26 Jul

I’m 49.

So old my kids can’t grasp the antiquity.

So young my mother rolls her eyes at my recent coffin countdown celebration.

Not surprisingly, I’ve been thinking a lot about chaos theory. Oh, admit it . . . when everyone else is glued to the television . . . you’re doing it too.

Thinking. Wondering. What if-ing?   😉

A complete articulation of Chaos Theory, popularly referenced as ‘the butterfly effect’, is beyond the scope of this blog (and yes, I’m laughing with you at the appalling understatement).

The exponentially simplified premise? We can’t predict what we can’t grasp.

Edward Lorenz captured the whimsy of this theory in the title of his 1972 academic paper:  ‘Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set off a Tornado in Texas?’ (Affirming rumors of the twisted sense of humor held by academics).

We tend to think in dichotomies – love/hate, good/evil, success/failure. After all, it’s easier to prioritize actions when we have a clear decision point. Then, we categorize effort as neatly as census questions sort people.

Dichotomies are convenient. And frightening for the same reason.

For me, the last five lines of Robert Frost’s 1920 poem, ‘The Road Not Taken’ capture the promise and lament of dichotomy.

“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged into a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
and that has made all the difference.”

Pine Idaho

Hwy 20 Pine Idaho

Welcome to a standard southern Idaho wooded area. Sagebrush is the shrub du jour with pine garnish. Walk with me, on a sun burnt July day, along this dusty road. Seconds ago, a doe stopped, observed us, then turned to pick her way up the hillside into shadows thrown by the scrub aspen.

Within a few yards, and a heartbeat of the doe’s reversal from her daily path to the river, a truck barreled past us with a horse trailer in tow. (You can’t discern the license plate number – I’ve tried).

So many variables. A different outcome but for something we couldn’t possible understand to be significant.

For us. What if the driver spilled coffee? And the truck swerved slightly? He’d have clipped one of us with the side mirror.

For the deer. What if our presence hadn’t redirected her from seeking water? And from the truck’s path?

Can we wrap our intellect around the infinite adjustments in life with sufficient certainty to predict?  Chaos theory chides us. How long did you hesitate choosing at the road’s fork? Where did you place your first step? If a butterfly can flap a single wing with far-reaching effect, then surely a cough, a sneeze, even a breath has consequence.

Pessimists consider the implications of choice so overwrought with consequence they are unable to act for fear of a misstep. Optimists see chaos as the foundation of serendipity. Don’t let chaos theory overwhelm you into an immediate retreat to the illusion of safe dichotomy. Embrace serendipity. We are on the cusp of something wonderful. At 29, 39 – or 49.

This picture, snapped by a friend with a cell phone from a crumbling asphalt parking lot in an overcrowded visitor center on the edge of Lake Tahoe, captures the power of chaos.

A limitless vista of small choices leading to grand FinneganDichotomies might be easier for my feeble human brain, but as a writer, I know the most interesting characters have infinite dimensions. The hero might be a villain but for a single step (or cough, or sneeze, or . . . you get the picture even if it isn’t poetic). I’m not arguing we should neglect taking action, or choosing a path, but sometimes –

When I hear people discuss their writing journey, they say ‘if not for’, ‘this error led me’ or ‘if I hadn’t taken the time to’. Upon reflection, they appreciate even the difficulties en route to cherished moments.

Sitting in my metaphorical kayak, I could look back toward a woman, standing in a parking lot, snapping a picture with her cell phone.  Or I could look forward, toward the next (God willing) thirty years.

Even without a clear path, the view is amazing.


Posted by on July 26, 2011 in Idaho, inspiration, writers


Tags: , , , ,

28 responses to “Limitless

  1. johannaharness

    July 26, 2011 at 6:06 AM

    I love this, Liz. “Even without a clear path, the view is amazing.” Wonderful thoughts. Thank you.

    • John Barnes

      July 26, 2011 at 7:12 AM

      Thanks Johanna, for pointing me towards this – this morning.

    • Liz Fredericks

      July 26, 2011 at 7:27 AM

      I’m glad that you liked it. I admit this post reveals my ‘big scary mid–life crisis’ thoughts. Just another way chaos theory gets me through the day. I really did not mean to rhyme . . . but it’s chaos, ya know.

  2. Senay Ozdemir

    July 26, 2011 at 6:51 AM

    I am finding myself in a period of big transitions. Many people ask me about my plans but it’s not all that clear. I don’t mind, because my determination, positiveness and curiosity is so much more stronger than the ‘clearness’ of my plans.. It even keeps me alive because I believe beautiful things are going to happen (in your words: the view is amazing!)
    Thank you, liz, this is definitely one of the best blogposts I’ve read lately.

    • Liz Fredericks

      July 26, 2011 at 7:30 AM

      Thank you so much for sharing the blog with me this morning, Senay. I don’t think we need absolute clarity when we can trust that the world, especially the writing community, is filled with determined, positive, and curious thinkers. I really appreciate your comment.

  3. John Barnes

    July 26, 2011 at 7:11 AM

    Chaos, dichotomy, serendipity. Awwww Yea-ahh, speak-in’ maw Lannnng-gidge. RRRRollin in the meadows of principalities of multiplicities. Ok, I’ve obviously been watching too much Cartoon channel w/ the 7yo.

    The point, the point, the …. right – Um, We Don’t know where we’re going, even if we think we do, and that’s ok. More so if we embrace that as opposed to, say, deluding ourselves that we are “masters of our destinies”. I may be driving the truck down the road, not realizing that impending blowout I don’t know about is going to save the life of that doe, who will birth a fawn next spring, that I will see and be inspired to turn off another road, & take a walk, where I will meet the Buddha playing go fish with Jesus and Kurt Vonnegut and , well you get the picture…

    Thanks much for this.

    • John Barnes

      July 26, 2011 at 7:15 AM

      P.S. Next week kids, we’ll start on String Theory, or as I like to call it the Douglas Adams school of physics(Life, the Universe & EVERYTHING)

      • Liz Fredericks

        July 26, 2011 at 7:34 AM

        Ahh, John, I adore the enthusiasm for thought coming through your writing. The ‘what if-ing’ is the best part of living and – at this moment, I’m thanking the limitless metaphysical for the internet. Finding people who like to play with the philosophical is one of the great blessings in life. Thank you so much for commenting.

  4. Janis McCurry

    July 26, 2011 at 7:16 AM

    I think that’s what makes living precious. If we didn’t have “what ifs” or choices, the gift of personal growth would not be as fulfilling. Thanks for the thoughtful blog, Liz.

    • Liz Fredericks

      July 26, 2011 at 7:36 AM

      Your blog from a few weeks ago really resonated with me – planted the intellectual seeds for using chaos theory to think through my little mid-life crisis. You’re so right about personal growth. Thank you.

  5. Peggy Staggs

    July 26, 2011 at 8:32 AM

    As a mystery writer Chaos Theory is an integral part of my writing. The butterfly in chapter one gives rise to the dragon in chapter 20. Every little twist can turn the book in a different direction. Chaos…I love it.
    P.S. Very nicely written.

  6. Liz Fredericks

    July 26, 2011 at 9:12 AM

    Thanks, Peggy! You’re spot on about the links between a riveting mystery (and, I’d argue, suspense) and chaos theory.

  7. Steph

    July 26, 2011 at 9:32 AM

    Liz, this has reminded me of how many times in life I’ve been at a crossroads. I’m not much of a planner so I chose a path and most of them have turned out great. My son taught me about the chaos theory and I’ve found it’s so true. Even if we think we are in control, Life will soon show us that it has other ideas. The best part is going along with the ride.
    I love this blog.

    • Liz Fredericks

      July 26, 2011 at 10:13 AM

      Thank you, Steph. I’m glad to hear the ride has treated you so well.

  8. Clarissa Southwick

    July 26, 2011 at 9:43 AM

    What a beautiful post, both the words and the pictures. I feel so lucky the choices we’ve made have put us on the same path.

    • Liz Fredericks

      July 26, 2011 at 10:15 AM

      Clarissa, you echo my thoughts. I feel very lucky too. I’ve got some tough days ahead, but it only makes us appreciate the still water. Right? 😉

  9. Deborah Batterman

    July 26, 2011 at 9:56 AM

    This post is simply beautiful . . . So, thank you, Johanna, for leading me here. And thank you, Liz, for giving me more to think about. Just posted a link to it on my Facebook page.

  10. Liz Fredericks

    July 26, 2011 at 10:19 AM

    Thank you so much for the kind words, Deborah. I’m venturing into the twitter/facebook world slowly, but now you’ve motivated me. What a blessing from you! Getting this response makes me a little less embarrassed about ‘putting it out there’. Life’s kinda scary right now so keeping an eye on the mountains is a good thing.

  11. Meredith Conner

    July 26, 2011 at 11:14 AM

    Ah Liz, so eloquently put! What beauty in the words and the voice of the soul you’ve written! Thank you for pointing out the roads and choices we sometimes forget that we’ve made, that have led us to where we are.

  12. Liz Fredericks

    July 26, 2011 at 11:34 AM

    Ah Meredith, right back atcha! I’m kinda glad for the choices that blended our paths. Looking forward to the future . . . future wine, future stories, future chapters of that lovely WIP you have.

  13. Mary Vine

    July 26, 2011 at 3:47 PM

    Even though I claim to be 39 years old…..I finished college in my fifties, sold my first, second, and third books in my fifties. Got braces on my bottom teeth on and off in my fifties. So, come on get started-catch up with me! The best is yet to be.

    • Liz Fredericks

      July 26, 2011 at 6:38 PM

      You are so very correct, Mary! The best is yet to be and I clearly need to start training to keep up with you. Thanks very much for the inspiration.

  14. Tracy Wilson-Burns

    July 26, 2011 at 5:26 PM

    Very thought provoking blog! It always amazes me to look back at myself as a high school student in CT, heading off to be a French major in college. Never in a gazillion years would I have imagined I’d become a vegan firmware engineer married to a raft guide and living in Idaho. The best part is knowing that right now, as I write this, I have no clue where my life is leading. But one step at a time, I’m getting there. And I just keep my fingers crossed it’ll turn out great.

    • Liz Fredericks

      July 26, 2011 at 6:41 PM

      Thanks Tracy! I’m so pleased that you were able to drop by the blog. In some ways, it’s kind of nice not to know exactly what’s ahead. I’ve always liked surprises.

  15. Carley Ash

    July 26, 2011 at 5:52 PM

    Great blog Liz, and I loved the last line, “Even without a clear path, the view is amazing.”

  16. P. L. Parker

    July 27, 2011 at 7:02 AM

    Interesting post – what if? I “what if” all the time even though I am content with “what is.” Enjoyed exploring the chaos theory.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: