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Saturday, 4 November 2017

Heroes and Villains: Influence and Serendipity: And Pencils...

"That I know nothing, that the world I live in will go on escaping me forever."
Paul Auster

How we miss our lives is life enough for most of us.
Opportunities abound but we're mostly looking the other way.
Sometimes we need other folk to point out what we are missing.
Some things are worth sharing, if only for the civility of sharing.
Sometimes we reach out to connect.
Sometimes we reach out to see if others are feeling as disconnected as we are.
Sometime we are disappointed not to make an expected connection.
Sometimes unexpected connections can amaze and astound.
Different names for the same hat.

This morning I was lying in the bath, with Spotify playing randomly from the world's vast library of music, reading Paul Auster. Auster is one of my favorite writers. Besides his novels he also writes beautifully about his life: the things that have led him to where he now abides. 'The Red Notebook' is a slight thing, chock full of anecdotes, small moments, minutiae that most of us would pass over, let alone write about. His non fiction hints at what inspires the writer: in Auster's case primarily memory, identity and chance. They say that stories cannot exist without storytellers and that stories will not endure unless they are well told. Auster is a fine story teller whose elegant prose can make the most mundane moments resonate. Auster's words will endure. 

"I learned that books are never finished, that it is possible for stories to go on writing themselves without an author.” 

Anyway... back in the bath:
Much of 'The Red Notebook' recognizes the potency of coincidence. There are moments of serendipity, missed chances and close shaves. All cleverly catalogued without any conclusions drawn other than a 'what are the chances?' shrug. Auster tells of how during all four flat tires of his life he had the same passenger in the car with him. He tells of Ralph, the boy who got struck and killed by a lightning bolt that was surely destined for Auster. I got to the last chapter of the book entitled 'Why I Write'. It concludes with this story: An 8 year old Paul Auster met his hero, baseball player Willie Mays. The young Auster shyly asked Mays for his autograph. Mays replied "Sure kid, sure. You got a pencil?" Auster continues:

"The great Willie Mays stood there watching in silence. When it became clear that no one in the group had anything to write with, he turned to me and shrugged. “Sorry, kid,” he said. “Ain’t got no pencil, can’t give no autograph.” And then he walked out of the ballpark into the night.
After that night, I started carrying a pencil with me wherever I went. It became a habit of mine never to leave the house without making sure I had a pencil in my pocket. It’s not that I had any particular plans for that pencil, but I didn’t want to be unprepared. I had been caught empty-handed once, and I wasn’t about to let it happen again.
If nothing else, the years have taught me this: if there’s a pencil in your pocket, there’s a good chance that one day you’ll feel tempted to start using it.
As I like to tell my children, that’s how I became a writer."

As I read this story Spotify played Joe Henry's 'Our Song'. 
It tells of the narrator coming across... you guessed it: Willie Mays.
What are the chances?

“I saw Willie Mays
In a Scottsdale Home Depot
Looking at garage door springs
At the far end of the fourteenth row.”

Rather than asking for an autograph he listens in to Mays talking despondantly to his wife:

This was my country
This was my song
Somewhere in the middle there
It started badly and it’s ending wrong

This was my country
This frightful and this angry land
But it’s my right if the worst of it
Might somehow make me a better man.

Another story of disappointment then, this time from the mouth of the All American Hero himself. 
Interestingly the reason I was in the bath was to get away from the radio: specifically the clatter and clutter of the news: more graceless guff from anti-hero Trump, Stateside. So, not just the coincidence of two disparate stories colliding, with the same baseball hero (and featuring similar subject matter), but also... those lines written in 2007, pre-echoing the current disappointment, embarrassment, shame and fear at the face on the American coin: something articulated everyday by so many of my American friends: they surely deserve a better man...
As 'Our Song' concludes, the narrator casts doubt on himself.

That was him,
I’m almost sure,
The greatest centerfielder
Of all time.

He’s just like us,
I want to tell him,
Stooped by the burden of endless dreams,
His, and yours, and mine

"Stooped by the burden of endless dreams, his and yours and mine"
Now there's a sagely inclusive line: a timely reminder to our leaders that they shoulder our hopes.
It made me jump out of the bath and reach for this virtual pencil.
If you can, get hold of a copy of 'The Red Notebook', and then run yourself a bath.
Then put Spotify on 'random' and, you never know, as you get to the last chapter, you might just get struck by lightning, or... if you're lucky 'Our Song' might come on. 
It really is Our song: his and yours and mine.
May that moment come to you in brighter times: a time when the most powerful man in the world is not a narcissistic surface feeder, but a deep thinker with broad shoulders, emotional intelligence and a social conscience: A compassionate leader with a plan and a pencil in his hand.
Hopefully a hero: or at least a better man.
What are the chances?

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