lisa,
    Master of Chaos – I so admire the life you lead, filled with writing, home-schooling, small children and puppies. For putting your “butt in the chair” and celebrating your persistence. And I am so grateful to be a witness to your anything-but-dull daily mess that is life.

    • Brenda — your comments always brighten my day — a lot! Thanks 🙂 There will be even more messiness in a week when my husband goes back to teaching and I’m here on my own with the kids, the dog, the writing, the homeschooling and all of the stumbling. Oh, I’m going to need a lot of M&Ms!!

  2. Here’s to persistence, juggling and beautiful words! Thanks Lisa.

    (Have you tried leashing Mocha to you so she has to follow you around, thus learning your Alpha status and leaving 2 hands free for juggling? Enjoy the chaos.)

    • Thanks Sharon — you are one master juggler I admire!

      As for Mocha, I’ll try that, though he is incredibly nippy lately. Any suggestions on that? I’m afraid if I leash him to me, he’ll literally be nipping at my heels.

  3. Puppies will do that, make their own little reign of chaos! Our “pup” is almost 10…. we got her when *our* daughter wanted a puppy. Now, Abby is the family dog, and wonderful — but for a while it was tough! What really saved me was the crate training! Still today she goes in there to sleep (even though we never close her in — the door long ago fell off!).

    I love this sentence and can so relate! “Writing may be “butt in chair”, but it’s also feet on the pavement, gathering blisters, following hummingbirds. And walking the dog.”
    Enjoy the puppy and the homeschooling and the writing — and the rest of the messy great life, sounds wonderful! 🙂 p.s. love your new blog look!

    • Thanks Julia! We have a crate for Mocha, but he only likes it at night. During the day, he wants to be right with us — which makes it tough if we have to leave the house. I am hoping he will outgrow this anxiety. Of course, I would pick a neurotic pup. It must be cosmic.
      Thanks for your feedback on the post and the redesign. (I’m a big fan of hummingbirds. Next on my list — a birdfeeder!)

  4. Ah, Lisa, what would our lives be without chaos? Calm, peaceful, restful, and BORING! Here’s to keeping life exciting and new!

  5. I once had a single friend who was at my house for a week using my studio. She came down to the house one afternoon when just about everyone and everything was whirling. She looked around and said, “I’m trying to think of a phrase to describe your life.” Finally she smiled and said, “Happy chaos!” I think we all have the chaos but not always the happy. Glad you have both!!

    • Joan,
      What a great story! It’s hard to describe the happy chaos unless you’ve seen it, lived it. Ours is pretty good right now.
      I hope yours is too. 🙂

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