Order & Chaos

Feb 14, 2016

600px-Books_on_a_shelf_perspectiveI’m one of those people you might call “anal.” It’s an unattractive term for an orderly person. I’m not obsessive-compulsive to the point of exhibiting the so-named disorder, but you could call me an OCD sympathizer. I like having everything in place. I alphabetize my books and organize them by category. I balance my checkbook every day. And—okay, I admit it—I fold my undies.

At least I don’t iron them.

So how could someone like me be an artist?

I used to think I was an impostor. I thought actors and writers had to be wild and out of control. They had to be poor. They had to drink and smoke and wear baggy clothes from resale shops and have sex with the wrong people.

All of that was fun for a while, but it wasn’t me. I thought maybe I wasn’t destined to be an artist.

Then I discovered the 19th century French novelist and playwright Gustave Flaubert, who made me think maybe I really do have an artistic temperament. Flaubert said, “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

Every time I read that I feel vindicated. (If I apply it to my underwear I begin to think maybe I should iron it.)

But Flaubert was only partly right. Along with the violence and originality in your work, you need order in there, too.

Way back in Acting 101, our teacher showed us how to perform a monologue. He launched into a speech that involved screaming, self-flagellation and crying real tears. It was emotional. It was real. It was painful.

I mean it was painful for the audience. He was crying so hard we couldn’t understand a word he said. He had all the violence and originality, but there wasn’t any order in there. That’s what technique is for, and we walk a fine line between that and our emotions. Sometimes we need to get down deep and feel what needs feeling, but we also need to make sure to say our lines, hit our marks, face the camera or the audience, and make ourselves understood. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the moment if the audience isn’t there with you.

Order and chaos.

Yesterday, a friend and I walked in a beautiful garden. Trees and flowers grew alongside shaded pathways that twisted away into the underbrush. I said, “I think we like the shapes of nature because they’re unpredictable and asymmetrical.” My friend answered, “Yes, but in this garden some plants are wild, others are pruned. There’s enough violence here to intrigue us, and enough order to make us feel safe.”

The chaos of art intrigues us with its asymmetry. The order of our technique makes us comfortable enough to allow the violence to show.

I don’t want to know how that applies to my underpants.


Copyright © “Order & Chaos,” Act As If: Stumbling Through Hollywood with Headshot in Hand (2014) by Petrea Burchard.






Author Petrea Burchard returns to the Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse to lead the Story Kitchen writing workshop, Wednesday evenings from March 9th to March 30th.

“The perfect time to start is always now,” says Burchard. “Everyone knows how to write a sentence, but how do you organize your ideas so an audience wants to read them? We focus on story structure and it’s helpful across genres, from fiction to nonfiction to screenplay.”

Gail Mishkin, Head of Marketing, Events and Authors, says, “The winter class was so successful that some students are signing up for another round. We’re glad to offer a completely local class,” says Mishkin. “Writers don’t have to drive to the west side or the San Fernando Valley for a workshop. It’s right here.”

Pasadena author Burchard has made a dual career of writing and acting. Her novel, Camelot & Vine, and her essays, compiled in Act As If: Stumbling Through Hollywood with Headshot in Hand, are available at the store. Her writing has appeared in anthologies, online and in numerous publications.

“Petrea’s workshop has motivated me to kick my procrastinating self back into creative mode… She inspires us to be ourselves when writing…
—Elaine, Story Kitchen alumna

“Petrea takes a personal interest in each of her students. Her teaching style inspires me to keep on writing.”
—Bob Tanabe, Story Kitchen alumnus


Story Kitchen
Wednesdays, March 9th-30th, 6:30-8:45 p.m.
Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse, 1010 Foothill Blvd., La Cañada
Cost: 4 Wednesdays for $199
Class size is limited
Or Gail Mishkin at
Or call 1.818.790.0717




Read Hometown Pasadena’s review of Camelot & Vine.






Photo, books on shelf, by Jess Mann [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.





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