When I redesigned my blog in August of last year, I included a “widget” that shows what people are reading now (for those of you receiving this post via e-mail, it’s called “Current Reader Favorites” in the right column of my blog’s home page). It reminded me of a feature of online newspapers that indicate which articles are most popular, a way of making the site more interactive. Every so often I check what’s being read here. Occasionally it’s a post from long ago, whose specifics I’d largely forgotten but that, when I open it, I realize I needed to reread as life had again presented me with a similar situation.
Last weekend I attended a workshop which, on the first day, experienced some technical problems (connecting an iPad to a flat screen TV). The specifics are less relevant than my knee-jerk reaction, which was to go to a place of judgment around the presenter’s preparedness and, by extension, this person’s competence. I wondered why they hadn’t tested the gadgetry before we got started, without bothering to consider that maybe they had tested it and, in the meantime, something had changed. Luckily, I caught the judgments before they could eclipse what had I come to learn. When I returned home that first evening, I noticed that someone had read my post It’s All Invented, in which I referenced my first encounter with my Zen teacher Cheri Huber. Then, at a workshop being broadcast over Skype, she reacted with deep compassion and infinite patience to a prolonged series of technological glitches if not snafus. It was as if the Universe had shuffled through my posts like a deck of Tarot cards and, via an anonymous reader, presented me with exactly the right one.
The mystical interface works in other ways, too. Last fall when I was drafting On The Importance of the Right Container, a meditation on the synergy of containers (physical or virtual) and their contents, I went to the kitchen to get something to eat. At the time, Whole Foods had a sale on their in-house soups so I had stocked up on salmon chowder, a bit of a luxury, and transferred it from the store’s cardboard carton into a very inexpensive plastic one from IKEA. As I reached into the refrigerator, the soup container fell to the floor. Splat. While the lid remained sealed, the side cracked open, spilling some of the precious contents. Was that simply an accident, or did the cosmos think I needed a particularly messy reminder to evaluate all my containers, literal as well as metaphorical, whether mundane or momentous, and determine whether they were worthy of what they stored?
More recently, once the final performance of “The Vagina Monologues” was over, I watched the film Ė Pericoloso Sporgersi (It is Dangerous to Lean Out), which I discovered while drafting a blog post of that same name. While I knew that the movie involved train travel, I was unaware that a story line involved a Romanian high school student who aspires to be an actress. While insisting on sexual propriety with a suitor her age, she sleeps with a married, itinerant actor. At one point she tells her lover she wants nothing more than to be on stage. He asks:
“Do you have the ostrich’s stomach? Can you swallow anything? Dry bread, nights on the train, lousy roles in plays that make you throw up…?”
While “The Vagina Monologues” did not make me throw up, watching this film helped validate what had been a complicated experience. It was one of the those uncanny moments when reaching into the past shed light on the present in a way that I wouldn’t have predicted and couldn’t have imagined, when past and present seemed to dissolve into each other such that time itself stopped. When such events occur, I become profoundly aware of the power of writing, that words can become mystical magnets, attracting all kinds of information, insights, people, and events. Some days this awareness fills me with delight and excitement, other days with apprehension. In that sense writing can be like a pilgrimage, at times a joyous, blissful romp and other times a dreary, painful slog, yet with no predetermined direction or end in sight, revealing the most when we least expect it.