Serendipity in a Creator’s Life

My journey on the life path of the writer (you may be on a creator’s life path too)–studying writers and the writer’s life, and writing and reading a great Road with the-sun-470317_640deal of my time, setting writing as a high priority in my life; thinking of it all the time; sacrificing for it—was shaped by serendipitous experiences which are probably not very different from yours.

In the third grade when I was seven, the teacher, Miss Gross, stood at the front of the room and read to the class my theme–I’d described playing football. I’d said when I was tackled “I fell to the ground like a blob of jelly coming out of a jar.” Miss Gross said to the class. “David has used poetic language. He’s written what’s called a simile.” That single little event—her saying that and showing admiration for those few words,  and making me feel that it was somehow worth commenting on—immediately sparked something in me, let something  break free in me.

David youngRunning home down the street after school feeling wonderful and liberated—when I was young I was almost always running–I decided I would become a writer if there were such people and make similes as often as I wanted all the rest of my life. Miss Gross then encouraged me and worked with me and nurtured me. She arranged for my stories and poems to be published in newspapers and magazines. She asked me to apply myself and work hard at the writer’s craft. I was awarded first prize in a regional essay contest.

What if there hadn’t been a generous, giving Miss Gross in my life? What if she hadn’t been that kind of extraordinary teacher who holds students in highest regard and inspires them to aim high? What if she hadn’t cared enough to help me?

At about the age of nine I happened to be playing in front of the TV instead of playing tag outside with my brother and sisters when an old black and white English movie came on.  I knew nothing about acting, but there was one actor Laurence Olivieron the screen who I could see was doing something remarkable. He was just different, unlike any of the other actors, though I couldn’t say how. But I could see that something right there on the screen. What he was doing, how he was acting, the impression he was making made me feel a sensation which I now know was awe. I realized I was watching some exceptional thing I had never seen in movies before, in my life before. I pointed to him and asked my mother who that was. She was a movie buff. She knew. “That’s Laurence Olivier. He’s the greatest actor in the world.” Even so young I had recognized supreme mastery, the highest attainment of an art.

I decided that I wanted one day to be able to affect people the way his performance had affected me—he had made me gasp. And I thought the best way to do that was to write things so beautiful that people would gasp too. A major event for me in college involved another teacher, Dr. Hunt, a well-known visiting professor of creative writing who one day read to the class a piece I’d written. (The assignment was to describe a person by describing a piece of clothing they were wearing, and I wrote “My Father’s Corduroy Jacket,” the best writing I’d done to date.)  When she finished reading, she said, “A teacher waits her entire career for a student who can write like this.”  She had me visit her in her office and helped get my work in a prestigious literary journal. So there was my second encouraging Miss Gross who happened to be on the faculty for one semester—the same semester it fit my schedule to take her class.

To create beauty—to write beautiful poems and stories—I decided depended on how moving the subject was and also the beauty it was expressed with, and Writing near a treeI placed a great deal of emphasis on the imagery in the writing.  In college I’d read Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “God’s Grandeur,” and was greatly impressed with its beautiful language. I never forgot Hopkins and years later (before Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble) I had the urge to read a book studying his imagery so that it might affect my imagery. Wherever I traveled—and I did extensively, big cities, small towns–I visited new and used bookstores and in every bookstore I browsed for such a book, but never found it.

Once I was to give a speech in Rock Island, Illinois. It’s a small city in the western part of the state that I had never visited before. I discovered that the hotel I was to stay in had just been built and had opened its doors only a few trash-25081_640days before. It had hosted a conference for fire fighters. The attendees had left just the day before. The event at which I was to speak came next. I arrived at midnight and was given the only available room. I laid my bags on the bed, and then noticed something in the trash basket. Apparently it had been left by one of the firefighters and the maid had overlooked it when she cleaned the room.  There it was: a full-length book on the imagery of Gerard Manley Hopkins—another serendipitous event, the only available room, a fire fighter who liked Hopkins too, and a maid who’d forgotten about a trash basket.

Years later I’d been writing and researching fifteen or sixteen hours a day for many months to meet a book deadline, neglecting my wife, neglecting my children, concerned only with putting enough words on a page to satisfy me—words, words, words, words, words–an abstract existence. Everything, every experience that would go into the book had to be translated into language.

That night I’d had it; I couldn’t work another minute, stoic though I am; could not pull from my agonized brain another word. I quietly so as not to wake anyone left my home at about 3:00 a.m. and walked the Chicago streets trying to decide if I wanted to continue leading a grueling, neglectful life like that or follow a more conventional life, committing myself to “a regular 9-5 job.” It was a cool, pleasant night—very dark—with a soft, filmy mist in the air. Should I continue a writer’s difficult life?  Should I just finish this book and give it all up?

Then I noticed ahead of me something on the sidewalk precisely in the middle of a pool of bright white light cast by a street lamp, as though it had somehow Spotlightbeen known that I would find my way to that little street, and that object—whatever it was–had been placed there as though in a spotlight very carefully for me and me alone to see. I went to it and bent down and picked it up. It was a book—of all things a book–not a glove someone had dropped, or a scarf, but a new, thick hard-cover book. You see: I could not get away from the written word. I took this as a serendipitous sign that like it or not a writer’s life—imperfect, isolated, and much too demanding–was my identity and that it was futile for me to think writing would ever not be at the center of my existence.

It was a waste of time to imagine that I could ever get away from a life that had been shaped by Miss Gross, Laurence Olivier, Dr. Hunt, a literary fire fighter and forgetful maid, and the lesson of that book left for me in the pool of white light late at night on a Chicago street.

I’m sure you’ve had similar serendipitous experiences steering you straight to the craft you love and will always love–your writing, painting, acting, dancing, singing. And if you have the time I’d love to hear about them.

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogers

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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18 Comments

Filed under Becoming an Artist, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Goals and Purposes, Personal Destiny, Personal Stories, Self-Direction, Serendipity, The Writer's Path, Writers

18 responses to “Serendipity in a Creator’s Life

  1. Thirty years ago, my husband encouraged me to register for a writing workshop at the local community college. I hesitated. The tuition was $30 and we were barely scraping buy on unemployment. Instead, I spent $2 on a lottery ticket…and won $32. Now I’m teaching the workshop I’d almost passed on.

    Liked by 5 people

    • davidjrogersftw

      Cindy, what a great story! $32–the exact right amount. (I like the touch that it even included what you paid for the lottery ticket.) Inspiring. Thanks for sending it to me.

      Like

  2. How extraordinary to have recall of the events that ignited your passion for what feeds your soul! I believe the ability to be that catalyst is the greatest gift we give each other and being acknowledged for making a difference is life’s greatest compliment. I hope your mentors, whenever possible, recognized their enormous value in encouraging you to follow your bliss.
    We so need connection in our lives. It’s hard to be human alone. I fear that in this electronic age we may lose the personal connection we need to live. Our passions and gifts have little meaning unless they’re shared.
    Thanks for reminding us that we need each other to explore our purpose and begin our own journeys in this big, scary, wonderful, messy world!

    Like

    • davidjrogersftw

      Kathy, writers such as you and I have been granted a wonderful ability to remember. Memory is a writer’s stock in trade. Oddly, a few minutes before your comment came in, I’d started re-reading Remembrance of Things Past and of course, memory is the whole basis of that long, symphonic masterpiece. Proust couldn’t forget a single thing.

      I think my mentors and guides, so generous, were aware of how grateful I was to them and how much I valued them. At least I hope they were. You make a good point about connections. I think we should give selflessly and freely to other people–and give and give, not asking anything in return.

      I love your “big, scary, wonderful, messy world.” That sort of sums up the whole, thing, doesn’t it? I understand what you mean about losing connection, but on the other hand, I have–and I’m sure you have–made many valued connections with people in so many places through blogging.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I think you’re right, David. Most of my closest current friends I met through my blog. Most are thousands of miles away. I miss the idea of being able to sit across from someone while sharing a cup of tea and talking about the things closest to my heart. Sometimes, late at night, I feel frightened and I wish there was someone I could call to come over and spend some time with me and fill the space of my loneliness. Sometimes just looking at another person reminds us that this life consists of so much more, that we are part of something much bigger, something much more wonderful than we could ever experience in isolation.
        But it’s true, we are better together no matter what the medium.

        Liked by 1 person

        • davidjrogersftw

          Kathy, I can understand how you’ve developed many friendships through your beautifully and poignantly written blog. What you say about the importance of face to face talks seems so true to me after having a wonderful conversation last night with my son-in-law. And I feel the kind of sadness I think you’re talking about when I realize that I’ll probably never see most of the people I’ve formed friendships with through blogging–you, for example. But I truly enjoy the exchanges and conversations.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Serendipity, my favourite word. I remember when I first came across it – it was the name of a friendly pink sea monster in a children’s book that I had 😊 like you, I was so lucky to have excellent teachers that recognised something within me to nurture. There was an English teacher who introduced me to classics like A Catcher in the Rye, giving them to me to read and discussing them after class. Another English teacher told my mother that he was in awe of my creative writing talent and would love to share his own writing with me, except he was too shy…I wrote a poem about Australia, which my osteopath uncle loved so much he wrote up on the blackboard in his waiting room, and my grandfather asked me to write a poem especially for his wedding vows to his second wife. Cindy’s story reminded me of a similar event in my life which started me studying. We were also broke, with two little children and only one car, which left me at home in the day. There was a media and writing course that I wanted to do, but didn’t have even the $100 to do it. The next day a friend gave me the money, I enrolled, and now four years later, I am in my second year of a university degree! How lovely to look back over my life and see all of these gestures of support from people around me – and there were many more too. I’ll often write a post and then find half a dozen other articles exploring similar subjects…one mind 😊

    Like

    • davidjrogersftw

      Sara, you have to love those English teachers. They’re so willing to help. (Diana is one–I think the best.) To be told the teacher is in awe of your ability is quite an accomplishment. But I’m in awe of you too. For example, your last three posts on body, mind, and heart showed so much wisdom coming from a relatively young person.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Marilucas Casarrubias

    Some serendipitous experiences have come
    to me by books, “fighting to win” is one of them.
    You look like You were very friendly when
    You were young.
    “It was a cool,pleasant night -very dark-
    with a soft,filmy mist in the air”. This sound
    so poetic David.

    Like

    • davidjrogersftw

      Marilucas, it’s always good to hear from you. It sounds like you like the post, and I’m happy about that. You know me–I’m still friendly. I’m so pleased that my book Fighting to Win was a serendipitous experience for you and that you value it. Thank you for complimenting me on the image of the night air. I don’t get to your store very often, but when I do, I always look for you. Take care of yourself.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ms. Gross– Professor and Mentor – reflect on the kind heart that saw your talent–

    Like

  6. Ruth hamren

    Hi David.. I liked your post.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I began my incredible journey into the written word when I lived on the streets of Sydney Australia. I was around twelve years old, and lived with a group of amazing (and Life saving) Street kids in a shipping container on the docks. One of those amazing people was just eight-years-old. ‘Jenny’ was so damaged. I started writing stories for her, in the columns of newspapers in pencil. She was always the victor in those stories. She always won out. It took me almost four decades before I wrote my first book, about them, about their Journey and mine. I live now, and I write, It keeps me almost sane…lol. Thanks for your insightful blog. And for this opportunity to share my thought.

    Like

    • davidjrogersftw

      Soooz: See, there you lived through ordeals and survived and then thrived in your writing. Even as a child you thrived in your writing, using your skill to give strength to another. You have what many writers don’t have and would give an arm for–dramatic, absorbing content. You’ve experienced things most people never have and they find your story fascinating. Thank you for your comment. It’s nice to know that nowadays you’re laughing.

      Liked by 1 person

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