The Willing Embrace of Chaos
I gave a talk a few weeks ago at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana. The title of the talk was “The Warrior Mindset.”
(Whenever you see the term “warrior” in something written by me, insert/replace it with “writer” or “artist.” In my mind, they’re the same thing.)
In the talk, I cited this passage from the great Israeli general Moshe Dayan. It comes from his 1967 book, Diary of the Sinai Campaign:
To the commander of an Israeli unit, I can point on a map to the Suez Canal and say: “There’s your target and this is your axis of advance. Don’t signal me during the fighting for more men, arms, or vehicles. All that we could allocate you’ve already got, and there isn’t more. Keep signaling your advances. You must reach Suez in forty-eight hours.” I can give this kind of order to commanders of our units because I know they are ready to assume such tasks and are capable of carrying them out.
In Hebrew, the word for chaos is balagan. (It’s actually part-Russian, part-Hebrew.) Its usage goes something like this:
“What was it like, jumping out of that airplane in a thunderstorm?”
“It was a complete balagan!”
Warriors, athletes, stand-up comedians, moms pushing strollers, cops, firemen … they all know that their day can be plunged at any moment into chaos. (Moms perhaps most of all.)
They learn to incorporate this awareness into their mindset.
Some come to live for this chaos. It’s the most fertile and exciting part of their day.
You and I as writers and artists must learn to embrace chaos as well.
Chaos is a product of Resistance.
Chaos will hit us in Act Two. It’ll hit us at the finish of our novel, our dance, our documentary film.
Chaos = fear. Chaos = mental disorientation. Chaos = confusion.
Can we function in this state? Like that Israeli officer, can we keep pushing forward even when we’re out of touch with higher command and have lost contact with friendly units on all sides? Can we maintain our focus? Can we keep our confidence?
The poet John Keats gave this skill a name. He called it “negative capability.”
… at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason …
Embarking on a new work of fiction or nonfiction, a new startup, a new enterprise of any kind, you and I need to prepare ourselves mentally for periods of chaos. We need to be able to feel our flight suit become drenched with sweat, our own terror-sweat … and still keep flying the plane.
We need to be able function in the midst of a balagan.