A Busted Steam Valve Leads to a Better Understanding of Chaos and Order

When we woke up this morning, one of our radiators was shooting streams of water a foot or two into the air. By the time Aidan left for a meeting an hour or two later, it was shooting water up to three or four feet. By 11:00 a.m., that water was geysering up to about five feet high in spurts and broad-reaching sputters.

I had three hours of phone meetings to get through, so I jambed a stewpot under the dripping steam valve, tented a towel over the mini-geyser, and called the maintenance guy. And then I prayed to whichever god is most responsible for 100-year-old boiler heating systems, because I didn't have enough arms or clear lines of attention to deal with the chaos.

One of my clients heard me accidentally yell into the phone while I attempted to change out overflowing cooking pots and move sopping wet towels with my phone clamped between my ear and shoulder, "OH MY GOD NO WHERE'S ANOTHER TOWEL, GODDAMN!"

Later, after the maintenance guy had fixed my radiator, I sat down with a cup of coffee and took in my tropically humid apartment with all its dripping windows and the smell of wet wood. It felt good on my skin. Once the chaos had subsided a bit, I found the outcome kind of pleasant.

While I took a few moments to think over my coffee, it occurred to me that I had referred to a series of frustrating events that stressed me out as "chaos", and it also occurred to me that I might be choosing to label series of events I don't like as "chaos" and series of events I do like as "order". If it is true that I am choosing what I think of as chaotic or as ordered in my life based on my comfort levels, then I am letting my relative levels of discomfort dictate whether I feel I have power. I am allowing discomfort to equal chaos to equal my sense of powerlessness in certain situations.


I wasn't entirely powerless today – I called the maintenance guy and controlled the waterworks as best I could and handled my meetings – but I allowed myself to feel more powerless when I didn't like the situation and then to feel self-congratulatory when I basked in the pleasant situation I thought of as more orderly, like I am some kind of giant baby who just waits around for the universe to pay her positive attention as though she had anything much to do with it.

In short: discomfort does not equal chaos or powerlessness, and comfort does not equal order or an increase in ability.

Neither comfort/discomfort nor order/chaos rob me of the ability to choose a path. Only I can do that.

Crazy what a busted steam valve during morning meetings can lead to, eh? Now I just have to remember this the next time I get caught up in that calamity-striking-all-the-things mentality again.