Monday, February 9, 2009

Apophenia

n. The experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data.

The other day, on three separate occasions, T.S. Eliot was mentioned to me. The first was early in the day, during a meeting with a particularly precocious student (Not that referencing Old Possum is an indicator of precocity. Examples abound in which a reference to T.S. Eliot is not an indicator maturity beyond one's age...for instance, right now.) when he brought up the Waste Land.

The second was at dinner. I can't remember the context but a friend brought up Eliot again, and, if memory serves, it was in regards to the Waste Land. I even noted to him, "Hey, that's the second reference to T.S. Eliot I've gotten today...huh."

The third was during a play was saw later in the evening.

Now, it could be that the world is teeming with references to T.S Eliot that I had not noticed until being primed by my student to consider them. But, and this is nothing against our bastard American culture, after having a look around, it's not like the cashier at Walgreen's is looking across the counter at me to say "I will show you fear in a handful of dust."

(Gosh. Wouldn't that be something, though? I'd probably burst into tears and rush out, abandoning my already paid for Coco Puffs
.)

In recent weeks, this has been happening a lot. Like, all the time. It's not just the references to T.S. Eliot, it could be anything - repetition of images, thoughts, words:

1. CP brought up the movie Harold and Maude. Within 24 hours, one of my students said they had just watched Harold and Maude the previous day. Before this, I can't recall the last time anyone mentioned Harold and Maude to me.

2. While organizing my office stuff, I pulled a tiny army man from a box. My friend MJ had used it in an audition for me and then given it to me as a keepsake. It had been in this little box since the summer. At dinner that evening, she told me that she had done the same audition piece that day.

3. On my way to a party this past Friday, I was struck by the memory of someone, X., I have not thought of in a while, except in passing. It occurred to me that perhaps he'd come to this party I was headed for, but wouldn't that be silly because he lives in LA now and isn't even friends with the people who were throwing the party. (Also...that would be awful. The past I have with X. is not a pleasant one.)

At the party, sitting next to E., she received a text message from a friend stating she was coming over and bringing a few friends.

E. announced it to the room and the question came "Anyone we know?"

She said, "I don't think so. Anybody here know X.?"

Every drop of blood inside me evaporated.

(As it turns out, he didn't come. He asked to be dropped off as he had other obligations. My blood grew back.)


4. I picked up an old New Yorker yesterday. Looking at the cover, I had a flash recollection of my friend Notnits and his consistent anxiety concerning his New Yorker subscription. Last night, while purusing status updates on Facebook - his came to the top of the screen:

"Notnits will never read all these New Yorkers."


And there are plenty other instances that I can't call to mind at the moment.

This is the sort of thing religions get started on (or John Nash got carted off for), the perception of an invisible connective tissue between ourselves and the word around. Usually, we are content to let that connective tissue (if indeed it does exist) remain dormant from day to day, and whatever tugs or pushes we feel are the simple, natural result of cause and effect.

It's when that connective tissue decides to wake up and quote Prufrock that alarm sets in.

What cylinders are operating in my brain?

In my childhood, it was not uncommon for me to converse with God. I'd ask questions and (once I had offered the caveat that he answer me in plain English I could understand and none of that Burning Bush business, thank you, I don't want to be stoned as a heretic in the town square.) "he'd" answer. It was usually simple stuff, knowing better than to ask why Hilter was allowed to live. Often, within a few days, I'd get some sort of answer to my question.

The recent rash of little flares and coincidences is very similar to the "answers" I'd get as a child. Like letters from a forgotten friend at Summer Camp.

Are they answers if I never asked the questions?

These days, I have some struggles with the existence of God. Any God. I don't begrudge an atheist for his or her disbelief, and I'd also prefer it if those more religiously inclined would refrain from their attempts at conversion. Some days I go so far as declaring the God of my childhood to be dead...other days I think it's just evolved. Whatever "it" is, I'm not sure our bumbling human brains (even the scientific ones) can express its ineffable nature beyond clumsy equations and scripture. Still...the It keeps showing up and tapping me on the shoulder.

Is my brain just shooting off some electrical buckshot or should I be listening to something?

And why is it always mundane little shit...can't I know what stock to buy or who will win March Madness?

Jeez. Why are visions so useless?

5 comments:

Crazypants said...

evidently, god wants you read the wasteland and watch harold and maude. that's a place to start, anyway.

joe griffin said...

Ultimately --and I should stress that this takes a fair bit of backtracking-- I think the very fact that I know you can be traced back to "The Waste Land."

Jan Smelk said...

I do that with books all the time. I once bought three seemingly different book and yet all three of the protaganists ended up in a coma somehow. Everytime i buy more than one book there is a secret theme. Over Christmas the theme was mute-ness.....now that i think about it, there were five in that series.
verification:
saging: being casually wise

NotNits said...

I probably shouldn't tell you this, but my mentioning of Eliot at the restaurant was not in reference to The Wasteland. I was playing off the fact that sometimes people abbreviate "tough shit" to "TS."

I think you had complained about something, and I responded "TS, Eliot."

What is The Wasteland?

bahstitc (adj) - inspiring violent contempt in others.

-j-j- said...

That's funny...in your own way you did reference the Waste Land. It is a little known fact that early versions had the end reading:

Tough shit Tough Shit Tough shit

The later versions containing "Shantih shantih shantih" never lived up to the original's verve.



Joe...I'm desperate to hear the road mad from Eliot to this blog.

I'm off to watch Harold and Maude whilst reading a book about mutes.

 
Add to Technorati Favorites