I don’t much like clichés or words that bring the idea of cliché to mind, and the word serendipity strikes me as such a word, but a string of clicks on my keyboard brought this road sign to my screen not long ago and, with it, a train of recollections that somehow seem interconnected.
I’ve been looking at iPads. Mainly I’ve been chastising myself about looking at iPads. think I should be courageous enough to spend a month or six weeks without the internet or email. Surely I will find the occasional wi-fi hotspot. But I’m pretty dependent on the online reading and checking in that I do. So I continue to investigate. I thought about joining the iPhone crowd, but trying to dial internationally looks too complicated, too expensive, and, anyway, I’m not much of a phone person. So an iPad with wi-fi cellular started to sound like the thing for me. I surfed around, looking for what I could find about using an iPad in Europe and what others had to say about choosing AT&T or Verizon as carriers. I came across a website called technomadia, run by two technomads, as they call themselves, who are interested in exploring the intersection of travel, technology, and nomadic serendipity, among other things.
They’re running a contest, the technomads are, the serendipity challenge: “Share with us the best story of serendipity in your life.” It’s a bit late to start writing–the deadline is tomorrow–but thinking, as they say, about the ways in which “avoiding making plans allows serendipity to point us to where we need to be” sent me drifting.
About the same time I discovered the website, I began writing an application for a writers’ retreat I want to visit in the fall. I spent a long time, deliberating, as I always do, over who to include as references. Minutes after submitting the application, I was browsing around and came upon a photograph of the very two women I’d listed, sitting side by side at a conference in Boston. I didn’t even know they knew each other.
Two days later, my application was approved.
In the late fall, during the second half of my sabbatical, I’ll be spending six weeks at the Helen Riaboff Whiteley Center at Friday Harbor Laboratories. But first the rest of the summer. Then Scotland. And before I go to Scotland, I need to research where I want to travel when my fellowship is over. And I need to make up my mind about whether I want to give myself the luxury of on-demand internet access or to be brave and wait for first light to walk the 20 minutes to the library in Bonnyrigg. Except that I doubt it will be open at first light,which is my favorite time to drink my coffee and do my online reading. The thought of which takes me back to the iPad.
When you order an iPad online, you can add an engraving to the back if you like. I like engravings. I started sifting through notes I keep and began compiling a list of possibilities, all of which contained too many letters.
Michael Ondaatje’s work taught me how to be at home in fragments, and how to think about a big story in carefully curated vignettes. All his books were odd, all of them ‘unfinished’ the way Chopin’s Études are unfinished: no wasted gestures, no unnecessary notes.
Soyez mysterieuse. Be mysterious.
There was the Latin aphorism I copied from the end of an essay on the subject of love and illness that I read in the NYT by Matt Flegenheimer :
Finis Origine Pendet. The Beginning Foretells the End.
Sometime late yesterday afternoon, I came across an online workshop Daniyal Mueenuddin is offering via 24 Pearl Street in the fall. He’s calling it In My Beginning Is my End:
Many writers agree that the hardest part of writing a short story is the conclusion, and the next hardest the opening paragraph. Titles are difficult– but titles can’t be taught, they require inspiration.
I like this subject. I like the idea of spending 5 days communicating with others about beginnings and endings, especially after spending a month alone with my thoughts and my keyboard and maybe an iPad in a room at Hawthornden Castle.
But there’s more to my interest in the workshop than the subject of beginnings and endings. A couple of years ago, Ben Greenman created a website called Letters with Character as a companion to his collection of short stories What He’s Poised to Do.
The collection uses letters and letter-writing to investigate human connection and disconnection. [The website, while it lasted, invited readers to submit letters addressed to their favorite literary characters and to interact with them directly.] Letters must be written by a real person and must also address an unreal one. There are no other requirements.
It was the summer of 2010. I had just finished reading Daniyal Mueenuddin’s collection of stories In Other Rooms, Other Wonders. I remember exactly where I was sitting when I composed the letter to Saleema in my head. I remember the way the sound of the sparrows clattering in the bamboo trellis at the back of the fence became a part of the letter as I recalled the last lines of Mueenuddin’s story “Saleema”:
The man who controlled the lucrative corner where she ended up begging took most of her earnings. This way she escaped prostitution. She cradled the little boy in her arms, holding him up to the windows of cars. Rafik sent money, a substantial amount, so long as she had an address. And then soon enough she died, and the boy begged in the streets, one of the sparrows of Lahore.
In my beginning is my end.