Rebecca’s Omens (etc.)

Rebecca here.

I can’t read on the subway (terrible headaches!), so unfortunately thus far my participation on the site has been limited to the “Reading List” section.

But like the phenomenon Sydda writes about, the intoxicating, confusing greeting of your book and the world around you, the fusion of the literary and literal, I have been having some utterly notable experiences with my reading over the past few weeks. Moments of “Oh. Wow.” Collisions of my life and my reading, which I’ve tried to put into words here.

January 28, 2011

On this Friday a few weeks ago, I was en route to Baltimore, my home town, for an audition at a theatre in Western MD I’d worked at after high school. Seated on the Bolt Bus, I noticed the young guy across the aisle from me was wearing an NYU hoodie; I asked him if he was an NYU student, turns out he was a Tisch student as well, though in the musical theatre department, and was ALSO headed to Maryland for the very same audition! Small world. Getting ever smaller.

When I turned away from my new acquaintance, I took a side glance at the guy I’d carefully selected as my seat partner for the trip (good-looking, 20something, and well dressed in slacks and a striped, button up shirt–in lavender isweartogod) and noted that he wasn’t, as is typical when sitting next to a stranger, looking out the window, iPod in, avoiding all human contact. So, I started a conversation with him. Over the next three and a half hours, my seat partner (lets call him M.) and I talked about what seemed like everything; family, pets, television, New York, our jobs, our apartments, our families in Maryland, ex-girlfriends and boyfriends, and so on. We shared our names, our jokes, our laughter and exaggerated fear that our bus driver (who complained we were being too noisy) would drive us off the road. We sporcled together on his iPhone! When we pulled into Baltimore, preparing to leave the bus and go our separate ways, I was certain that M. would ask for my phone number, some way to contact me because truly there was something special about our never-ending conversation (“I NEVER talk to people on the bus!” “Neither do I!”). But as I watched him hug his mother hello and pick up his suitcase, he said “good luck at your audition!” And I found myself responding, “Thank you. So nice to meet you!” and walking away from M., from this investment of my time and care to my own mother, who would take me home and say, “Don’t worry, honey, he probably just has a girlfriend.” If you think I didn’t do all the Facebook stalking I could as soon as my Mac powered up at home, you don’t know me very well. But instead of hitting that little “friend” button, the “send a message” button that would only confirm or shatter any illusions I had that M. was thinking about me too, I closed the computer, and picked up my book.

At the time I was reading Nicole Krauss’ Man Walks Into a Room. And to my utter shock, the chapter I opened and carefully sifted through that Friday night, told of a man getting on a bus to sit next to a girl, to have a deep and meaningful conversation, to forge a friendship unlike any other, and when they reach their destination, to leave one another, and forever be just a little bit different.

Earlier in January I had read Paul Coelho’s The Alchemist, and had since been keenly aware of omens in my own life, guiding me to my “personal legend.” And as I closed my book that night, still in awe at the ever-surprising serendipity of the universe, I took the chapter as an omen. That I had made a great friend that night, met someone who had, in whatever miniscule way, changed me irrevocably, and that I must now do what I never do, and just walk away. M. was a stepping stone in my path to my personal legend (and no, I don’t give a shit if that sounds hokey or new age), and I will forever appreciate his small kindness.

February 6, 2011

This omen story is much briefer. This morning I was determined to finish Joyce Carol Oates’ i am no one you know, a beautiful collection of short stories which I’ve relished over the past few days (last night i fell asleep with the book in my hand, my reading glasses still on). The final story, “The Mutants” tells of a woman in downtown New York, a passerby turned witness to the attack on the World Trade Center. It’s a beautiful story, and I won’t try to describe it further lest I ruin its haunting loveliness. But as I finished the story, closed the book, and checked my phone to see the last text message I received (a smiley-face from my dear friend Sydney), I checked the time and it was 9:11.

February 25

Already in my reading this year have I come across book-to-book omens…when finishing up The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, author Junot Diaz mentions a search or journey a la Paul Coelho, author of The Alchemist, which was the very same book I had in my bag that day as my next reading adventure!! This time around, I took the trip from Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting to Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart and couldn’t help but notice the sort of eerie connections, little snaps of similarity of ideas, between the books. At one point Shteyngart literally describes and name drops Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being!!! But stranger than that is the authors’ questioning of that Whitney Houston aphorism “the children are our future.”  Kundera asserts that the idea is true, not because the children are actually growing up to be the future adults and leaders of the world, but because the adults grow ever more like children. Thus, children are the only future in a world where “grown ups” devolve to their earlier, child-like state. Shteyngart’s book takes place in a futuristic America that while not utterly unbelievable, is surely something I don’t hope for our country. In the beginning of SSTLS, Shteyngart says “We don’t die because our progeny lives on! The ritual passing of the DNA, Mama’s corkscrew curls, his grandaddy’s lower lip, ah buh-lieve thuh chil’ren ah our future. I’m quoting here from “The Greatest Love of All,” by 1980s pop diva Whitney Houston, track nine of her eponymous first LP. Utter nonsense. The children are our future only in the most narrow, transitive sense. They are our future until they too perish.” There I am, lying in bed thinking how the fuck is this thing in my hands so connected to the thing i just closed and put aside? I’m not really sure, except that maybe I’m able to notice all these small threads of connectivity between the books because I’m reading SO DAMN MANY.

March 13

Like I’ve said before, I get awful headaches reading on the subway, so I can’t read during my daily commute (at least 2 hours total every single day). But this didn’t fit in the Omens section, and it still seemed like something important to say.

For me, the subway is my zen zone. The in-between where I am going and where I’ve been, a place where it’s just me, my iPod, and the rest of New York.

Yesterday as I sat on the 4 train headed home, listening to Noah and the Whale’s “Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down” (an album I recommend to all), it came upon me suddenly:

This is my life, as I’m living it, right now, right this second, this is it.

That instantaneous intake of breath, and for the first time in a long time I am aware of being exactly where and who I am. And then the second breath:

Where have I been all the rest of the time?

I know I spend so much of my life in anticipation–of the next day, of the next audition, rehearsal, date, phone call, text message, email, tweet…of the next song on my playlist, of the next month of the year, of the next phase of my life…of the next job, of the next real love, of the next anything.

As I wait for all my nexts, I miss my nows. Until suddenly, I look up, and here I am. On a crowded 4 train, in the most beautiful place on earth, and no, I don’t have a job or a boyfriend or any typical validation from the world that I’m on the right track; I’m not sure where I’ll be in three weeks, much less three months, and it makes me sad a lot of the time.

But I am here, on a 4 train, in the most beautiful place on earth. I am here I am here I am here. And I smiled, and I thanked the universe that I could be so lucky.

Noah and the Whale says,

If you do what you do, yeah well you’ll do fine.

And I think I will.


April 5

Read a book about blindness, woke up with pink eye.


1 Response to Rebecca’s Omens (etc.)

  1. Reading Shteyngart’s reference to Kundera’s book was so weird! I haven’t read The Unbearable Lightness of Being (yet) but it’s been on my list for ages, and every time I go into Strand I pick it up and observe that cover. I had SUCH a clear image of it while Shteyngart described it, which made the whole scene that much more relatable.

    Also, we sang that Whitney Houston song in middle school choir (along with “From a Distance” and Mirah Carey’s “Butterfly”) which made me nostalgic and excited to have kids who sing in middle school choirs.

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