Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Desert and Coincidence

St George, Utah. Very strange things happen in small town America. In Silicon Valley I bought Cormac McCarthy's The Road. On flights from San Francisco to Los Angeles and LA to St George I finished the book - good but not as good as everybody says and I felt I had dealt with McCarthy by reading this one book. At the Holiday Inn in St George I decided eating in the hotel was a bad idea. There was a swimming pool in the lobby, making everything smell of chlorine, and a lot of noisy children. I looked up the best restaurant in town and found The Painted Pony. My problem was that I was dining alone and I had nothing to read, an impossible situation. I drove round St George looking for a book or magazine shop. I stumbled upon an interesting looking bookshop, wandered in and found myself face to face with Steve Singular, the author of When Men Become Gods. I had met him a few weeks before in San Angelo while working on the FLDS story. He was giving a reading and signing copies of his marvellous, chilling book. Now I should have known Steve would be there because he had emailed me. But I had forgotten. So what was the coincidence? That he and I were there at the same time in a nation of 300 million mobile people, obviously. But, for me, this was more astounding because I had forgotten - the moment of seeing him was one of the most bizarre of my life. I froze. In St George it is 100 degrees all the time and, beyond the city limits, there is nothing but desert for miles. Empty desert - a McCarthy landscape. A man - an Englishman at least - could go crazy. At times like this The Twilight Zone feels like the most banal realism. Steve, who knows and loves the West, shrugged - stuff happens out here. We had a few drinks and talked about great open spaces.


  1. The rack of lamb or was it the rib. That bacon wrapped duck with cider reduction, Eeeeeew.
    For anyone who is up before the Dawn, I do not think that the whispers of the desert would be anything other that lovely.

  2. "So what was the coincidence? That he and I were there at the same time in a nation of 300 million mobile people, obviously."

    On this point it is impossible to dogmatise. Nor could an outsider possibly appreciate the merits of this affair. When one tries to answer that question it becomes all too clear that the controversy is largely between distinctions of cognitive and affective meanings. Some trifling incident may sometimes trigger off what subsequently is clearly conceived as a continuous theme, too insignificant to be dismissed as a mere coincidence. Let’s face it, folks, the case, after all, has yet to be disproved that synchronicity deals with the destiny in man and not the causality in nature.

    Sorry to be so technical on a sunny Hertfordshire morning...


  3. Hi Bryan,

    It is not as startling as your encounter with Steve Singular, but it remains a significant coincidence that the morning after my reading that you were to be in Boston, I had a current customer, with business that still needed attending to, who lived within 5 miles of where you would be staying.

    In my 20 years of selling cars, I have never sold in the Boston/Medford/Cambridge area, but I have had the relatively rare Boston customer, and yet I need to wonder if I ever had a customer who lived that close to where you were staying. If I could go to work, and look up my thousands of customers, I may have a handful in all this time who live in that vicinity, a dozen would be stretching it.

    Significantly, having that customer allowed me the "excuse" to leave work that next morning and drive to Medford to have my customer sign the ownership papers, then to Cambridge to for our coffee in Starbucks.

    Maybe everything is arranged this way, and sometimes the continuity-by-causality illusion methods need to be set aside for some astrally important events.


  4. Two years ago we were hiking, en famille, in the Grand Canyon. Who should happen upon us on Bright Angel Trail, but a teacher of my son's. "Hi, Mark," she said, as if she wasn't a bit surprised to see him thousands of miles from home.

    Of course, the Grand Canyon is a destination mecca. Perhaps it's more of a coincidence to run into someone you know in St. George, Utah.

  5. PS: "The Road" is an interesting novel and not a bad one, but it is a one-trick pony with a narrow focus (he can't open it up lest he lose that claustrophobic, paranoid mood). I wrote an essay comparing it with Jim Crace's "The Pesthouse" (naturally, I far preferred the latter, 'cause I love JC), which you can find in the Fall 2007 issue of The Hudson Review (iffen you're interested).

    Interesting about both is that they fall into an increasingly popular genre: Post-apocalyptic novels. Look around and you'll see them, ditto post-a films, documentaries ("The World Without Us") and everything else. Sounds like a column topic to me, Bryan A.

  6. I tried to get the Hudson Review, Susan, but couldn't find it. I will try again today.

  7. Book stores that carry literary magazines will have it. Any store in NYC will, but outside of there, the pickins' get slim for little mags. They're a dying breed, kept alive mainly by university libraries.

  8. Are you not open to the possibility that it may have been more than a mere coincidence? That is actually a rhetorical question as I don't think you should answer it. It isn't healthy or productive to make too much of these things but I never cease to be amazed at the way people insist that these kinds of things must be mere coincidence. The evidence, the evidence... (and we all accumulate these kinds of things, and I mean interesting coincidences like the one you describe, not the stock banal ones that can be easily explained by features emerging from the noise).

  9. Hi Chris,

    You are right to talk about the accumulation of the "coincidences" and that we have pretty much all had them.

    If we are to minimize Bryan and Steve's coincidence, we would ask, "Who else but Bryan and Steve would be in that bookshop? And where else would two such people, working on the FLDS story be at that time--but in that bookshop or somewhere an awful lot like it?"

    If we view all the people in the world as our games pieces to gamble on, and we are doing this to make long shot bets on who should meet up where and when, sometimes we will win, sometimes long shots really do come true. Chances are great that someone sooner or later will win the 100,000,000:1 lottery.

    As soon as I consider Bryan as the winning game piece in that 100,000,000:1 lottery, I must realize that I had just met him too, in yet another long-shot Bryan encounter, as if Bryan is a long shot magnet. How else do we explain it?

    But then how could that be? We could say that there is a good force that can manipulate the world, and so we are led to ponder God, such that maybe these meetings needed to happen, so that certain more astounding good things may take place later, things that could not take place unless someone like Bryan meets someone like Steve for that second time, and that same person like Bryan meets someone like me. Of course, we could change the good God to an Evil Being and say that our encounters will now add to the likelihood that doom will come upon the world, ensuring at the very least great suffering.

    We could also go with that we each specifically, not people like us, but Bryan, Steve, and myself--have friends or relatives in heaven, who have predeceased us, looking "down" upon us, with a group interest in manipulating events so that we meet; this so that there will be further social events, say, once we are all there, in that "Above", together. Thus the membership of the Book and Writers Club of Heaven will only be strengthened eventually for our meeting up here on earth, or simply that we will have this story to tell there over Starbucks and drinks, or whatever they serve. Or, maybe the Book and Writers Club of Heaven has as a weekly activity, manipulating earthly writing events.

    We could also say that some overseer of earthly activities was suppose to be watching and manipulating encounters much more subtly, that initially none of us were suppose to tell that meaningful events were being super-manipulated so that we all meet. For instance, if we all met instead at a book fair in some big city, say even Philadelphia, then no one would be talking about synchronicity. But the overseer in charge of us meeting like that, was remiss, slacking on the job. That overseer's job entails none of us realizing that anything that ever happens is an arranged event. We here on earth, or living as we do here, are not to suspect that this is happening, but to think that we are all "on our own". Events of sychronicity in this case, would be failures in logistics, or the overseers slacking at the Earthly Event Controls. Although, it could be that a contingency took place, that the initial book fair plan had to be changed, and the risk of us talking about this subject was better off dealt with later.

    Let's return, however, to Bryan, to factor him in as the long shot magnet. It could be that Bryan is the focus of heavenly or controlling beings, even alien beings, good or evil, and that Steve and I are simply bit players, that it is more specifically Bryan's life and future behavior that was being manipulated, some revelation intended, not for Steve or myself at all, but Bryan.

    Or, it could be Bryan himself, maybe even unconsciously, using some power we relinquish or that he relinquishes, but a power that enables extra-earthly manipulation of events. Maybe Bryan has simply been thinking outside the box.


  10. Bryan, you haven't "dealt" with McCarthy by reading The Road. Not close. Do The Crossing...