Saturday, January 7, 2012

Book Circles

Gurdjieff writes of the Yezidi Kurds of the Caucasus and northern Iran.
If a circle is drawn around a Yezidi, he cannot of his own volition escape it. Within the circle he can move freely…but get out of it he cannot. Some strange force, much more powerful than his normal strength keeps him inside. (Meetings with Remarkable Men, 66)
To me this doesn’t seem incredibly phenomenal. I think we are all subject to such pulls, depending on what we raised to believe. Conventions are stored up in the mind and we cannot help but to continually return to the propositions that will fulfill these conventions. Be construct our lives, after a fashion, in a circle, but it is not a circle which is prohibited growth. The more adventurous of us take small steps outside the circle and then try to do what we can to balance the sudden inertia by finding what is familiar in the new, and often, overwhelming environment. I have observed this behavior in myself numerous times, and, it seems that from this way of living is prone to coincidence. That is to say that one sets one’s self up for coincidence. When the coincidence is fulfilled it seems strange, because the steps taken to fulfill the coincidence have been forgotten. Let’s take a recent incident as an example.
I was lying in bed reading when suddenly I gasped and jumped up, running to the cardboard bookshelf that was once a candy display in a nearby store. My girlfriend, as you can imagine, was nonplussed by my sudden frantic behavior, though not as much as most people would be given that I am prone to such odd outbursts. Still, she couldn’t help but to continually call after me, asking what had happened. I could not answer her, because I wasn’t yet sure myself. I was too busy looking for a corollary to the following lines I had just read.
“Five-cent cotton, fo’ty cent meat, how in the world kin a pore man eat.”
I had just read the line in a book entitled Paper Moon. The lines that preceded the song fragment were, “Maybe you remember a song they used to sing back in the thirties? I can’t recall the name of it, but it had a line that went:” What had struck me as odd was that I did remember this particular song lyric, in fact I remembered it very well because I had just read it the other day. Only, I couldn’t remember where. At the bookshelf I was looking for Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle, which is based in the thirties and is essentially about pore men not being able to eat. Unfortunately, I had sold In Dubious Battle to buy Paper Moon. Which was, in and of itself, an incredible coincidence.
Paper Moon by Joe David Brown is probably not the most well-known book in the English-speaking world, than again neither is The Girl with the Silver Eyes, yet, somehow, among the scarce and well-picked over selections of used English books in Buenos Aires, my girlfriend has managed to find both of them.
The Girl with the Silver Eyes, was a book I had been hearing about for months. Every so often my girlfriend would make some sort of reference to it as it was one of her favorite childhood books. Although I listened to the stories with some interest, I never made any attempt to look for it even when we were in the states. Then one day, in a used book store in Buenos Aires, we were looking though the meager one-shelf English book selection and there it was. A copy of a young adult novel amidst old crime serials and out-dated computer manuals.
A few weeks later we went down to sell a few books at an exclusively English used book store, after not finding much we decided to try another book store, this one with very few English books, around the corner. There, between a tattered Poe compendium and a book from the WWII era about the Japanese people, was Paper Moon, which is one of my girlfriend’s favorite movies, which I had forgotten had originally been based on a book. She had in fact sent me an e-mail telling me to watch this movie shortly after I had arrived in Argentina a few weeks ahead of her. Naturally we bought it.
So, the book itself was a coincidence, the followed a similar conincidence, and within the book itself, another coincidence occurred. The line: “Five-cent cotton, fo’ty cent meat, how in the world kin a pore man eat ”are also to be found in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, which I had bought at the English bookstore about a month before only in Vonnegut’s version the price of cotton is “‘leven-cent.”
I took the book off the shelf and carried it over to my girlfriend so that she could compare the two lyrics from the same song in two such unrelated books. I was obviously more moved by the incident than she was, still, she agreed that it was odd. I got up and paced the room for a little while, trying to puzzle out what the connection could be. It seemed I was being shown a sign. I went back to Vonnegut for the sentences that preceded the lyrics they were: “Billy was emotionally racked again. The experience was definitely associated with those four men and not what they sang.” I’m not adding the italics, they are part of the original text. As I read this passage I knew what it was that the zealously faithful feel when they read the bible for comfort and feel the acute feeling that the words they are reading were meant for them alone. The italics on the page seemed to have jumped out at me, saying the song itself was unimportant, still Vonnegut quotes 10 lines of it. Why would he do that if the song were unimportant. Stranger still, was how oddly Vonnegutian this whole experience was. Especially considering the immensely Vonnegutian experience I had back in 2002 in Chicago when Vonnegut came to the Harold Washington library to speak.
I was living at the time in the south loop and thought it incredible that I should get a free chance to see Vonnegut speak for free, in my own neighborhood nonetheless. When I got there, I found that the library staff had blocked off the top floor where he was to speak as it was already filled to capacity. Narrowly skirting a guard I ran up the wrong way on an escalator, to find myself at the back of an immense crowd, before the crowd about 400 feet in front of me Vonnegut was speaking.
I occasionally tell people that I went to see Vonnegut speak, and I did exactly that; I watched him speak. I couldn’t hear anything in that room. I couldn’t give up my coveted spot though and stayed to the end, listening to the murmurs of the crowd around me all straining to hear a few words.
About a week later, I had nearly forgotten about the incident, when I woke up early one Saturday morning and began my day by flipping through the channels. I didn’t get very far when I hit a local access channel that was airing the talk. So, at one moment in time I watched Vonnegut speak, and at another I listened to the same speech, as if there had been a week-long delay on his words. What was also odd is that I remember the camera’s point of view being almost exactly where I had been standing in the room. So it was almost as if I was inhabiting myself again, only with much better hearing, a week later while sitting on my couch.
So far the coincidence has yielded no great revelation, and I doubt whether it will. I am still quite unconcerned with the prices of cotton or meat, but it seems they are things that I have brought into my circle and that I am continually seeking them out, despite having no conscious intent of doing so. Or maybe this has all just been an incredible coincidence. It’s hot enough today that I am really not very sure and do not intend to think much more about it until something similar should suddenly remind me of it.

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