The Willing Embrace of Chaos
What is the first virtue of the artist?
It is—and must be—an awareness of and acceptance of the primary reality of the field upon which she will work.
That reality is chaos.
“Nothing in war,” declared the great Israeli general, Moshe Dayan, “happens in a straight line.”
Nothing in art or entrepreneurship happens in a straight line either.
The birth of anything—stars and galaxies as well as people and animals—takes place amid disorder, confusion, and chaos. That’s our novel, our nonprofit, our Korean vegan restaurant.
You are I must teach ourselves to be comfortable working in darkness and in crooked lines.
Thank you very much dear Steve, I identify with this thought 100%.
Many times I hoped for a linear line of working (writing). Maybe I even still hope for that, unconsciously. But Life takes it’s scepter and it mixes, it destructs, it changes, it morphs. It hits on the weak points and on the deep truths inside. And I can guess from experience that, based on what you said, the more important a work of art is, the more chaotic circumstances will be, I’m not sure why but I can guess: a greater work of art must have more complex dynamics, or else it wouldn’t be specially great.
The phrase of mr. Moshe Dayan, “Nothing happens in a straight line” hit me like thunder. I know. I can tell. It’s so difficult.
It is strange and crazy that we consider that many people work in straight lines. I can’t be 100% sure, but from my experience there are no such people, and if they are, I don’t know -I fear they may turn to machines. Only companies seem to achieve a higher percentage of linear production: they use the machines and the teams of people led by the paycheck and other motivations, so they get there even more than us. That’s why they (if they are well organized) thrive. But let’s remember: they are companies, entrepreneurial ventures, not humans, and they even have to push humans beyond their limits to achieve their linear “perfection”, creating other challenges.
The solution? Maybe (1) bringing ourselves to a state of balance (the greek “Μέτρο άριστο”) not only externally but also internally (e.g. great lifestyle habits), which will keep that chaos from bringing us to our knees, and will even keep it a little further behind from us. This balance, I believe, is wider than our professional attitude: it must include all our aspects, even the dark ones. (2) Eliminate distractions tactically because -from my experience- they accumulate again and again over time, so keeping a record of them is crucial (I heard the intro of Twyla Thurp yesterday, Distractions are one of her two biggest obstacles, together with Fear). And (3) never give up because if we fail and chaos prevails, that is when Resistance has it’s chance to dig her Sword into our guts. But if she fails, wow, maybe she (I prefer the “she” instead of “it”, because in Greece the word for Resistance has a female genus) stumbles and then her back may be vulnerable to Our sword for a while.
That’s what I do now. After loosing concentration for some weeks, I come back to discipline although vacations begin. 2 hours a day before anything else will be sufficient at the days of vacations, and in the day reading those beautiful books that you and all friends proposed. The vacations mode is a different thing altogether: the challenge to unwind while at the same time enduring the pressure of Resistance and fighting back a bit. War and Sea together?? I mean, that’s crazy.
Thank you so much, I salute all our friends.
Your comments are very helpful as well. I need to be more habitual in my own work. Thank you.
Thank you so much Robert, it’s always Steve’s energy that is the seed for it all! Go for it, face all obstacles, see how it is when you can’t go further and… crawl ahead then!
Thanks Tolis, good writing. Number (3) hit me hard, just what I needed.
Thank you so much dear Bing, you seem to be standing on the edge of becoming a hero of your cosmos!!
From one wordy dude to another–I love it. ‘stumbles back and may be vulnerable to Our sword for a while.’ Not sure if our was intentionally capitalized or not–but that is how I feel in a healthy locker room, a work group that is hitting on all cylinders, or stepping outside the wire with good men and women to the left and right. our becomes Our.
Thank you so much Brian! The capitalization was mostly to tone the fact that “Now is our time, Now (then)”, but with your communal awareness you engraved in it a greater meaning. No one can change the world alone, the world will be changed when We, not “me”, will stand up for it. Or else every atomic struggle shall fade.
Thank yo for this, Tolis, it’s beautiful.
I really enjoy how Steve moves elegantly between the universal and the specific (and every level in between) in his posts. He achieves this in his Resistance books too, and invites us to do the same when considering the ‘What’s it about?’ question for our writing projects.
These short posts, while containing actionable instructions, are so pithy and beautiful, like the chapters in the Artists Journey and the others. Tolis’ comment, above, is 5x the length of Steve’s post. 🙂
I totally resemble that remark! I read a long time ago that extroverts ‘think out loud’. That is certainly how I operate. Once I write it or say it–and is nearly always meandering, inside I’m like, “yeah, that’s what I meant…”
Thanks for your patience to endure these meandering musings to find some clarity.
Steve’s posts are weekly haiku or Zen koan. I spend the rest of the week pondering them before the next nugget of truth nodding like a bobblehead.
Steve, you make me believe that I’m almost sane or at least not dyslexic. So, it is the art that’s crazy. Writing is chaos. Nothing shows itself in any linear fashion. Most days I’m lucky to have a mixed up batch of paragraphs that need sorted like laundry. And with one sock missing. Thanks.
“Paragraphs that need sorted like laundry. And with one sock missing.”
That’s just perfect! I can completely relate to that. Made me laugh out loud!
me too, if only it was just the work that was chaos and not life too.
But Lin, isn’t chaotic life that which makes us stronger and pushes us to put out better work?
True., I know my work is better now than it’s ever been and I can look back and see how so much of what has happened has led me to dig deeper and work harder. Thanks, Jackie, I used to be able to see the half full not half empty glass. I’m losing that capacity, feeling old and tired. But, fall down 7 times get up 8 right? or 80 or 800 …. thanks
Thanks Chuck, I have accomplished one goal I set for today.
Good supporting quote on this topic, from E.L. Doctorow:
“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
I could, and should, sit and think about that for a very long time.
That’s the only way I’ve ever made the trip.
Making a copy of this quote, Joe. Thanks.
Thanks Joe, I love the quote..
Just wading into the chaos, ya?
Spot on brilliant! Applicable to any fcaet of life.
Thank you dear Joe, I was immediately reminded of a quote I heard from mr. Jim Rohn many years ago, which is supporting for the one you sent us: “It’s like holding a lamp in the night. You can only see a few (let’s say ten) meters away. But if you walk those ten meters, guess what -you can see another ten!”
Dan Pink wrote an interesting book called ‘Whole New Mind’ where he makes the argument that the MFA is more valuable to the CEO than the MBA or the JD. I encourage everyone to check it out. It may–for anyone who continues to struggle with ‘why is it so damn easy for them…the linear types IMHO…why am I so damn different…why do I struggle with the most mundane tasks…’ to me, this book validated some of the tendencies I have.
Could it be that creatives are more in touch with the right hemisphere, the chaos, and for us the linear shit is what is so damn hard? I’ve always been dumbstruck, back to jr high and high school by people who could actually do their homework.
I have this vivid memory of sitting next to Stacy K. (flat out the most beautiful girl on the planet, or at least in top three–California girls you know, you should have seen my high school. We were awash in beautiful girls…) well the teacher is giving out some long term assignment, and Stacy pulls out this little calendar and writes everything down.
I’m sitting right next to here–IT HAD NEVER OCCURRED TO ME TO USE A CALENDAR! NEVER. NOT ONCE. I didn’t even know they made mini calendars. People use these things for organization?!?!? I was 16 at the time…
Dan makes the point that we need to use both sides–but my guess is most people stay tethered to their preferred hemisphere:
Hyper linear people with whom I have always fought with–my entire life:
o Cops who give tickets for driving 28 in a 25 (got one, seriously, Federal Cop at the Presidio of Monterey)
o ‘Put on your safety belt Sergeants Major” in combat zones
o Sit back down and write your sentences teachers
o We stopped serving breakfast 2 minutes ago (Falling Down with Michael Douglass)
o Data driven managers who ignore the humanity of their employees
Maybe the point–and Moshe Dayan is the perfect example, is that for many creatives we need to become more comfortable with the order than the chaos. Could be a mirror image of what Steve wrote, but that is likely the entire underlying theme of ‘War of Art’ genre. I, for one, am 100% comfortable in chaos. Wait. I have been 100% comfortable in the past. Ready, Fire, Aim was how I operated. Maybe with some maturity I am now sensing the danger of total chaos and do things to break shit down for a degree of order so I can get to work.
We need the ‘keep off of my grass, you are out of uniform, do pushups for not being 10 minutes early’ NCOs to make us into Soldiers. The put your a$$ discipline.
However, it is those combat leaders who are in touch with chaos who make the brilliant tactical and strategic leaps of intuition that win wars.
No one has ever been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by following the OPORD lockstep, by coloring inside the lines–but maybe the discipline–the order, the left hemisphere keeps us alive long enough to know when we must cross that line.
Peter–you’re absolutely right that Steve is a genius, and his posts are less than 100 words but pack a 100 megaton bomb. Tolis and I, on the other hand, seem to blather on and on…
Love it here. The water is so warm.
my problem was always math class. I could intuit the right answer but could never get the steps right to “show my work”. tried explaining how I do it to my husband once and couldn’t do it for weeks.
I know EXACTLY how that feels. EXACTLY.
Thank you so much for the full-in post, dear Brian
The point that a portion of order (a good one, that is) is essential for us creatives, is crucial. Yes, it is wholeness that will bring forth the Powers -chaos and line merged together.
Reading the comment I realized that a person I know, with whom we had a really difficult time, was 100% linear. They would insult me (!) for not being linear, with emotionally negative-loaded phrases like “you are very slow in thinking, maybe dumb, and that can be a great danger in the future” (not being able to understand the non-linear, chaotic/spherical conceptions of thy mind, they thought that the wide wasn’t wide but slow, while I was seeing so further ahead of them -that was why I was “slow”, or better, “whole” -you can’t be whole in a few seconds, can you?), and “you are dysfunctional, others are so much stronger than you” (count the same reasoning as the other phrase). That specific person met the chaotic “dragon inside” me -the dark side of me that awoke and was so spherical and fearsome harnessing the energies of chaotic self, that they actually… changed their whole idiosyncrasy to a certain point because of my “answer” to them in the long term. And it was good practice too, because once you learn how to deal with strong but low-moral-level linears (that’s a good naming!) then you may become stronger than ever before in terms of defending your philosophy and idiosyncrasy and self. Today I am far more capable of being assertive with Very difficult people, and almost impenetrable to and powerful against their attacks.
I could write so many things! But I’ll keep it as brief as I can. I think it may be equally important for Steve to be laconic, as it is for us to be expanding so much, because both these are great powers and they supplement each other in the right position. As long as we are on our way, the path of the heart, and considering where we are in terms of chasing our dream. e.g. Steven has succeeded, he is our mentor, it is so powerful to be laconic in that position. While I am still struggling and facing very seriously the possibility of a no-dream-land position of Life, which makes it great for me to be always searching and connecting thoughts and trying to see all points of view etc. trying to find a way through to the dreamland. So exploring so much (equals to expanding so much) is so crucial for me!
Thank you so much again!
p.s. Whole New Mind is now on thelist.
This reminds me a little of your interview with Aaron MacLean on the School of War podcast. I listened to that fascinated. I have long wondered how high functioning combat soldiers and marines transition out of that environment.
Although I have no experience of combat (I was a peacetime ANG flight surgeon), I have been an emergency physician for 28 years. Chaos is part and parcel of my world. In like manner, I have wondered how I will function without the chaos as I contemplate my exit strategy in the next few years.
I have also been a columnist for various publications for 27 years. My best ideas come in the midst of the madness of the emergency department and I write them down between patients. I’m worried about what will happen to my creativity without that chaos. I suspect that as much as I tirade against it, I love it with more deeply than I would like to admit.
Time will tell.
Thank you for inspiring and educating us.
Never fear Edwin. After raising a child with medical challenges to adulthood while working multiple jobs, I thought, “how will I ever continue to create without the insanity?” As a person trasitioning from the chaos of day jobs to support the art and writing gigs to full time creativity, be assured new chaos will find you. Hope this isn’t too frightening. But then, if you need a bit of a scare, hope this helps.
Thank you so much Edwin and Jackie. If you can do it, we all can do it.-
Joe and Jackie, thank you for the encouragement. I really needed that.
I want to give a heartfelt thank you to Steve, who has set the conditions for this place, and everyone else here who posts, responds, confronts, encourages…I have made true friends here–we talk and email more often than some of the friends I’ve had for decades.
A few significant tumblers, mysteries–shaking my fist at God–kind of tear-filled anger fueled mysteries about my own life–seemed to miraculously fell into place in the last 10 days or so. There are numerous influences, behaviors, methods that I have tried over the years–and shit just became clear in a day. Like a light switch. I feel both lighter of being and about 10-15 years younger. Feels miraculous. Seriously.
What I specifically want to thank all of you for is that stayed in the pool long enough with me while I’ve been thrashing around, splashing some people in the eyes, playing Marco Polo when everyone else might be playing water polo–but never kicking me out of the pool–even when many of you might have suspected I was the dude peeing in the pool. (Probably was a few times…)
You all helped: Of course Sensei Steve, Joe, Maureen, Kate, Tolis, Brad, Jim G. (spartan blog last year), Peter, Sam, Jackie…I could go on and on–but I know these pages, weekly (remember when it was Friday’s too–I do miss Callie) played a significant role in me unpacking the boxes in the basement and finally seeing what is there, what to keep, what to toss, and what I how I can make a cool den.
I hope someday I can shake each of your hands, then embrace you in an awkward man-hug.
Good writing Brian. Yea, I miss Callie also, she was awesome.
Great to see you! Haven’t seen you in a bit–so didn’t call you out by name–but rest assured, you’re in the soup with the rest of these wonderful peeps.
I miss Callie, too. So much! And is it okay to ask about Mary? Whatever happened to Mary?
Maureen — I think/wonder about Mary too.
Are you reassuring me I didn’t overstep, Brian? 🙂
And to the more general point of Steve’s post, we toss the following around on this site every now and then (if memory serves)…
“Be regular and orderly in your life,” the novelist Gustave Flaubert suggests, “so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
Which apparently means (1) if you have ONLY chaos, good luck functioning — so order what you can, and (2) if it isn’t violent (read: chaotic) and original work, why bother?
I’ve said this before, too — but for the longest time I thought if I commented very often it was just another form of resistance, another way to put off the “real” work. Now I think, “Wow. Is there nothing I won’t use to bash myself? What’s wrong with spending time with friends who all want to do more and better work?”
I don’t know if there’s a classier (if metaphorical) coffee shop in all the world. Thanks for setting the stage, Steve, by letting us in on what you’ve learned. When I get where I’m going, you will have been much of the reason. If I don’t get there, I’m at least working on something that matters — which is all that matters!
Well said Maureen! And I agree.
Yes, Maureen, well said!
I owe you a lot–and the least of which is a thoughtful and thankful response to your email. I kinda get a bit overwhelmed by the kindness of people here–and need to digest it a bit before responding. Like the old wives tale of ‘no swimming after lunch for at least 30 minutes’, I have been marinating in your counsel.
Dig it, B!
Brian what you say is so important! I really hope for the best for you. And I also hope to shake hands one day, although I am probably at the other side of earth now. Actually I won’t hope for that, hope derives me of some of the energies of reality, I’ll just wait and see if fate has a plan for that.
I think you are a driving force of the blog. I was just reminded of Gladiator: Maximus says to the emperor: “No, I don’t want the throne of the emperor”, and Aurelius answers: “That’s why You must be the emperor”.
or Thank God!
Sharing a favorite Wendell Berry poem here
“To Know the Dark”
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.”
― Wendell Berry, Terrapin: Poems by Wendell Berry
Love this Dea. Thanks for sharing. Making a copy to tack to the cork board of inspiration.
Thanks Dea, I love this poem, it also reminds me of the book St. John and the Dark Night of the Soul.
Wendell Berry is such a genius! Thanks for this wonderful poem. Here’s a favorite Berry poem; it also fits this entire discussion and Steve’s wisdom about resistance.
“Our Real Work”
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
Copyright ©1983 by Wendell Berry, from Standing by Words.
Thanks for sharing this Dea. I love that last line!
The refrain from Leonard Cohen’s Anthem calms and focuses me (when I remember to think of ir)
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There’s a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Thank you everyone for your light. See you next week
I just watched a 2 hour interview between Steve and Rich Roll an ultra marathon athlete. I particularly loved the last 10 minutes when Steve said I don’t believe in talent, he said I am a grinder, I just grind on and on and Rich responded back saying a grinder is 99% ahead of most people even if they don’t reach their goal (hope I said that right), most people do not want to do the work.
Inwardly I shouted with joy, YES, I too am a grinder, I just grind on and on, Thanks Steve.
That’s absolutely my favorite Rich Roll podcast. I’ve watched it 20 times. Sometimes it just rolls in the background while I do “whatever isn’t necessary” which takes me away from writing.
Rich is a great interviewer and Steve is the kindest and most educational of advisors. Love them both!
Thank you very much Alethia, just wanted to comment that your name means “Truth (Αλήθεια) in greek.
Thank you for reminding us, mr. Bing
Grinders. The fact of Life.
What a beautiful space you created here.
I second Pierre above–
to ALL here–THANK YOU for being a weekly dose of encouragement and inspiration. I have a congenital kidney condition, so I am a teetotaler. However, I feel like a drunk walking this “crooked line” Steve speaks of. Dazed. Confused. Why can’t I stay on course? It’s because there is no course? We are trailblazing through chaos? Let me get my machete to forge a path through the wilderness. We are warriors with many writing weapons at our disposal. 🙂
And Kate, we have each other. Thanks all. Wishing everyone a productive week ahead.
Kate, I thank you too for being here with us with your exceptional energy. Please stay here for long! And go get them.
One thing I love best about this space is how nurturing everyone is. Every time someone tells me they appreciate what I’ve shared I want to do the thanks-with-a-smiley-face thing, but I don’t — to hold down the clutter, if nothing else. Not sure what the etiquette is. So let me say just this once how much I appreciate the reassurance I’m not stinking up the joint!
Thank you so much Maureen, your appreciation -no smileys needed- spreads in this place like osmosis.
A post-script on “chaos.” I’m a fan of fighter-pilot call signs, and how each is typically bestowed on a pilot for some screw-up, character defect, or oddity in physical appearance. There’s always a story behind the name, which often sounds tough or heroic… but peel the onion and find the origin. A couple favorites:
MOTO: You’d initially think, “Moto! This pilot must have a high level of motivation to earn a call sign like that one.” But nope. In this case, the pilot was constantly stating what everyone already knew, so earned the call sign: “Master Of The Obvious.”
ZEUS: Powerful, god-like, and throwing thunderbolts from on high, right? Nope. The pilot was something of a slacker, so was named: “Zero Effort Unless Supervised.”
and to stay on theme with this week’s post…
CHAOS: Call sign carried by Marine General Jim Mattis, from his days as O-6: “Colonel Has Another Outstanding Suggestion.”
You have a book here. An explanation of the military to civilians. It can go back and forth between the devastating truths we’ve experienced–and then back to how our gallows humor, locker room ‘towel-snapping’ shit-talking is how we cope. It can be both devastatingly raw (like listening to Daryl Cooper of Martyrmade Podcast discuss the civil rights in his Jim Jones series–holy shit–check that out!) and also gut busting funny. Dude–you’re onto something.
I was thinking about Toxic Masculinity this morning while mowing the lawn. If I am ever wealthy, I can never get a house cleaner or a landscaper. Those mundane chores completed while usually listening to 80’s/90’s/early 2000’s music, are when my mind makes so many connections.
Anyway–I have an entire thesis now about Toxic Masculinity that I believe sheds light on it–and there is a relatively easy solution–but won’t get into that here. Here’s a hint: chastity.
I think the call sign protocol you just described is an example of ‘healthy masculinity’. It is how we keep each other in check. It is reminding the all-star who hits the game-winning 3 that someone set the pick for him. It is reminding Emmett Smith that the Left Guard pulled a hole open larger than the Grand Canyon so he could waltz right through unscathed. It is pulling us off our ego with a funny man hug–recognizing you’re valuable–but not too valuable.
That is the masculinity we need. Another thought along this line:
Never hire a pretty man. Whole article about why this is so awful–but the gist is that a pretty man has never been punched right in the mouth and learned when he needs to shut the fu#* up, and just do the job. A pretty man has never been too cold, too hot, too tired, too hungry, too afraid to move forward—and yet has done it anyway because his buddies are counting on him.
Pretty men are anathema. They need their asses kicked a few times, learn some humility, and then they can join the campfire Brad so eloquently describes below.
Yeah, but what if Alicia Vikander takes your hand, looks deeply into your soul, and purrs in a fetching Swedish way, “Brian… you are so pretty. I want you to meet my parents.”
Kinda painted yourself into a corner with that one, dincha bro?
Damit Joe! I’ve got work to do–and now you’ve pants-ed me in front of the entire senior class! So embarrassed!
Ok. I did say hire. I did not say that a beautiful woman absolutely owns us apes hook, line and sinker–and that we would do anything for her. Hiring them as a politician or a leader is a wholly different matter.
Late to the game this round. Great posts all.. Two great themes: grind, brothers and sisters. And as Maureen states:
“One thing I love best about this space is how nurturing everyone is.”
I recall a line in the book, “The Road Less Traveled.” I paraphrase… “The best personal relationships are like base camps… ”
Each warrior goes off to conduct their patrols, their individual business. When the work is done, they return to a crackling campfire and a waiting cup of joe at the base camp…
That’s what this blog is.. Semper Fi.
I should have copyrighted “cup of joe” when I had the chance.
You’d be a wealthy man by now, but none of us Joe’s (Army enlisted guys) would ever consider paying royalties to some asshat who thinks he owns it!
Here’s my solution: With “Hey Siri” and “Alexa” and other technologies that monitor sound in the environment, we get R&D on the case. Along with a co-branding partnership with Venmo.
We build program that rides on the back of Venmo. Whenever the user says “cup of joe,” their phone Venmo’s us a nickel as a royalty. The program has to be sophisticated enough to differentiate from non-copyrighted phrases that might SOUND like “cup of joe,” including but not limited to:
Stub my toe
Dress like a hoe
Whup your foe
Whut up, yo
There’s a Caribbean island for sale and I’m getting in line right now.
Asshat Enterprises, LLC
YOU’RE ON FIRE!!!
SOMEBODY STOP HIM! IVE GOT SHIT TO DO!!!
TOO FUNNY! Leave me alone!
I’ve always called it the ‘rucksack flop’ — but your description is more apt. The rucksack flop is a verb–where do we do it? In the base camp.
Adding something on the topic of “wading into the chaos and the unknown.” I saw this on Maria Popova’s “The Marginalian”:
“Day by day I am approaching the goal which I apprehend but cannot describe,” Ludwig van Beethoven (December 16, 1770–March 26, 1827) wrote to his boyhood friend, rallying his own resilience as he began losing his hearing. A year later, shortly after completing his Second Symphony, he sent his brothers a stunning letter about the joy of suffering overcome, in which he resolved:
“Ah! how could I possibly quit the world before bringing forth all that I felt it was my vocation to produce?”
Wonderful quote once again. Thanks for sharing, Joe!
Thanks for the help eveThank you so much for this. I was into this issue and tired to tinker around to check if its possible but couldnt get it done. Now that i have seen the way you did it, thanks guys
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