UP NOLAN CREEK: Serendipity
Tuesday, 05 February 2013 by Wayne Carpenter
Recently someone asked me what I do in my free time. I told them I was writing some, working on a book, and I hoped to be an actual author when I grow up. We both laughed about the growing up part, but it still might happen.
I told him I certainly hoped if I was going to grow up it would be soon. I remain somewhat skeptical as I sometimes feel about 14 years old, although it was actually 50 years ago; and when I look in the mirror, the illusion of youth is quickly shattered.
We talked a bit about writing in general and writing a weekly newspaper article. He specifically wanted to know how I come up with a different subject every week. I think my basic answer was I usually don't have a clue until something happens which excites or concerns me. Sometimes it is something I have read or an old song I hear which sparks my interest in a subject, and I sit down and start writing.
I suppose the real answer to the question is writing, for me at least, isn't a very scientific process. If there were some magic formula I could follow, an elixir I could drink, or pixie dust I could sprinkle over my keyboard, trust me I would give it a shot.
I have read accounts by various writers, who all have their own tricks of the trade. Basically, all their tricks amount to the same thing. Once you have an idea of what you want to say, you have to sit down and work. Writing can be fun, but it is also work, usually hard work, even for those who make it appear easy when you read their finely polished product.
And good writing requires time, sometimes a great deal of it, spent in a chair staring at a blank screen or bright empty sheet of paper that seems to be glaring back at you, just daring you to start putting words down.
The physical work of writing is easily explainable, but where does any writer get their ideas and find words to express them? Obviously, since I am not on the New York Times best seller list, I haven't mastered the art. But I did have a very serendipitous event this morning, which may explain part of the answer for me personally.
On this very week, all the way back in 1754, the word serendipity first found its way into the English language. It seems an English writer named Horace Walpole once read a fairy tale about three princesses who traveled around making wonderful and unexpected discoveries.
Everywhere the young ladies went, they happened upon something extraordinary they had never been looking for. The young princesses lived and traveled in a beautiful land called Serendip.
As it turns out, Serendip is an actual location. It was the ancient name once used to for the island nation now called Sri Lanka, located near the southernmost part of India. (Sri Lanka is best known these days for being devastated by the tsunami a few years ago on Christmas day.)
Anyway, he coined the word serendipity, a word which rolls easily off the tongue, and the term somewhat serendipitously found its way into common usage. It is a perfect descriptor for those unexpected little pleasures which fall into our life's path... if we take the time to look for them on the way.
Several major inventions over the years have been attributed to serendipity when inventors were looking for one thing and stumbled, serendipitously, onto something else of equal or greater value. Important discoveries such as penicillin, x-rays, and vulcanized rubber were all discovered by this means, as were Kellogg's Corn Flakes, the Slinky toy, Silly Putty, and even Viagra.
As I was saying, I often find I start a column about an event or a person, as I did today, and by the second or third paragraph, I have discovered something else which I find more entertaining and completely change directions. Sorry about that, I had an idea for a highly educational column today, but serendipity got in my way.