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?