Chaos, Order, and the Creativity that is Ours
This was the talk I gave today at CreativeMornings/SAC, a mini-lecture series for the city's creative community. Look for the video soon! Until then, enjoy...
When December rolls around, I’m one of those people. I get that not everyone enjoys the holidays that much, but once Thanksgiving ends, IT'S ON in the Walton house.
I love everything about it.
The crisp weather.
I enjoy a multitude of expressions as well. From the silly to the mythical, the Christmas season just does something to me. I had beautiful experiences growing up that have inspired me to create a special time for my own family. This all leads me to tell you a story about what happened on the Sunday after Thanksgiving this year.
Sunday is family day in our home. It's the only day Samantha and I both have off work and so we are pretty protective of these precious hours we get to spend together. This particular Sunday fell right in between getting back from Thanksgiving break at my parents' house and a work trip I would be leaving for on the following Monday morning. This was our chance to usher in those Christmas vibes. It will be our first holiday season in our new home and so there was an added anticipation to pull out all the decorations and light this thing up.
We had it all planned out. We'd wake up early and head out to pick up a tree, hopefully before the forecasted rain rolled in. We'd pick up coffee and pastries at our favorite local spots and then head home for a full day of yuletide fun and cheer. Also on the agenda: cookies, music, capped off by the viewing of some of our favorite Christmas movies.
Anticipation was palpable.
Expectations were high.
(If you are a parent and reading this you probably have a inkling as to what is about to happen.)
It all started when Rhodes (my five-year-old) started getting impatient with the process of trimming the tree and getting it setup in the house. Anxious to begin placing the ornaments on the branches, he just didn't anticipate the steps that are necessary before this point. His impatience only got worse from there.
In addition to having a difficult time waiting to decorate, my son has taken up the hobby of inserting inappropriate words into Christmas carols. On this particular day, we could not get him to refrain from singing:
"RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED PENIS!"
Now, to be fair, we have a pretty open policy about discussing our body parts in an appropriate, discovery-based way...but this wasn't that. This was just trying to get under our skin, and it worked.
Not feeling one-hundred percent, Samantha's frustration with Rhodes escalated and she began dealing out consequences. Wanting to maintain peace, I tried to calm her down which worked like a charm.
Except it didn't.
Now Samantha and I are arguing about how to handle a five year-old who is spinning out of control. I see my Christmas dream slowly crumbling in front of me and I feel control slip from my fingers. Even the music starts to feel like a clanging symbol.
I turn off the music and let Rhodes know it was time for a conversation in the back. Screaming the whole way there, we entered his room and I shut the door behind me. Backing up a bit, Rhodes has a ukulele that he like to "play" sometimes. On two other occasions he has used said ukulele to hit Samantha or I when he was upset. As I turned to shut the door to his room he grabbed the ukulele and with all his five year-old might, swung it and cracked me right in the arm.
Without hesitation, I grabbed the ukulele and broke it over my knee.
There were about 5 seconds of complete silence before a meltdown ensued. Screaming at the top of his lungs, he flung himself on the bed and continued his rage. I exited the room with the broken ukulele in my hands. Even after a few moments, I was fifty-fifty on whether or not I made the right move. On the one hand, he has to understand that people have limits. On on the other, I JUST BO JACKSON-ED MY SON'S UKELE OVER MY KNEE.
Life if full of chaos. It's all around us. Sometimes the chaos is obvious.
Tantrums of five-year-olds.
Tantrums of thirty-six-year-olds.
Often, the chaos is internal.
Chaos exists in our vocations.
If there is one thing that I know about creativity, is that it is about turning chaos into order. It's putting poetry to the pain of addiction, pursuing solitude to quiet an inner rage, or helping a client organize fragmented ideas and forming a plan. There's even a very old story that talks about the beginning of the world, and the dark and formless void that was brought to order by a "creator" that then imparted this creative image into people. This idea of order from chaos has been told since the beginning, and it's all around us.
When the tears stopped and everyone calmed down, Rhodes and I sat down for a chat. I told him I was sorry for getting so angry and losing my temper and that it wasn't right of me to break his ukulele. I told him that even though I try hard to follow the rules mommy and I set for the house, I'm not perfect and make mistakes. I asked him for his forgiveness. Then I asked him what he learned.
"Don't hit people." was his answer.
I told him that's true, and that people have limitations. Even the most kind people aren't going to sit there while someone takes a swing at them with an object.
Every chaotic moment provides us with a choice: react or create. We can simply react to the moments, getting tossed back and fourth like a leaf on the wind, or we can step into the mess and create. In our chaotic moment a few weeks ago, we learned to say we were sorry and didn't pass ups the moment to ask the hard questions of ourselves.
React or create.
Both words are made up of the same letters, but are two different paths. Each day is is a gift. Whatever context we might find ourselves in, may we have the courage to see the opportunities that provide us a chance to enter the chaos, and the creativity that is ours.