Some Random Thoughts on Chaos

Greetings Dear Ones!

You know when you look out the window and see not one but TWO of your customers attempting (simultaneously) to park on the sidewalk in front of the shop, despite a Large, Clearly-Printed Sign indicating that there is a parking lot in the rear of the building, that either a.) you now reside in Italy, or b.) a big load of Chaos is about to walk in the door. These are not people who follow The Rules. 

You might think anyone such as myself, who owns not one but THREE Jack Russells, is no stranger to Chaos.  And it is true.  Chaos and I have more than a passing acquaintance with one another.  I do all the chaos-inducing activities like work with animals and children and people who think they still have the same inseam they had when they were sixteen.   But the chaos in the shop is a whole new breed! 

I like Order.  Order is safe, predictable.  In the realm of Order, people behave, machines behave, and we are stable, calm, and competent.  Order is having a place for everything and everything in its proper place. We can find things like seam rippers, safety pins, and knitting needles without having to sit on them and be surprised. We don’t have to spend half an hour crawling on our hands and knees to find the female side of a snap that has vanished into thin air.  Order is good lighting, clean surfaces, and cheery civility with strangers who participate willingly in mutually-agreed social protocols.  It is wearing one’s undergarments as God intended them to be worn.

Order is also about having time. It is NOT someone arriving unannounced at five minutes to five with a full bridal party for a gown fitting, or insisting that you need your new jeans to cleave to your bum like a second skin by Friday. “There’s more to life than fitting in your jeans,” croons pop singer Ed Sheeran but some of these folks aren’t buying it.  Fitting in their jeans is Very Important to them.  They want it to happen NOW.  So is having their Harley Davidson patches sewn on their leather jackets while they wait.  People are constantly and randomly dashing in to stop us from The Thing We Are Doing and diverting our course to Something Else.  We try to stick to a plan but we know what happens when mice and men plan… Mainly that neither has a suit ready for the weekend! Chaos is the journey to the underworld, where bobbin goblins live. It’s the tragedy that strikes suddenly that means a bride no longer needs her wedding gown after all.  It’s the man who forgets he has a screwdriver in his pocket and sits down. It’s the black gunk shooting out of the iron all over the hundred-year-old christening gown you just restored.

The phone is ringing off the hook today.  A lady calls.  She cannot find her shoes.  She leaves an extended message on the answering machine about all the places her shoes might be, one of which might be our shop.  The next beep is her saying that she checked her own closet and they were there. (Unexpected Order. Which is another name for Chaos, really.) The cleaners call us. They have lost a purple dress.  We do have a purple dress that we cannot determine an owner for but alas, it is not the purple dress they seek.  It seems that there are two rogue purple dresses at large in the universe, perhaps many more.  We have been trying for the past two weeks to determine the owner of our mystery dress.  Few things are more mortifying than phoning a series of previous customers who have already picked up their orders, asking them if they are missing a purple dress.  It smacks of something slipshod, a lack of Order.

The interruptions don’t stop. A girl comes in the door.  My friend, who has spent a portion of her morning receiving hacked emails from a person who died three years ago, looks at the appointment book and asks “Are you a Bride named Bethany?” “No,” she says, “I’m a Maid called Melanie,” and we all burst out laughing as if we are part of a “Who’s on First” skit. We no sooner get her shuffled off to the fitting room with her gown, when a woman comes in and wants her blouse altered.  “I really like this blouse,” she says wistfully, “but not enough to stop eating.”

I survey the devolving organization of our time and work space and decide to learn what I can about Chaos theory.   To my utter dismay, it has something to do with Math.  Ever since Sr. Davidica’s reign of terror in eighth grade, I have thought I cannot “do math.”  The truth is, I “do” math every damn day.  We all do.  Math is one of the representations of Order throughout our world.  It provides the foundation for Geometry, Physics, and how to make correct change for customers who pay cash.  Apparently, it also says that things can change unpredictably, without warning.  It turns out that Chaos theory “is a branch of mathematics focusing on the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions.”  I think this means that we need to start, not only at the exact same starting point, but in the identical conditions for an action to be predictable and even then, it isn’t.  In real life, this seems nearly impossible. Take leaving for work:

The Same thing happens every day, in that I leave my humble homestead in a 2006 Subaru (I know, I wish it could be a horse and carriage too… or an ox-cart!) and head to my place of employment.  I am that theoretical pendulum heading out to work and back.  However, the infinite variety of initial conditions changes the potential outcome and determines whether or not I drive with one hand on the wheel, one hand on the accelerator, with both feet flying out behind me or have the leisure time to put my lipstick on at red lights, like sane people. The initial variables include anything from not finding my car keys, the level of caffeine in my bloodstream, or discovering a dead sheep just before it is time to leave.

Having made it to work, somehow, by the stroke of nine, we show up each day, not just to hem men’s trousers and discuss ladies’ undergarments. (Not with the men who are there to have trousers hemmed! “Heaven forbid,” says Prudence!) We are there save Humanity, one pair of pants at a time, and to be a force for Good in this world.  We are here to Love and Serve. To listen, comprehend, then transform your personal Chaos manifesting as a broken zipper. Working with us and against us are the forces of Order and Chaos themselves.

Order is using a machine, exactly as you have always used it, expecting the same result.  Chaos is finding out that you have just stitched approximately ten miles with no bobbin thread. And removed all the pins as you went.  For those of you unfamiliar with what a bobbin is, it is a tiny spool of thread that operates underneath the needle, unseen, in synchrony with the upper, visible needle. What it does for real, besides snaggle and rip itself out is anybody’s guess.  I leave the rest to your imagination.  All you really need to understand (all anyone does, really) is that not having one is a Bad Thing.  Bobbins are part of the underworld of sewing.  They work in darkness and they sometimes do good things—like magically making nice stitches underneath the fabric.  But mostly, they are just the Devil’s dice.  Having one last around an entire hem is like a benediction from the sewing angels.  It’s like finding a lucky penny.  It’s a Sign from Heaven that you are Loved and that All is Well.

All day long, we tread the borderland between Order and Chaos.  We have all the thread in color-coded racks on the wall—hundreds of spools.  Instantly find the right shade and this is Order.  Forget to put it back, Chaos.   Our attempts to straddle this fundamental duality is what Balance is all about.

I wake each morning striving for Balance; I let the dogs out to empty themselves in the garden (Order) so they don’t do it on the rug (Chaos).  I feed the sheep and chickens in their pens—fences are the Order containing Chaos.  I attempt to connect equally with the Yin and the Yang nature of existence.  However, when I have one foot on a clean carpet and one foot in Dog poop, I do not feel balanced. Life suddenly reveals itself as intense, gripping, yet ultimately meaningless.   I want to scream.  I feel like smearing their little hairy bodies in gravy and leaving them outside for the Natural Order to reassert itself in the form of a hungry bobcat or coyote.  Who are we to allow these canine fugitives from the Natural Law to soil our carpets? But I digress…

We are always in the known territory, surrounded by the unknown.  And the Chaos, like junk mail on your kitchen counter, encroaches with every breath.  I remember helping my father mending fences on the family farm.  He once paused from wrestling with a particularly thick bittersweet vine, sweat dripping from his brow, and surveyed his land.  His shoulders sagged a little as he said, “In ten years, left alone, no one would ever even know this farm was here.  The vines would eat it all away.  There would be nothing left.”  It’s hard to believe that Chaos won’t eventually win.  I feel the same way about dirty laundry.  And so it is in the shop.  Entropy is at work every day.  We think we are there to patch holes and tailor designer fashions. No.  We are there to labor against Chaos and Entropy and jab at it with our little pins, one pair of jeans at a time, until it is finally five o’clock and it is time to go home and find that the lawn has eaten the house, the dogs have eaten the garbage, and more junk mail has arrived in our absence.  

But…. SOMETIMES….When time passes, and all the right tools are at hand, and the phone is not ringing, and we find ourselves at one with the needle and thread thimble-driven through the silk, when we get so engrossed in what we are doing that we no longer notice we are doing it—it is there and then that we are located precisely between the Order and the Chaos.  We are in the zone.  We are the embodiment of Zen, of Tao, of Beingless Being.  And then, from these tiniest of views, we may absorb the biggest pictures.

Order and Chaos are the two most basic, binary subdivisions of Being.  No matter what you do, if you love and serve your fellow men and women, you are battling the forces of Chaos, for the Chaos is within them, as well as you.  The tide is against Order.  You have your own bobbin goblins aplenty.  And yet, despite relentless and overwhelming Chaos, we all continue to strive in hope for Order, for Serenity.  It is what the multi-billion dollar industry in self-help books and clean closets is all about.  There is something Holy and sanctifying in this struggle.  All of us, attempting to build, help, or heal; nourish or nurture; patch or tuck—when  we call forth Order from the Chaos that surrounds us, when we use our words to create actions, and actions to create results, we are not only as deeply human as we can get, we are also participating in the Divine.  We revisit Genesis.  We are co-Creators.

Be well, my dearies! And do Good Work!

Yours aye,