Summer of the Butterfly

Fractal by Karmen. Used with permission.

Dear FlyLady,

I am a beautiful and graceful butterfly! I think I knew this before I found your site, but I didn’t know how to escape my cocoon. It should have been obvious. In your last essay, you wrote about butterflies, and much to my delight, about chaos theory. You see, the study of chaos and complexity is my specialty. I examine the way elegant harmony arises from simple patterns in nature. I’m well known for my fractal art, writing for a popular science blogs website. My friends jokingly call me “the queen of chaos.”

Excess amounts of creativity or intuition often go hand in hand with madness. Most people weren’t sure if I would end up in a university or a mental hospital. At first, I settled on being a housewife. I had a darling son and a home full of lovely things. But something was missing. I wasn’t happy. Some days I would take care of my house, other days I wouldn’t. I indulged myself in books, and wrote essays. I started to become the writer I always wished to be, with some unique theories to boot. But if I wanted to share those theories, I’d need a degree. So, when my son went off to school, so did I.

In some ways, it was exactly what I needed. I loved school, and did well. Soon, I was starting to be noticed in the science writing world. It was all very empowering. But then I started to see how bad of shape my home life was in. My marriage was on the rocks; my son was getting kicked out of preschools left and right. The laundry and dust was piling up, and the dog, not getting walked, was using the carpet as a bathroom. I started using school as an escape.

About a year ago, I realized something had to change. I knew I was close to either running away or checking myself into the hospital. I wasn’t writing effectively, blaming my family interrupting with their problems. I wanted to move into a bigger house, so I could have an office with a lock. I was suffering from severe CHAOS. The irony hit me when my first story was published, ­it was a story about the damaging effects of bipolar disorder. I realized my mood swings, not my family, were taking over my life, and knew I’d have to change something.

Identifying my marriage as the core of my issues, I started focusing on recreating my relationship with my husband. Much patience and communication started to have an effect, and soon we were doing better. I expected the rest of my home life to follow suit. It didn’t. Somehow, I knew it was in my hands. As spring began, I declared this the Year of the Butterfly. I cut my hair short, collected symbols of the Phoenix and stories about moths. But I didn’t have the first clue as to how to break out of my cocoon and rise from the ashes of my previous life.

One day, I found an article in our local “Kid’s Pages” about spring cleaning, which recommended a few websites. The first one I checked out asked me for money right away. So I tried the next one, for something called FlyLady. Skeptical at first, I saw it was free, so I might as well look. The first thing I clicked was “Crisis Cleaning 101” since Easter was in three days, and I was a little afraid of my son hunting for anything in our wreck of a house. The warning at the top of the page stopped me short.

“I can help you, but be warned, without the routines, your home will be trashed again in a day.”

Ohh! It hit me like a brick. A friend of mine had been telling me, “it isn’t practice makes perfect, it’s practice makes habit!” That night, I sat down and started a control journal, and started on the BabySteps.

With my son’s help, I scaled my Mt. Washmore, 15 minutes at a time. My kitchen counters started to appear. They were white! I vaguely remembered that. Expired foods and medicines eventually disappeared, and in their place came fresh goodies, healthy snacks and clean linens.

The first day I was able to go through the list of reminders, from morning routine to bedtime routine, I was so proud. While walking my dog, I realized how wonderful it felt. I even had time to write! Money started coming in from my reviews. Then, incredibly, in a few weeks, my mood swings started going away. I did find myself crying on occasion ­out of relief.

My most powerful moment came when I realized my terrible acne was clearing up, because I was washing my face twice a day. (FlyLady told me to!) I hadn’t worn makeup in years, the logic being, I didn’t want to wash it off at the end of the day. So, one day, I went and bought myself some facial products and some makeup. I had to wipe the tears from my face as I went into the stores.

A long time ago, my Grandma Grace was my best friend. She helped pretty me up, and taught me to be beautiful. I’d ask her how she had such flawless skin, and she’d give me little tips. Then she passed away, suddenly and without warning. I was upset, and felt abandoned. When someone told me her flawless skin came from plastic surgery, I felt betrayed. That’s about when I stopped taking care of myself.

Now, here, a decade later, on my way to buy facial products, I found myself forgiving my grandma. She wasn’t teaching me costly vanity… she was trying to teach me to love myself. It took FlyLady to show me that.

I see a different woman in the mirror now. I see someone with stability and strength. With my clearing skin, better diet, and new hairstyle, that strength shows as true beauty, the sort my grandma always had, regardless of surgery. My home, like hers always was, is both a comfortable oasis and a museum of pleasant memories. I didn’t just inherit her figure and her allergies. Now, I can truly see Grace in myself.

Thank you for all the inspiration you have given me,

A Flybaby in Colorado,

PS: You might be pleased to know that when scientists study Chaos and Complexity theory, they focus not on total chaos, but on the border between order and chaos. That is where all life and complexity in our universe resides. If you have too much order (perfectionism, anyone?) a system cannot diversify and adapt to change. If you have too much chaos, on the other hand, the system can’t hold together. It can only survive at the delicate place in between. In essence, we live in what I call a “Chaotic Utopia.” (Not so coincidentally, that’s also the name of my website.)

I like the allegory of the waterfall: The water is calm and smooth at the top, and charging and turbulent at the bottom. The beauty of the waterfall itself, however, lies in between, in the rhythmic, harmonic waves of falling water. But, as I said before, this is the Summer of the Butterfly, so I thought you might like this…. Here is my fractal (a repeating pattern based on the line between order and chaos) tribute to rising from the cocoon:

If you’d like to borrow it for publishing, please let me know, and I’d happily allow it. I owe you far more! Thanks again,


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