Swimming in Chaos

Swimming in Chaos

I recently listened to a podcast with Terry Gilliam. I’ve written about Gilliam’s influence on me before and I’ve talked about it as well (17:40-18:11). Just know this: I’ve been a Gilliam fan since before I knew I was a Gilliam fan. (I liked the animated spots on Monty Python’s Flying Circus, but at the the time, I didn’t know who was behind them.)

There’s a section in the podcast with Gilliam where they discuss a scene in the movie, The Fisher King. It takes place in Grand Central Station, in New York City. They had permission to shoot, but as is often the case with Gilliam things, it didn’t go as entirely as planned. To get things done, they just had to do it! They shot footage after their allotted time, using people who weren’t extras. In the end, by the way it was cut, they made something wonderful from the chaos of the moment.

Doing It

Gilliam is big on just doing it. In almost every documentary or interview about his process, there is a time when all the people around him believe there’s no way something can be done. Whether it’s a sick actor, flash floods, or other things, when producers and others say they need to wait, Gilliam says, “Let’s just do it!” and shoots anyway. In shooting, he’s doing something — and in other interviews he’s said some of his greatest moments came from cobbling it all together after the madness.

Writers can be known for not liking changes to what they’ve written. While Gilliam is a perfectionist, he’s also a realist and knows that sometimes he has to break from the scripts he’s written and shoot what he can and make it work in the end. He doesn’t stop…even when setbacks have everyone around him throwing up their hands in defeat.

At that point, Gilliam is at his best…swimming in the chaos.

Comfort in Chaos

Now, I know there are times one can’t “just do it.” My wife is an artist, and when things are placed on a final sheet of paper or canvas, she can no longer charge in — at that point, it’s sometimes wisest to wait a day or two until the moment is right. As long as there’s some progress and it doesn’t become habit, waiting is good. I’ve written about taking my time writing before; I do not need to be convinced that there’s a time for patience.

I just think patience and chaos can co-exist.

When people try avoiding chaos until just the right moment, I do think it’s best to find comfort in chaos and move forward. Sometimes in life, chaos lasts long enough that to let it win means setbacks in something important to you. Right now, I’m coming off a weekend of working. I put a lot of things off, but I still made time to write. I could easily be working right now, but I want to write this entry and go for a nice walk. It’s a chaotic time in my life with big deadlines, but right now I’m in my little bubble, comfortable with the situation.

Chaos might be common, but it doesn’t mean it has to pull you in and win. Or even steal your time for more than a bit of time…


I’ve worked with enough people to understand the frustration of those who feel defeated when things don’t look good. “Let’s just do it!” can burn you at times; however, more times than not, it’s a great way to get things done because you’re deep enough in that you have no choice but to figure things out and finish. I know people who will not write for months because conditions aren’t perfect. In Gilliam’s world, it seems, perfection is only a target he strives for — there is no doubting his need for perfection in every little corner (and even in the shadows) of what he does. But he knows there are no ideal situations. More than that, he knows that to wait for ideal situations means never finishing things

When one realizes that, no matter what it is they do, it’s a bit easier to move forward. Maybe we’re wise not to tilt at windmills with the reckless abandon Gilliam often seems to have, but at least charging in is some kind of movement forward. Maybe you get knocked back further than where you started, but you change the plan and just do it until it works out.

It’s that ability to adapt that can lead to such wonderful things…

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