Two years ago, while doing graduate work in physics at Stanford University, I fell in love with someone simply because of the conversations we had. We would rush through love-making just so we could return to what we had been talking about, which most of the time was our shared passion: the exhilarating topic of Chaos. Nothing was more of a turn-on to us than the de-romanticizing of romance. We would scoff at the notion that fate had thrown us together, embracing instead the meaninglessness of this chance encounter of our random molecules in an indifferent chaotic universe. We turned love on its head, dismissed it, ridiculed it, redefined it on terms agreed to by only us. We got married one rainy afternoon by a stranger in a municipal building.
Last night, sitting across from each other in a crowded restaurant, we became that other couple at that other table we always felt sorry for, that couple just eating with nothing to say. We went home and we made love, but differently, and in the dark the thing that used to set us ablaze now seemed to smother us with its gloating: Chaos? Prepare yourself. For Chaos is on its way.
Is it ever. My husband, this morning, is taking his walk, and I would never say this to him, but I will say it to you: I want meaning. I want to believe in corny things. I want to stop thinking. I want to be bamboozled by romance. I want to believe in enduring love. What has happened to the thrill of us?
I can hear that you're desperate, and I want to honor your desperation by making some attempt at hushed tones, and so I'm going to resist adding a picket fence of exclamation points when I blurt out this: Man oh man girl have I ever got fabulous news for you. And to top it off, at the heart of this fabulous news of mine is your old pal Chaos.
As you may or may not know, I believe that we exist in a chaotic universe, that there's no plan, that everything happens not by design but by cold-blooded, heart-breaking randomness, that we shape our lives from whatever debris has been swept by chance into our cosmic dust-pans, and that the trick of making Life enjoyable is to separate that debris into shapes that give us the illusion of meaning which, if you're lucky, can lead to real joy, real ecstasy. Here, plain and simple, is what Life is:
Life is making shapes out of Chaos
Which brings us, Lost, to my fabulous news. The shapes we make out of Chaos turn out to be exactly like Russian Nesting Dolls, only imaginary! I'm going to write that down again, but this time in capitals: THE SHAPES WE MAKE OUT OF CHAOS TURN OUT TO BE EXACTLY LIKE RUSSIAN NESTING DOLLS, ONLY IMAGINARY!
What, you may well ask, the fuck are you talking about Waldo? Terrific question, Lost. Terrific question. A Russian nesting doll is one of those wonderful hollowed out painted dolls, usually made of wood, shaped like a small bowling pin that opens up to reveal another slightly smaller but identical painted doll that opens up to reveal another slightly smaller but identical painted doll and on and on and on. That is, every doll in a Russian Nesting Doll is identical to every other doll in that Russian Nesting Doll, only bigger or smaller. The only difference is size.
Which, I'm thrilled to announce, is exactly the way it is with every Human Experience. Can you believe it? I'm using the word Experience to mean anything that happens to you. Every Experience -- say, a first date -- can broken down into smaller Experiences: the walking to the door; the movie; the good-night kiss. Or that first date can be swallowed up by bigger Experiences -- say, the entire love affair that grew from that first encounter.
However you choose to divide your life is up to you. But no matter how you define each Experience -- however big, however small -- each Experience shall invariably pass through three separate, distinct, predictable phases:
Phase One: HUH?
Phase Two: OHHH!
Phase Three: HMMM...
The essential nature of the beginning of every experience is Huh? Since every moment is a moment you've never experienced before, your survival-crazy brain is always going Huh?? Huh?? Huh?? You're new in town. What's going on? What's happening here? Where am I? Which sooner or later leads to...
Phase #2: Ohhh! Now you start to get it. Now you begin to get the lay of the land. Okay. You blew into a new town, you didn't know where anything was, didn't know a soul, but now you do. Now by god you're giving directions to tourists. Ohhh! is the sound of you making sense of things. Which predictably and inevitably leads to --
Phase #3: Hmmm... Now the tight thrill of discovery begins to lose its shape. You get used to things. That colorful village bum becomes just another homeless person. The rustic storefronts become rundown storefronts. Everything you see, now you feel you've seen it all before.
And finally, inevitably, a whispering begins to grow louder and louder, a whispering you've heard before in classrooms, on dates, on vacations, in other love affairs -- what now? What now?
Do you understand, Lost, what exciting good news this is for you? You're simply sitting on a stool at the far edge of the inevitable third stage of every Experience, wondering What Now.
In the Small Experiences of everyday life you would barely notice the three phases of each Experience: You're eating a chocolate bar -- huh? Is it going to be any good? Ohhh! Is it ever! Hmmm, done eating it, now what?
But in The Big Experiences -- Place, Job, Children, Romance -- Experiences in which you have great expectations and high hopes and dark fears about making the wrong choices -- each phase has a greater emotional wallop.
And, as you are discovering, Lost, Phase Three can be the killer, especially in Affairs of the Heart. Because in affairs of the heart you will believe that you have made mistakes, that you have misjudged, that you have done something wrong, that you are horribly flawed and unlovable.
What has happened is, you've simply slammed into the far wall of Phase Three. Has there ever been a wedding promise of everlasting love that has not slammed into that wall?
I'm going to say Uh-uh.
And so Lost, I'm begging you to listen to me. Do not panic. Do not despair. Do not leap into an affair. Do not begin looking for lawyers. You have made a Russian Nesting Doll out of your love affair with this husband of yours, and so what you are going through is as unavoidable as Death. Phase Three: The grand entrance of Tedium.
Passion cannot sustain itself.
Excitement must wane.
And so, Lost, it looks like it's time to begin construction on a brand new Russian Nesting Doll. You can tell me to get lost, but I have a suggestion. What if, for example, when your husband comes home, you greet him with the surprise of a deep and sustained kiss. This would get Phase One, the Huh? phase, off to a real good start. And then, off you shall go into Phase Two and Phase Three. Because those promises you made in that municipal building, those were good promises that should be honored with real effort.
And on and on you shall go, until your final Russian Nesting Doll settles in over the last one. The one that is, at the end, You.
You are born -- huh? Life? What's going on here?
You live -- ohhh! I kind of get it now. How about this? Gee, who woulda guessed?
You die -- hmmm... That's it? Really? Now what?
Now what?? Haven't you been paying attention? A whole new Russian Nesting Doll, that's what.