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The Website:

What is this place?

Established 2006

utopia: noun

  • ideally perfect state; especially in its social and political and moral aspects

 

chaotic: adjective

  • lacking a visible order or organiztion
  • completely unordered, unpredictable, and confusing
  • of or relating to a sensitive dependence on initial conditions

 

Who made it?

Karmen Franklin (read more below)

The Purpose:

What do you do?

That sounds like the question I dreaded hearing as a kid.

What are you going to be when you grow up?

I always hated that question. Other kids in school seemed better prepared to answer than I. My third grade teacher told me that I was an exceptional writer, so I clung to that. "I want to be a writer when I grow up." Even at that young age, I knew that wasn't most realistic goal, right up there with actress or rock star.

Sure kid. If you're lucky. But what do you want to do if that doesn't work out?

On this, my answer varied. Often. I courted every branch of science I could find and dug around in ancient history and archeology. I debated being a lawyer--I loved to argue and it would pay well. Then again, being a judge would be even more prestigious. At the same time, law and science relied on narrow focus of individual facts. That didn't quite suit me... I wanted to look at the big picture. Religion offered that. The new, liberal pastor at my grandmother's church thought I'd make a great theologian. When I was a little older, I discovered philosophy, and immediately felt that I had found my calling. I would make an excellent philosopher. 

Sure kid. But what do you want to do if that doesn't work out?

Oh. Right. Philosophy isn't really a career choice. Only if you plan to teach. Academia was, indeed, alluring. I could even get away with doing research and writing much of the time, rather than teaching, if I landed the right position. As great as that sounded, it led me back to square one.

What will you write about? 

Everything! The more I looked for the right choice, the more subjects drew me in. Librarians and teachers loved me for it. Yet, being caught up in their individual subjects and opinions, they never realized I was equally interested in everything else. No one knew to warn me. Uninhibited curiosity is a dangerous approach to life. You know what they say about cats.

So, what'd ya pick?

I couldn't, but with reason. Having jumped from topic to topic, examining specifics and trying to look at broad issues, I couldn't shake this feeling that there was something there. Something that ran through everything. I couldn't define it, however, or even comfortably talk about it. Even worse, that feeling suggested conventional distinctions--like this and that, right and wrong, black and white--were flawed or at least inadequate. Things were more complex than all those teachers, scientists, lawyers, and theologians suggested. 

So, I never picked. I began to question my purpose in life. I dropped out. Luckily, my prior eagerness to take on every subject left me with a surplus of credits, so I still managed to leave high school with a diploma. I took a stab at continuing my education with a semester at small community college in northern California, far from home but close to my grandparents. It wouldn't last long. My questions and frustrations, by that time, far outweighed my willingness to take on some practical education or career. I left California with a few meager credits that would later be ignored, histories of severe mood disorders, and that nagging feeling of deeper meaning that wouldn't go away.

What did you end up doing, then?

After nearly a decade of waitressing and cleaning houses to support my hermit-like lifestyle, a strange thing happened. That feeling became more clear. On a hunch, I started reading books on all the subjects I'd taken on and later abandoned. I took in Joseph Campbell, Stephen Hawking, Darwin, Plato, and many others. Science fiction. Children's books. If it was hinting at something about everything, I'd read it. Anything and everything was game. By 2005, I knew what I wanted to write about.

Chaos.... in the mathematical sense.

Mathematics? What? You never mentioned that before.

Ok, true. Even as I read science books with equations inside, I was pretty sure I hated math. I'd given up on the subject back in 8th grade when a narrow-minded administrator told me girls weren't as good at math and pulled me onto a remedial track. Math was boring and linear. It focused on concrete things, numbers, data. There was nothing creative or intuitive about it. Chaos theory did not fit this image in the least. It talked about complex boundaries and sensitive dependencies. The formulas in chaos theory produced stunningly beautiful patterns, way beyond the old rectangles and circles I remembered from geometry. To my delight, I found these patterns transcended the usual objective approach to the universe, suggesting boundaries could be infinitely complex. 

Ok. What are you talking about?

When I started to consider how chaos theory recokoned with all the other subjects I'd taken in, I realized I had it. There appeared to be a common thread to everything, like a fundamental aspect or shape. It was almost as if you took Euclid's traditional view of a three dimensional space and tossed this other thing into the mix. This thing acted like the formulas that produce fractal patterns, so that a simple adjustment in the details would produce a complex outcome. Add in time as another dimension, and you would end up with something as diverse and strange and horrifying and wonderful as a universe, maybe with some confused beings who call themselves human in the mix somewhere:

  • There would be interesting parts and not so interesting parts of this universe. 
  • This universe would change as it existed, sometimes repeating but never exactly.
  • Parts of the universe would produce new parts at different scales.
  • Some part of, or maybe the whole universe, would eventually be complex and interesting enough to question its own existence. 
  • Such questions would eventually ask if there could be a more ideal existence than this universe, some utopia.
  • The ideal would, by necessity, have interesting parts capable of creating new interesting parts and complex patterns.

 

In other words, it would be a chaotic utopia.

There was my hypothesis. Being a hermit who considered herself crazy, I wasn't quite prepared to test it out. I needed a place to share information and sort it all out, like a website. I needed a way to study issues involving inadequate definitions and boundaries. I needed to go back to school.

The Student:

Where did you go to high school? 

Standley Lake High School; Westminster, Colorado; Class of 1994.

Where are you getting your degree now?

The University of Colorado at Boulder

What are you studying?

Major: Environmental Science

Minor: Philosophy

Certificate Program: Center of the American West

The Environmental Historian:

What do you plan to do with your degree?

The apparent uncertainty behind climate change suggested the environment would be a good place to look at complex patterns. My own backyard, it seemed, was a great record of changes and disputes over ill-defined boundaries. Limited resources, an exploding population, and a struggling economy have left my fellow Coloradans feeling increasingly uneasy about the future. By looking into the past and searching for clues and patterns, we can draw a sense of what is possible, for better or for worse. For me, environmental history is the one subject that ties all others together, from agriculture to ecology, from philosophy to policy. You can see the diversity of subjects I study in the Fractal Scrying section of the website.

You mentioned fractals, but what is "scrying"?

"Scrying" is a term with the same Latin roots as the word "describe", once used to refer to the practice of gazing into a crystal or a pool of water to induce visions. I'm reappropriating the term with a less magical connotation. I don't wait for visions to appear--there are plenty of complex patterns to ponder hidden in plain sight.

So it isn't just an excuse to get out and play outdoors?

Actually, I spend most of my time sitting in front of a computer, writing about these issues. If I'm not doing that, I'm in a classroom or seminar room listening to these issues and thinking about what I'll be writing about later.  When I do find the time to get out into nature, I am usually seeking out fractal patterns for artistic inspiration.

The Artist:

How did you get from math and environmental history to art?

Art was always a hobby of mine, an escape from the endless barrage of questions constantly floating around in my mind. For as long as I've had a computer (the 1980s!) I've played around with digital art programs. So, when I started messing around with fractals using a freeware formulator, it was only a matter of time that my academic interests collided with my hobbies. Using my love of photography, I began seeking out fractal-like images in the surrounding environment. Later, at home, I toyed with the algorithms in the fractals to create similar images. With practice, I began creating fractal art, sometimes abstract, but often hauntingly realistic.

Where can I find these images?

In 2007, I began to produce prints of my fractal artwork. A textbook company asked me to create a series of fractals to use as the artwork for their chapter headings. For some time, I produced a new fractal nearly every Friday for my blog, in a feature called (unsuprisingly) the Friday Fractal. A selection of these can be found in the Vignettes and Visual Delights section of this site, along with photographs and bits of folk or interior art.

The Webmaven:

You made this site? Have you made other websites?

Between creating my own personal website and toying around with digital art, I learned the ins and outs of web design. Perhaps I was too cheap or stubborn to hire anyone else to create these things for me, but in the end, I learned many valuable skills. I can code HTML and CSS, help secure web domains, build shopping carts and galleries, create banners, buttons, Javascipt and Flash. That isn't to say that I can do anything with a webpage... but I'm always learning to do new and nifty things. My favorite and most intensive website is, by far, The Ditch Project, which combines art with environmental history. I volunteered on the project after hearing about it from several sources and ended up building the whole website. Even though the exhibit closed in 2009, I am adding new content to the website all the time.

Can you make a website for me?

My husband and I have combined our skills to create websites for a number of individuals and organizations. To see some of the sites we have built or to learn more, please visit our business page at:

The Franklin Design Bureau

The Author:

What happened to your dreams of being a writer?

They came true. Posting my writings on the web led to wonderful opportunities such as writing at ScienceBlogs.com. The interdisciplinary nature of my degree has allowed me to write a wide variety of essays incorporating my ideas about complex boundaries. That isn't to say I've left out fiction. In 2009, I won two Thompson Awards for Western American Writing, in poetry and undergraduate fiction. Now, I'm working on two full-length books. 

Two books? 

Ok, I'll admit, they are quite related to one another. Digging the American West: How Dams and Ditches Transformed an American Landscape will be a coffee-table style book, based on the Ditch Project. The other, titled Steeples and Graves, is a sort of western novel that focusing on pioneer families who built dams and ditches. One is fiction, the other not, but both relate to a complexity of changes in a diverse setting.

Can I read some?

Several excerpts and poems can be found in the Literary Figments section of this site.

The Ubiquitous Female:

Gee. School, websites, writing, art... do you sleep?

I'll admit, I wear many hats, and I've only discussed a few here. I'm also a mother, a wife, a friend, and more. Since I work from home, I cherish my home and my role in keeping it under control. I don't exactly do it alone, though. I rely on the FlyLady to manage the multiple aspects of my life without getting too sidetracked.

The FlyLady? Do I even want to know?

I was a little uncertain at first. I was looking for help, a way to juggle all the stuff I had taken on. I didn't really expect to find it on some fluffy pink and purple website mentioned in some freebie magazine I grabbed at the grocery store. So, I was skeptical from the first click... but right there, on the front page, it asked, "Are you living in CHAOS?" and I had to admit, I was. I read on. That was the spring of 2008. Now, I'm still busy as ever, but my home feels much more like a Utopia. I couldn't have done it without Flylady. If you happen to be overwhelmed by your own chaos, then, yes, you might want to know. Don't be afraid, check it out.