Sunday, June 11, 2006

On fate. reading.

There is a passage in one of my favorite novels of all time, A Room With a View (I have loved it for so long that I cannot remember a time when I did not), where Mr. Beebe and George Emerson discuss fate. George believes that everything is Fate; the vicar, Mr. Beebe, believes otherwise. The former believes Fate brought him back together with Lucy, the latter believes they were all brought together by a shared interest in Italy, where they all met, which merely "narrows the field immeasurably."*

I have always believed in fate. I went to Russia for the first time in 1993; my parents believed I should broaden my horizons and encouraged me to go on a school trip, one month in Moscow. It was August. I did not speak Russian then, and it would be another year, perhaps two, before I would be reading Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, before I stumbled into Solzhenitsyn's archipelago of words. Three years after that first trip, I came across a recommendation for The Master and Margarita in our school's yearly student/teacher book recommendation pamphlet. I went to the bookstore, found a lyrical new translation (by Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O'Connor) that had recently been published, with copious footnotes (by the brilliant Ellendea Proffer) that helped me understand, fall in love with the story. Later that summer a mysterious stranger, a Russian man, in a darkened movie theater, turned around as I was telling my best friend about it, and suggested that I learn Russian in order to read it in the original. Two years passed; I discovered other writers, the Italians Eco and Calvino, the Czech Kundera. My mind was shooting off in different directions. By the time I was at university I spoke a fair amount of Italian and I intended to study French. Alas, all the first-year French classes were full; I signed up for Russian instead. Everything just exploded from there. Within a year I spoke Russian (more or less) and found myself in Russia again, this time in St. Petersburg. I honestly think that if I had not happened across the particular translation of The Master and Margarita I have, none of this would have happened. Or perhaps it would have. Fate, you know. Perhaps something else would have led me there.

Years passed. I had given little thought to Russian literature in recent times. A chance conversation struck up on a lazy Friday afternoon led to getting up painfully early the next day, driving like a maniac to Whidbey Island, and hearing the poetry of Ilya Kaminsky, which referenced Mandelstam and led me back to Mandelstam, which led me back to the other writers and poets of his time. Reading and re-reading Bukowski and Bulgakov, respectively, (next to each other on their shelf at the bookstore) led my eye down to Burgess and Burroughs. The cycle continued.

It was, of all things, a Modest Mouse song that led me to remember the name Bukowski, which led to his novels, which led to his poetry, which led to other poets, namely Ferlinghetti, who I loved absolutely in a way I hadn't the first time I read him, years ago. I then re-read Ginsberg, who this time around blew my world apart. The weekly prowls at the bookstore led to more discoveries, all connected in various ways. I can't believe how many posts have begun with the words "I don't know how it happened, but somehow I came across...." or some variation thereof. I began to read again. And then a co-worker mentioned a blog she had discovered which mentioned my father. I found that it made me want to write, too, but I didn't want to write about my life, at least not the everyday details of work and what I did when I woke up in the morning or a new handbag I wanted, so what else could there be? So. Food and books, what else could be more important to me? And then I found I couldn't stop writing, and in order to write I had to read. Had to stop and think, go backwards in time in search of memories, go forwards and look for new things to read, to think about, to cook. I don't know where all this will lead. I suppose Fate will decide.

*Forster, E. M. A Room With a View. Vintage International, 1989. p 147.

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