The Reason I Read: Or Seven Synchronicities I’ve Had With Books Lately by Elizabeth Hellstern

The Reason I Read: Or Seven Synchronicities I’ve Had With Books Lately by Elizabeth Hellstern

Carl Jung coined the term synchronicity, saying that events are “meaningful coincidences” if they occur with no causal relationship, yet seem to be related. For me, synchronicities mean that I’m on the right path. They give validation to my muses, to my imagination, to my direction. I’ve often had social synchronicities, but recently I’ve started having literary synchronicities. Thoughts I’ve had coalesce and are reflected in the books and magazines I’m reading. The authors take my words to the next level or give me the perfect information I need for my next idea. This makes reading so fun! I have to pay attention to find the clues for my next step in life.

Here are some I’ve had recently:

1. I was thinking about starting my own library that was open to the public. That same day, I’m reading Ander Monson’s Letter to a Future Lover, and BAM! Suddenly Ander is talking about it too, telling me how to do it!

He says “Take the books that mean the most to you and set them on an empty shelf. Now label it. Add a note about who you are and what you’re here for if the books you choose do not reveal enough. Then leave it, hope it will become a home to someone searching for reminder that our intelligence is good for something besides depression.”

2. In a reverse case of synchronicity, my son brings up feminism and shows us a cartoon that illustrates what he thinks feminism should be:


WAZAA! Turns out I’m reading Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay and get to talk to him about it. “I believe in equal opportunities for women and men,” she writes. “I believe in women having reproductive freedom and affordable and unfettered access to the health care they need. I believe women should be paid as much as men for doing the same work.”

3. I’m writing a piece about an artist with telekinetic powers who can feel the energy of the material she is working with. I’m wondering how to convey her experience and do a “tarot reading” on the book The Reenchantment of Art by Suzi Gablik. The “tarot reading” game I thought I made up is actually called bibliomancy—where one can foretell the future or answer a question by interpreting a randomly chosen passage from a book. Gablik’s synchronistically opened page reads “The ability to enter into another’s emotions, or to share another’s plight, to make their conditions our own, characterizes art in the partnership mode. You cannot exactly define it as self-expression—it is more like relational dynamics. Once relationship is given greater priority, art embodies more aliveness and collaboration, a dimension excluded from the solitary, essentially logocentric discourses of modernity. Partnership demands a willingness to conceive of art in more living terms.” WOOOHHHH!

4. In a case of pure object synchronicity, I visit the thrift store and see player piano scrolls. OOOH! I haven’t seen these in ages! They’re cool, and bring back memories, those punched dots that played notes, and I realize I haven’t thought about player pianos in quite a while. Where did they go? Just that afternoon, I KID YOU NOT, I read Ander Monson’s essay in Letter to a Future Lover, and he says “Those piano—pianola—rolls were manufactured until the first Thursday of 2009, when QRS Music Technologies of Buffalo stopped the assembly line grind for the last time and everything was silent for a moment, then stayed that way.” Question answered.

5. I’m wondering if anyone else gets excited about these meaningful bits of information dropped into one’s day like pieces of magic gold. YES! I read that the ecofeminist writer Gloria Finam Orenstin calls it “the methodology of the marvelous”—the inexplicable synchronistic processes by which one attracts, as if by magnetism, the next piece of vital information.

6. I’ve been working on a public art installation for a few months. It’s called the Telepoem Booth and invites the public to enter a 70s rectangular aluminum phone booth, look up a poet in the Telepoem Directory, and dial that number listing to hear the poem through the earpiece. SHAZAAM! I’m reading an interview that poet Albert Goldbarth gave—he’s talking about conserving poetry, words and telephone booths in the same breath.

He says “A lot of my own private life is devoted to a sense of conservancy…I conserve objects and ideas in my life. In fact, it hurts me when I see public telephone booths and post office drop-boxes disappearing from the American landscape. Some of my poetry implicitly asks to be a body that freezes some of those objects and the sensibilities they stand for in time. In fact, any poem, whether one wants it to be or not, is necessarily a block of language that to some extent holds firm a group of words and maybe the ideas those groups of words are meant to represent against the depredations of time. To that extent, I think almost any writer is a conservator.”

7. My friend sends me the great poem “The Laughing Heart” by Charles Bukowski. I’m putting the whole thing here below. The italics are mine, and although they are obvious they illustrate my AHA moment.

The Laughing Heart

your life is your life

don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.

be on the watch.

there are ways out.

there is a light somewhere.

it may not be much light but

it beats the darkness.

be on the watch.

the gods will offer you chances.

know them.

take them.

you can’t beat death but

you can beat death in life, sometimes.

and the more often you learn to do it,

the more light there will be.

your life is your life.

know it while you have it.

you are marvelous

the gods wait to delight

in you.

All of the synchronicities that my books are giving me lately make me think that this life is my life—and everyone else’s too.