Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Making Peace with My Personal Chaos Theory

February 2, 2010

I have an interesting relationship with chaos. I claim I don't like it, that it makes me crazy, and that I can't function in the midst of chaos. But the reality is something very different. Over this period of extreme financial uncertainty, I understand that I've long ago created my own personal chaos theory. Sometimes it's quiet, but at times like these, my personal chaos theory is alive and somersaulting across the tightrope.

According to Whatis.techtarget, chaos theory is defined as: "the study off nonlinear dynamics,  where seemingly random events are actually predictable from simple deterministic equations...Chaos, with reference to chaos theory, refers to an apparent lack of order in a system that nevertheless obeys particular laws or rules; this understanding of chaos is synonymous with dynamical instability, a condition discovered by the physicist Henri Poincare in the early 20th century that refers to an inherent lack of predictability in some physical systems." 


Here's a prime example of my personal chaos theory in action and how it applies to the above definition, as well as to my current state of affairs. 

About six weeks ago, my girls and I did a mitzvah, good deed - we dropped off some soda and crackers at one of their friends' house who was getting over a bad bout of food poisoning. After making our delivery, I drove down the street and spied a "For Sale" sign. I made a u-turn and pulled up in front of a modest two-story contemporary, grabbed a flyer and headed home. At the next stop sign, I glanced at the price and the details of the house. A seemingly harmless act. When we got home, I went online and viewed the house on a virtual tour which revealed a modest house, slightly larger than ours, 3 bedrooms, and here was the kicker: 3.5 bathrooms. Bingo. I've written about the woeful shortage of bathrooms in our current home and the mere idea that 3.5 out of 5 of us could be simultaneously using the bathroom was more than I could bear. And it had a finished basement. I had found my Shangri-la. 

That Monday, I made an appointment with the real estate agent and went to see the house, without telling Jack. It was lovingly dated, owned by one elderly gentleman who was transitioning to a more down-sized lifestyle. I confessed to Jack later that night that I'd gone to see a house. He let out a big sigh. I quickly promised him that I wouldn't make him, us or the kids crazy, but would he please come and see it. He did and like me, he loved the open flow and high ceilings, the 3.5 bathrooms. He found the bedrooms "tragically" small, but I was willing to look past that and the rush of my personal chaos theory was bubbling to the surface. 

The agent came to see our house and gave us a very realistic idea of what we needed to do get our house "sale" ready:

  • Update the kitchen, which was enshrined in it's original 1950s amber varnish.
  • Replace the carpet in the den
  • Put a shower in the main bathroom
  • Make the second bathroom usable and attractive
  • Neutralize the entire house - especially the girls room
Oh yes, and do all this by the end of January. January 2010. My personal chaos theory shouted out "No Problem!" and I was off. Within the day, I had a two page list of each room in the house. What did it matter that Jack was week's away from his first paycheck from the community college and that my non-working holiday days were unpaid? No plan to pay for materials?  Guffaw! My personal  chaos theory boasted that we'd just do it all through Freecycle and local building resource centers - it would be a marvel of reduce, reuse, recycle! 

Chaos, with reference to chaos theory, refers to an apparent lack of order in a system that nevertheless obeys particular laws or rules; this understanding of chaos is synonymous with dynamical instability.

My particular law or rule? Ignore the facts, or at least try to creatively work around them. The facts, in this case, were plenty:

1. There was no way in hell we could fix all those things by the time the elderly gentleman had moved on to simpler living quarters and the house would be listed. In my head I knew this, but my chaos theory voice was too busy devising ways around the timeline fact. And the snarly thing about this state of mind is that it can come up with lots of illogical solutions, or those synonymous with dynamical instability. The agent stressed that it was much harder to sell a house being lived in, especially by a family. The illogical solution I embraced? Move out of our house, put it up for sale and rent the other home. 

2. Finances. The possibility of being able to qualify for another mortgage at this particular time? The stressful hoops we'd have to jump through and high interest rates we'd probably have to pay? Those facts couldn't be a more perfect example of my personal chaos theory's embrace of apparent lack of order in a system that nevertheless obeys particular laws or rules. 

One good thing about my personal chaos theory? It has a relatively short shelf life, although I do seem to be overly ready to take it off the shelf. 

Soon after I launched us into "our house sucks we have to move to have a better life" mode, another real estate agent was kind enough to take me on a neighborhood tour to see some other homes for sale in our immediate neighborhood. I was hesitant and I realize that this step would take my personal chaos theory out of fantasy-land and into the very real world. The experience was eye-popping and I realized that we have one of the nicest houses in the neighborhood. But my chaos theory pulled a fast one on me and quickly turned that new information into yet another reason why we should continue down the yellow brick road. Because we have such an attractive home, it will sell really quickly!

That weekend, we finished our kitchen cabinets, all remnants of the maple syrup varnish gone and now a contemporary white oak. We'd scraped, sanded and stained. As we sat back and stared at the transformation, even my personal chaos theory paused. But not for long. 

Fast forward to this morning. Still in the glow of our weatherization love affair with Gary and Zump, I emailed the agent of my 3.5 bathroom Shangri-la, and cheerfully updated her on our soon to be insulated and kitchen-updated home, as well as a query on whether the owner would consider a self-financing deal. A few seconds later, I got an email back from her. "I was going to call you. The house on Albion received an offer." 

What's the sound of my personal chaos theory stopping dead in its' tracks? Something like a tree falling and fingernails on a blackboard. 

I emailed her back: "Sigh. I guess that means we're out?" I followed up with a phone call and had a pleasant enough conversation and asked her that if the offer fell through, to please let us know and keep us posted on other homes in the area at that price. And keeping in mind I would probably be writing about this tonight, I told her that it was probably not the right time to do this. 

I hung up and called Jack. He sweetly said he was sorry, but then we talked about how we needed to heal the karma in this house. How we needed to do the work to make this home our Shangri-la and enjoy it before we really do grow out of it. How the unrealized home was part of the same pattern that had gotten us into our financial predicament. How we couldn't lose something we never even had, except in the combined consciousness of my mind and my personal chaos theory's mis-guided will to push me in directions I need to consider more thoughtfully and carefully. And slowly. 

What I've learned from this experience is that chaos feeds off of chaos and my life is filled with it, from our finances, to my job situation, to the non-stop noise going on in my brain. And I need to accept that it might be this way for a while longer until I finally stop turning to my personal chaos theory as the path out of the chaos. 

It's time for me to just let chaos be and let it spin off into the distance like my favorite Warner Brothers' Loony Toons character, the Tasmanian Devil. Eventually, the Tasmanian Devil comes to a stop, but only after it's done it's necessary spinning. That seems to me to be the natural response to chaos, the acceptance that it is a temporary and necessary part of affecting significant changes and that my personal chaos theory is a way to interrupt, stall and endlessly put off the most important change of my life. 

It's time to really open my eyes and count my many blessings, which include our sweet and elegant little home. We're still going to be working our way through my two page home improvement list, but the timeline will make sense, we'll approach the idea of an overall budget and the improvements will be for us, for our family, the path through the chaos. Hopefully, this path will help to stop, or at least slow down my personal chaos theory long enough to put it on the shelf in a lock box and then throw away the key. For real and for good. 


Gail Storey said...

Lisa, you really show how we not only can create our own chaos but also extricate ourselves from it too. (And I find the title of your blog charming!)

Lisa Trank-Greene said...

Thanks, Gail - am feeling very much like the Taz Devil today - spinning and spinning.