Posted by: Mark Nielsen | April 8, 2008

New Creations Grow Out of Chaos

If you don’t know anything about chaos theory except what you learned from Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park, you’re not alone. I don’t really know about it either. But ignorance never kept me from using a good metaphor before, so why start today?

The chaos to which I am referring is that which currently exists in my home. No, it’s not just the standard kid-created chaos of toys on the floor, jelly stains on the couch, and DVD cases in the bathtub. (Why? I ask you. What chaotic logic could have possessed him to… oh, never mind.)

This chaos is intentional and necessary, even if it’s just temporary. For you see, we’re getting new carpeting installed in two rooms today, and had to remove all the furniture to two other rooms. Graham’s bedroom is easy: a bed, a cheap desk, a couple of dressers, a nightstand, some toys — done! But it’s the family room — the legos-between-cushions, video-topheavy, musical, functional, pulsing, beating heart of any house– that took a lot more to clear out and clean up.

It was complicated by the fact that the big entertainment center had to be disassembled (dissembled? … let’s just say “taken apart”).

We had already re-painted much of the room over Christmas break, changing from earthtones to a nice lavender. But all the baseboards, and the whole area behind the big entertainment center, had been left unpainted until such time as we could do this take-apart thing. Which was yesterday. After work. The painting of the baseboards in advance of the new carpeting was saved until then, too. All of which meant that, between shifting furniture and washing out brushes and re-painting a few spots we missed at Christmas, I was not done until 1:30am. Granted, I took a couple of breaks between 5 pm and 1:30am. Nevertheless I was not a happy camper.

In fact, I was an irritable bear all night, as Sue bathed Graham and read to him and generally kept him out of my way. (Thanks, honey.) But I knew I would be like that, so I warned them early on that I would not be available for conferences or spider-killing for the rest of the night.

This is just how I get. I swear under my breath. I sigh. I bark at other people, and at myself for being such an idiot. I just hate the maintenance and upgrade process, both personally or professionally. Whether it’s putting in new bulbs and shrubs, or running new wire for a light fixture or stereo speakers, or installing software, or putting up displays in a classroom, it doesn’t matter. I don’t have the ability to keep that vision of the finished product out in front of me, all cleaned up or in a new color or twice as functional as before. I just go in expecting something to go wrong, and it usually does. (“If you build it, it will break”… I call this the Ecclesiastes Version of Field of Dreams.) Meanwhile, all I can see is the tedious task in front of me: the heavy particle-board shelf with stripped screws that I have to somehow keep together, the shoddy coaxial cable which I have to run to Radio Shack to get a replacement for, the uneven spackling job that I did on the wallboard, despite all my best efforts to scream and seethe and grit my teeth and make my best effort to get it smooth.

Probably the only situation where I actually enjoy the process itself, and taking my time to get it right, is when I’m building a piece of furniture. It’s like sculpting, for me at least. A hand-crafted piece, using very few power tools, takes awhile to complete. But along the way, that piece is a source of peace. I can listen to music. I can get out all the frustrations of the week by pressing a little harder with my electric sander, or shuttling a piece of fine-grit, handheld sandpaper a little faster across the surface of a good piece of maple. Even the writing process, which I generally do enjoy (for finding the right adjective is like finding the right size router bit and making a perfect groove), still has it’s moments of tedium. If it didn’t, if it wasn’t the product of some hard work, then it wouldn’t be worth much, right?

So I guess the real chaos for me, when I do the maintenance stuff that life brings me every day, is an inner chaos. It’s my own creeping frustration, my mistrust of myself — or of the folks in China or Sweden who built this two-bit thing that I’m now having to fix. My inner chaos far outstrips the chaos one can actually see when looking around the house, or my office at school (which is pretty bad, having gotten steadily more crowded with stuff since September). 

On the other hand, it’s my process, and no one else’s  my own brand of perverse perseverence, of bulling my way through a project till it’s done. So perhaps it’s valuable for that reason alone. It may not be infused with hope and cheerful enthusiasm. (And when I think of this, I remember suddenly that my father was the same way.) But it’s still okay. I get things done.

And tomorrow the carpeting will be done (the pros are installing it, arriving in about an hour). The painting, too (which I must admit I’m proud of, and pretty good at… in the sense of being careful, even anal about it… one of the very few things I am inclined to be anal about).

And when it’s done, I will be happy. Not happy that it looks good. No, that level of appreciation will not fully arrive for a few weeks. Tomorrow I will just be relieved we got it done, and it’s all over with — one more thing checked off the five-year to-do list. Sure, it will take over a week to get everything back where it belongs. But the main part of the tedium and heavy lifting will be done by 6pm today.

And then I’ll take my nap. Which I richly deserve, and which I will appreciate immediately –before, during, AND after, as you can probably guess.

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