You would think you could get a consensus on the issue of chaos. It turns out, however, that, when it comes to chaos, I don’t even agree with myself.
For the last two weeks, our house has been in chaos because we are repainting our kitchen. It’s been fifteen years since it was last painted, and the walls and ceiling (our kitchen has a tin ceiling) have become coated with accumulated cooking schmutz (grime).
Simultaneously, our cast-iron Master Bathroom sink needed refinishing because it was getting rusty, and nobody likes a rusty sink. That job, including the “letting it set” period, wound up taking a week.
So we emptied the shelves, and we emptied the cabinets, and the painters started sanding and scraping, and, even though the kitchen was sheeted off with plastic, particles of debris were flying everywhere – covering the floor, the carpets, the furniture and staircases – upstairs and downstairs –
We ate our meals in the basement, where, since there was no stove, it was all takeout, and if we needed something from the upstairs refrigerator, we could not get to it.
We had to brush our teeth in the downstairs bathroom, forbidden to spit in the newly refinished sink. I could shower upstairs but had to shave downstairs. Our nighttime medicines got moved. And when I came up to bed and had forgotten floss, I had to go back downstairs, and sometimes, I didn’t, and who knows what damage that neglect did to my rapidly receding gumline!
Our routine was a shambles, our longstanding habits in complete disarray. Everything easy was now difficult. And inconvenient. And frustrating. And stupid. And maddening. And…
I hate it! It is getting on my nerves! Make it stop!
Finally, it did stop, and they were done. But now, as we reconstitute our lives, we discover new irritations. During the work process, things have inevitably been moved. Things have been misplaced. Things have been accidentally thrown away.
Gone, and lost forever.
Our lives had been visited by chaos. Not good, that chaos.
And I know it’s not just me who feels that way. There is a substantial segment in our society – and I am hardly antagonistic to their view – who, fearing change as the first step down a precarious slippery slope, commit themselves to nipping any semblance of change in the bud, before things get irretrievably out of hand.
There’s a Black Hole down there, my friend. You have to be eternally vigilant…
Or it’s chaos.
I memorably recall Supreme Court Justice Scalia rationalizing the necessity for an “originalist” approach to the Constitution – by which he meant that, when attempting to resolve legal issues related to the U.S. Constitution, only the original intent of the Constitution’s Framers should apply.
Scalia saw this as essential, because if you permitted everybody to understand the Constitution in their own particular way, the result would inevitably be chaos.
Since this argument is premised on the belief that nothing is worse than chaos, to avoid that unimaginable alternative, we are required to pay the substantial but necessary price of having our legal understanding frozen in the Early American assumptions of 1787.
That’s how bad chaos is. We will do something that makes minimal sense to avoid it.
And yet – and here’s where I make my turn with a contrarial example from my life, indicating that a surrender towards chaos may not be such a bad idea.
A while back, my daughter Anna noticed this expanding snarl of accumulated blog post ideas cluttering my desk to the right of my computer. (I had this messy pile that I tossed new ideas on, and on those days when no inspirations urgently rushed to my mind, I would rummage through the pile, pick out an idea, and away I’d go.)
Anna said, “Dad, let me organize those for you.” Since it is in my nature to like things organized – the “expanding snarl” is, characteristically, not me – I said to her, “Go to it.”
She took the ideas, scribbled on various sheets of whatever was handy when they came to me, and she neatly rewrote each, with maybe a few accompanying notes, on a three-by-five card, carefully stacking them when she was finished in a carved wooden box that she had given me for Chanukah. She does a lot for me, that girl.
My desktop has now been cleared. Chaos has been vanquished from my office. Order has once again been restored.
And you know what?
When I was stuck for an idea and I would break into the box and flip through the pile of three-by-five cards, I would discover that, more often than not,
The ideas, neatly stacked in there, were not good anymore. And I mean virtually all of them.
Once these ideas had aroused my interest – at least, I’d been enthusiastic enough to write them down. I read them over now, and I am fundamentally uninspired.
It would appear that the process of organization and storage had sucked the life from my previously intriguing blog post ideas. The juice had been drained right out of them. They were dead meat on a card.
It’s an interesting phenomenon. I abandoned chaos, and I lost excitement.
(I have a new “expanding snarl” of ideas on my desk now and, once again, they are unilaterally fresh and viable.)
I understand that traditional structure is reassuring and comfortable. But if you don’t loosen the reins and relax in the direction of chaos – not all the way, we are not automatons, we are capable putting on the brakes – my experience suggests there is an energizing vitality that will be sacrificed.
If you can handle the ride.