Tag Archives: chaos theory

Coffee, Kittens, Nightgown an’ All

It’s chaos on the half-shelf at the bookstore right now, and I have to admit it’s got fun parts and it’s got … parts.

Yesterday morning I swam up from sleep at 7:30 and wandered upstairs, my bare feet attacked by hungry foster kittens at every step – and found three people at my front door, waiting to get in and organize the upstairs kitchen.

We’d told Kelley, the head chef at SECOND STORY CAFE, that she and her helpers Sam and Thom would be able to get into the bookstore “first thing Thursday morning” to have the kitchen ready for an 11 a.m. health inspection.

“First thing” in the morning is a non-specific measure of time, applied differently by different people. I let the team in, apologized for my long white cotton nightgown (which kind of makes me look like a rumpled Victorian ghost with bed hair) and aimed them toward the stairs. Then I moved to the kitchen to flick the switch on our coffeemaker and grab the cat spoon for doling out their breakfast. The cats, meanwhile, unhappy at the disruption to their routine, chorused protests.

That’s why I missed the soft knocking at the window of the bookstore, next to the kitchen and below the outside staircase. Really, given the state of my hair and nightie, it was Rick who should have screamed, not me. But he was “tryin’ not to startle ya, ma’am,” as he explained once I cleaned up the puddle, opened the upstairs door–kittens and nightgown trailing–and let him in to “get started a little early” on the heat and air installation. We hadn’t expected him until 9, but he figured “one big push today’ll do ‘er.”

Back down the stairs I went, kittens riding my bedtails, to find a man on the porch, waving through the glass door. We’d borrowed the keys to the theatre down the street after the Celtic festival ended, so we could get some equipment out when we had volunteers to help. They needed their keys back. I handed them over and invited the poor soul in for a cup of coffee, since the rich brew’s smell now permeated the house and people were trailing one at a time–circus clowns from the Volkswagen–up and down staircases, headed for the source of life.

Theatre dude cast his eyes over my hair–I think at this point a kitten was sitting in it, too weak from hunger to walk any farther–and nightgown, then declined.

I fed the cats, checked the porch just in case someone else had showed up, got dressed, checked the porch, and went for coffee. Pot was empty.

I love my life.

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, crafting, humor, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, writing

Whuffling Through the Social Sciences

IN THIS EPISODE: Shopsitter Andrew Whalen gets more than he bargained for while trying to impose a little order on life’s chaos….

Things got a little too real today when I tore apart the “-Ology” bookshelf and set out to rebuild it. This shelf contains folklore, sociology, anthropology, self-help, career advice and research best practices.

At first reorganizing was fun. In a confusing world it can be comforting to establish hierarchies and draw borders. This is the appeal of the low-stakes nerd debate. Does it matter if Kirk or Picard were the better starship captain? No, but it feels good to put things in order (this one always seemed easy to me: one survived the reign of Kodos the Executioner, has the middle name Tiberius, passed the Kobayashi Maru test, and defeated conqueror-of-all-Asia Khan Noonien Singh… the other is Picard).

But some chaos cannot be cornered, tagged and boxed. Some chaos can only be whuffled, which is the word I made up to describe the sensation and action of bottling various fogs. Or the word I thought I had made up until I typed it into a search engine and found it used to describe sniffling, gentle affection and thankless online forum moderation. If we’re going by my definition (not endorsed by the Internet) it’s a feeling that accompanies so much of what we try to set in place. And the more I stared down the “-Ology” shelf, the more I begin to think the whole world is made of whuffle.

Yes, whuffle is verb, adjective and noun. It’s very versatile.

Before the “-Ology” shelf this uncertainty seemed very abstract to me. It came up primarily when considering genre. Is it fantasy just because there are swords? Is it sci-fi just because there are spaceships? Read Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun and get back to me. Welcome back. See what I mean? And that’s before we get into odd-balls like Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Thomas Pynchon, and Margaret Atwood. No wonder people just gave up and invented the term speculative fiction.

The “-Ology” shelf was supposed to be different. It represents entirely separate realms of human knowledge! It’s like a UN of social sciences, each field a tiny nation-state with its own territories and agendas.

But my distinct borders kept getting knocked down. What to do with Typetalk, which purports to be a study of the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator, but has self-help cover language promising to aid in determining how you “live, love and work”? Things only blurred more from there. When is a study on families anthropology and when is it sociology? Are Coping with Difficult People and Coping with Difficult Bosses really so different that they should be three shelves apart, one in sociology, the other in career guidance? ARGH.

So I started fresh, with a new theory. I could arrange the shelf like a continuity. There was a spectrum at play, beginning with psychology: the individual opening up onto the family, expanding into the society, then reaching out to other societies and forms of governance before finally drilling back down into the individual stories each society treasures. Brain to Folklore, with all of human experience in between. Made total sense for like two seconds. But things just got worse. And by the end I had almost convinced myself that Life-Span Developmental Psychology and Normative Life Crises was interchangeable with Folklore in the English and Scottish Ballads.

I look at the shelf now and see nothing but whuffle. No matter how hard we try (I’m looking at you, Dewey, with all your decimals) nothing exists entirely separate and apart. Categories are cool, but they are never definite. All things interlock and nothing is simple. But as maddening and confusing as that can get for the bookshelf organizer, it probably makes for a more interesting world.

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Filed under book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, Uncategorized, VA