The Balance Between Order and Entropy

22 03 2008

Katara       Back in ’03, I was in my second year of teaching, and while I was enjoying my new career, I found I was having increasing trouble concentrating or focusing on anything other than those things in which I held a deep interest.  I’d had this problem my whole life, but it seemed as if it was getting worse the older I got.  Three years prior, when I was Assistant to the Registrar at Agnes Scott College, it got so bad that I went to a doctor and got medication for Adult ADD.  BIG mistake.  GINORMOUS.   Yes, the drugs stopped the channel-switching in my head and allowed me to focus on important things like getting bills paid on time and keeping track of important papers at work.  However, the drugs affected my creative spark.  Damn near killed it dead!   As a freelance writer with deadlines, this was clearly an issue.  I stopped taking the drugs and decided that I would try to do what I’d done as a teenager–find ways to distract the little channel-switcher in my head long enough to do those boring but necessary tasks of which all responsible people should be capable.

My answer was what it had always been and what it continues to be:  music.

One of the most odious tasks in the universe is washing dishes.  I hate to do it.  I have always hated to do it.  The only other thing that comes even close to that level of hell is cleaning the bathroom, and I would much rather scrub the toilet and wipe down the shower tiles than  stand at a sink and scour pots.  Unfortunately, my mother is a clean-freak, so every Saturday at around 10 a.m., the cartoons got switched off–well, back when we had Saturday morning cartoons that didn’t suck!–and my first chore of the day was washing the breakfast dishes and cleaning the kitchen.  Then it was on to make the beds–not just mine but my parents’ as well.  (Incidentally, my parents have been happily married since February 1964.  However, my father snores like a freight train.  Thus to preserve connubial bliss, my parents keep separate bedrooms, though they do tend to sleep together more in the winter months.)  Dishes washed and beds made, it was off to tidy and dust my room, the living room and the den, and clean the master bathroom.  At the same time, my mom worked on cleaning my dad’s bathroom (because he demands a “no-wire hangers!” level of clean in his shower), dusting everything else in the house, and vacuuming the floors while dad worked on lawn maintenance or other property-upkeep sort of tasks.

Now, I’ll grant you, as an only child, I probably had more chores to do than most kids my age.  However, what I had to do wasn’t all that much.  I was certainly not in indentured servitude.  Nonetheless, Saturday mornings were agony for me.  There were so many more interesting and productive things I could be doing with those precious hours of weekend free-time!  I could be reading.  I could be doing homework! (Yes, I actually loved school!)  I could be practicing piano, singing, making up dance steps in my basement, knitting, crocheting, sewing something!  The idea of taking even one hour out of the week so as to not live in a pigsty was incomprehensible to me.

Then my parents bought me a Walkman.

This thing was a revelation!  Although now it seems like it was akin to carrying around a small brick, at the time the Sony Walkman was a marvel of technology.  Go, Go, Gadget Power!  I didn’t have to move my huge boom-box from room to room and annoy my parents in the process with the likes of The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, Bauhaus, The Smiths and The B-52s–though my mom admitted that they, at least, could carry a tune in a bucket!   All I had to do was clip the thing onto my waistband (sometimes a belt was required, ’cause it was heavy), pop the earphones on, and presto!  Self-contained music!  Of course, I was often singing along with my favorite bands, but mom and dad seemed to think that was preferable to the loud guitars and drums.  The magic in the box, though, was that it pacified the channel switcher in a way I’d never encountered before–truly, in a way that music on the stereo couldn’t do.  It was the earphones.  They blocked out all the other distractors and let me focus on the music–which was far more interesting than folding laundry or dusting nick-knacks.  Suddenly, those two hours of housework every Saturday weren’t wasted time.  What had taken me three hours to do before the advent of the Walkman now took about an hour and a half!

And that’s how I find myself, at age 35, iPod synched up and charging and ready to get me through a morning of dish-washing, floor cleaning and laundry.  I still hate housework, and here in Japan, they don’t believe in automatic dishwashers, so I’m forced to wash every single utensil I use.  Seriously, I have never appreciated the Maytag Man more in my life!   There are times when the balance between order and entropy swings dangerously in the chaotic direction, but then again, balance is never about standing still.  It’s about constant motion to keep everything on a moderate level.

I like to joke about the Triangle of Possibility as it applies to my life at home.  I can write/knit/sew and go to work, but the cleaning won’t get done.  I can go to work and clean, but the writing/knitting/sewing won’t get done.  Or I can clean and write/knit/sew, but I won’t go to work!  Since not working is not an option, the pendulum swings between my creative endeavors, which I love, and keeping house, which I loathe with the white-hot intensity of a thousand burning suns!  My challenge is forcing myself to give equal time to all the important things in my life–even those that are boring but necessary.

The music helps a lot.




2 responses

23 03 2008

I can’t imagine life without a soundtrack. Mine’s usually in my head, but it doesn’t matter what I’m doing or what I focus on, there is always music in the background.

A little different from you, but I just wanted to say, yeah, music does help!

23 03 2008

Music seems to take care of the channel switcher in my head too!

Pink Floyd – The Wall really focuses me on a tough work assignment that requires major concentration! LOL.

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