Nov 042010

Joan Miro, "Nocturne"

I haven’t done any ‘spontaneous posting’ in a long while on NC.  Not since this wonderful site gained a steady following.  Now I write my posts out in MS Word first, and edit them, and read them again and again.  But DG keeps talking about the ‘renegade’ aspect of NC, the need to be playful and have fun.  So here goes.  Maybe the key is to keep it short.  I hope I still have a ‘job’ tomorrow at NC.

I woke up at 1:38 this morning, wide awake, to the sounds of a homeless person rummaging through recycle bins in the alley.   I’m going through a period of crisis over my graduation lecture.  I don’t like the damned lecture anymore, even if it’s been pre-approved (like a home loan?) by my advisor, so I came down to peck away at it again.  But how can this fact, my ‘crisis’ over a lecture in two months, begin to compare with that other person’s reality, that other person, out there in the alley, also awake at this ungodly hour, digging through garbage bins for scrap tin cans?

I brought my copy of Words Overflown by Stars to my five year-old son’s soccer practice the other day, with kids running willy-nilly, chasing that white ball wherever it went in spite of their coach’s warnings to spread out, to pass.   Eight little boys and girls simply chased, colliding, falling down, laughing, sometimes crying, but always chasing.  After the requisite time as a doting father had passed (about 4 minutes…I coached high school sports for 8 years…parents shouldn’t even be at practice…if they are present, they should be out-of-the-way, silent, not shouting…let the kids have fun, they aren’t there for you, they are there for themselves…do something with your time…read a book…trust the coach…yes, even at five!…sorry for the rant)  I flipped my book open to Jack Myers essay, “Collaborating with Chaos.”  It seemed, considering the shouting parents and crazy kids, a most appropriate choice.  Just a few selections from this essay:

The secret of artists and other creative people throughout the millennia-whether they are conscious of it or not-is that they know how to collaborate with chaos.  Yet, oftentimes, it is the very presence of chaos and confusion that leads to the fear of failure and instills resistance in us at the very beginning of the creative process.  The most oft-cited characteristic of creative people (aside from popularly being thought of as slightly crazy) is their ability to remain open during the rain of uncertainty, to embrace the difficult states of paradox, opposition, and ambiguity that are gateways of opportunity.

There are as many entrances into chaos as there are kinds of people entering it.  But there is only one way out, and that is the ‘con-fusion’ of disparities.  That’s why every time we make a new poem or story it seems as difficult to do as it did the first time.

…if you think writing poetry is like making a hamburger, that there’s some specific method to be learned and repeated over and over again, you’re in the wrong business.  Like everything else in creation, we, too, have been thrown into and live in uncertainty and indeterminacy.  There is no one, safe answer or secret to writing.

…complexity and simplicity  are not things, but ephemeral results of an interaction of these processes within other larger and smaller processes, within other larger and smaller processes, etc.

This is a wonderful, short essay that resonates with much larger issues.  It brought me a moment of calm amidst the chaos of that hour at the soccer pitch.  The best writing can do that, can open up a space for us to crawl inside.  My lecture’s still a mess.  I will go back to writing more carefully edited posts on NC, if I still can.  Parents will continue to believe that screaming at their five year-old is important, that it teaches competition, even though it masks something else: the fear of failure, the resistance, that Myers talked about, to chaos.  Homeless men will continue to eke out an existence on the detritus of others, of me.

It’s three fifty-one now.  Time to go back to bed and dream.

-Richard Farrell

Contributor’s Note: DG posted a tribute to Jack Myers after attending a memorial for him at the last residency.  Read that tribute here.

  19 Responses to “Chaos Again, by Richard Farrell”

  1. The problem is that we as writers resist. We need to surrender. As long as you are resisting, you are not open to the Muse (or whatever you want to call it) and you might as well be writing a soap opera script.

  2. Thanks for this, Rich. I love the Miro painting accompanying your post. I can see the kids running around on the soccer field in it, the paths they cut across the grass, and the paths your mind takes through the sleepless night hours and the writing of your lecture, all inscribing a kind of beauty. I love and hate how chaos creeps in at night. It’s easier to ignore during the daylight hours. I can accept and even embrace it as part of my writing process; those chaotic first drafts are the most fun. But in other areas of life, it’s more challenging. My 2 AM waking was full of anxiety about renting a house in Saskatoon, where we’ll be moving soon, and where we have been for the past couple days looking at houses, trying to decide on neighbourhoods, the necessity of a garage, etc., not knowing at all what to expect.

  3. Rich,
    I loved your post. It’s taken me decades to fully appreciate the extent to which I have been held down by a tangled web of cravings, attachments, repulsions and fear, always fear – and I suspect that it is far worse than I know. The more I’ve thrashed about trying to get free… well, you know. Relaxing into the chaos is scary, but man what a fun ride when I’ve managed it! Good luck with your lecture (leave some room to extemporize).
    p.s. thanks to dg for creating this chaos-friendly space

  4. Chaos is good.

    I haven’t spent much time with it, but there’s a collection of essays on chaos and literature:

    Chaos and Order: Complex Dynamics in Literature and Science
    Ed. Katherine Hayles (U of Chicago Press)

    From her intro:

    “Chaos remains the necessary other, the opaque turbulence that challenges and complements the transparency of order.”

  5. While we’re in sports, here’s an example of chaos in practice (Cal vs Stanford, last play of the game, about 30 years ago):

  6. Welcome Lynne Quarmby! Wonderful ways to sort and make sense of chaos…genes and paintings. Glad you’re here.

  7. And RF, I very much enjoyed your post.

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