My teaching gigs have ended until fall so I’ve been busying myself composing and songwriting-for-hire. After months of obeying a tight academic schedule, setting my own hours again has been making me feel a bit random and chaotic. Which has been making me think about chaos theory.
Chaologists have discovered a cool thing: seemingly random motions—turbulence in the air, water spiralling down a drain, etc.—are actually highly patterned. Processes that look unpredictable can actually be forecast, to an extent. It’s a comforting revelation. Look deeply enough into chaos and order emerges. There’s structure there. And when this kind of ordered chaos is plotted on a graph, it yields a beautiful shape called a Strange Attractor, which looks like this:
This graphic illustrates how chaotic systems behave: They loop again and again around a given point, never exactly repeating their route, but always staying bounded within a certain orbit. Then, suddenly, they jump to another orbit around a different point! Ultimately, chaotic systems bounce between these two “attractors,” looping around them in an infinite dance between yin and yang. Every cycle is different (hence, randomness) but bounded within a pattern (hence, order).
In my professional life, music and Poetic Interconnections are my two attractors, the points around which I orbit. And sometimes I need a break from both. Vacation! Even just one evening’s break from the rat race around my Strange Attractor can set me right again.
Last night I decided to take an at-home vacation. I turned off the phone, disconnected from the internet, and rummaged through the pantry in search of cookies. And in the very back of the cabinet I found… Palmiers.
Palmiers are pieces of puff pastry folded over themselves a bunch of times, sprinkled with sugar, and baked until golden. They look like this:
Yep, they’re Strange Attractors!
And so my vacation ended prematurely, as I felt compelled to sit and write this blog. Resistance is futile?! May as well enjoy the loopy ride.
So now I’m back to work and wondering: What are your attractors—around which points do you orbit?