Karen Rivers

chaos theory.

Karen Rivers

Physics was always rushing by you in gusts.   You could never catch any of it and at the end of the term, with nothing in your grasping hand, you failed.   Later when you try to recall the class, you see yourself standing in a wind tunnel with the lessons and theories and equations swirling around you like dry autumn leaves.  

Now you know. Now -- as an adult -- it makes sense to you:  It is the pressure of the molecules wanting to split apart that keeps them together.  

Everything is striving for chaos.    The leaves.   You, your hair whipping into your mouth, sticking to your lips, as you reach helplessly for a passing theorem to explain it all.   The wind itself.  The molecules inside the leaves.   The molecules inside you.  Your brain cells, stubbornly refusing to absorb the facts.  Of physics.  Of your life.

Things that make you think of chaos theory:   the house, the garden, the shoe closet, the way the kids' toenails grow so fast.   The space under the deck, the basement, your unused office, the garage.   The raccoons rooting through the garbage at 4 am.  Cancer.   The way the blind pulled off the roller when you shut it last night and now refuses to roll back up.   Rain.   All your mistakes.  The hockey riots.   Compulsions.  (You used to have the same compulsion every time you got onto a bus, and that was to kiss everyone, the sudden violence of your face in theirs.   What would they do?)  The cacophony of the commercials that interrupt Saturday morning cartoons.   Bad dreams.   Parenting.  How you only see the doghair on the carpet when the vacuum is in your hand.   The messy way that people leave:  leave you, leave here, leave themselves.   Groceries going bad in the fridge before you have time to eat them.   Weeds.   Needs.   The hollow crooked-beating of your heart.   

The way a book in process has to be gutted like a fish, messy red and stringy, bones everywhere.   You want to leave it there, on the dock, for the seagulls to pick clean.   Sometimes you have to abandon it, with its dull scales and its stench of death, rotting there like a mistake.   Other times, you have to take the steps to save it.  You are compelled.   You can't leave it there, guts splayed and spilling.   You begin to put it all back together again to look better -- to swim better -- than it did when it first swam out of your fingers and across the screen, scales glimmering prettily in the wet light of its own newness.   You reattach the nerves and place each bone into its architectural frame.  Add flesh, rich and pink.   Stitch scales firmly into place.   Polish the eyes.   Fan the fins.  

And there it is.  

Look, you say.   A fish.  Do you like it?

They look dubiously at your bloody hands, the chaos of you.

Is that the creative process? they want to know.

Oh PROCESS, you say.  

You hate the word.  There is no PROCESS.   There are only the fish, schools of them, from which you must pick one to highlight, to beautify, to change, to build.  To correct.  

To make it seem like before this fish, there were no other fish.

You are always fighting chaos, it's true.   And thus you remain you.   The force of the fight is what keeps you intact.   It is necessary for survival.  

"I don't care what people think," you say.  

But then there you are in the sun, a warmth that invites sitting and thinking, instead wielding a hedge trimmer like a sword, vanquishing the ivy, leaves flying everywhere and covering up all the vegetables, just beginning to poke their way through the soil.  Bits fly into your eyes.   It looks worse than when you began, but you absolutely HAVE to get it done.

Or else.

Or else, what will people think?

Which is true of most things.  You vacuum, trim, cut, paste, wipe, scrub, arrange, tidy.   You lift your hand and wave.    You say, "Goodbye."  You are polite.  You fight your own chaotic mind.   Your anger comes out in short bursts, like electric shocks.  You remember to breathe.  You rake.   You forget to breathe.  You remember again.  You do not kiss anyone.   You wash the kids and feed them.   You pick things up.   You wipe surfaces clean.

You sit down to write it, holding a cup of coffee that will soon become another dirty cup that needs to be washed and put away .  You remember how your physics lab partner was pretty, but never washed her hair.   You remember how she got so frustrated with you and your inability to catch the leaves.  How she picked them up like they were holding still.  And how you repelled them, like the magnets you were unable to explain.    She was nice about it.   She hated you:  how you couldn't see the obvious answers, the three-dimensional equations that stuck in your throat at night, leaving you gasping desperately for the air you could only find in novels, inside their chaos of made-up lives.  

You sip coffee.   The milk wants to become sour but it hasn't.   Not yet.   You admire the way the bed looks when it's made, the way the wood floors glow dully in spite of your neglect.  The pile of clothes in the closet that you have finally stacked straight.  The art hanging evenly on the wall.  

Your throat unclenches and you breathe your own stories, even though all around you, dust balls are accumulating and paint is being spilled and the ivy is working faster than is possible to cover up the spaces you made for the light to come in.