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Synchronicity and Six Degrees of Separation

Originally published March 2010

How often do we experience odd coincidences in life that sometimes lead us in new, unexpected directions?  As a writer I try to leave myself open to these moments, especially when it affects my writing.  It may just be my lizard brain connecting dots that were there all along and I couldn’t see them.  It may be fate or a Higher Power directing me to where I should go.

Or they could just be coincidences.

For example, I’d been fussing for several months that an editor was behind schedule in reading my latest submission.  A week ago she finally made contact requesting a few revisions on the book.  This week the History Channel replayed an episode of Cities of the Underworld about Portland’s Shanghai tunnels.  I have those tunnels in a few scenes in the book and knew I should make them more prominent.  I truly needed a refresher course in how they look and how they are laid out.  The book will be a bit better for it.

Then there was the time when I was working in a museum.  We’d had a prominent display case suddenly turn up empty as exhibits got re-arranged, moved, pulled.  I temporarily filled it with some of my lace pillows, tatting, and collected bits of fine needle work.  The next tour I gave the customers commented that the daughter of a friend of theirs in Scotland was an award winning lacemaker.  As they waxed on about the accomplishments of the father, something clicked in my brain.  He’d been my professor for a term at the University of Edinburgh when I’d been on a special overseas study tour.  The lacemaking daughter had been three at the time.

Another time I gave a tour to a family of parents and adult children.  Father and son were both physicians.  We quickly ascertained that the son had done an intern rotation through the lab where my husband worked at the time and we had met at a staff party.  Not only that, he and I had attended the same junior high school – a few years apart – in Virginia Beach, Va.  The discussion went on to the cause of the epidemic that nearly wiped out a majority of Oregon tribes in 1829-1832.  My curator had read an article that it might have been malaria.  The father went looking for that article, made copies for the museum, and then went on to do a major research project demonstrating the need to make preparations for Viet Nam War veterans returning with malaria.  We have a mosquito that can carry the disease.  Another epidemic loomed on the horizon.  But thanks to his work was prevented.

Truth is stranger than fiction.  I could go on and on about coincidences.  If I included them in my books my readers would think I was stretching plot points too far.  Am I?

Or is it all fodder for the writer’s brain?


1 thought on “Synchronicity and Six Degrees of Separation”

  1. Coincidences is such a fun topic. I’m surprised there weren’t already a dozen or so comments here, because it seems just about EVERYBODY has experienced remarkable coincidences.

    My favorite example is not one that happened to me, but to a fellow who was a coworker of mine over 35 years ago. He loved to take hiking trips to far-flung parts of the world. A few years earlier he had gone to Borneo, and was waaaaaay back in the jungle when he came to a river that could only be crossed by a rope bridge — as in a bridge made only of a rope on which one walked, and another rope for grasping — and it was strictly a one-person-at-a-time structure. Just as my coworker got to his end of the bridge, another young white male reached the other side. They used English as their default language to discuss which one of them would cross first, and one of them did so. Having realized they both spoke English with the same German-Swiss accent, they asked each other’s background. Turned out they were both from the same small village in Switzerland, and the other fellow had even gone on a couple of dates with my coworker’s older sister. Yet here they were encountering one another deep in a jungle on the other side of the world.

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