George O'HarLate on a Thursday afternoon I was scheduled to have a root canal. I’d never had one before and was hardly looking forward to the experience. Turns out it really wasn’t bad at all. Next day I was leaving campus when I encountered a colleague coming in and we got to talking and she said, “I just had a root canal.” The day after, a Saturday, I was at a barbecue and someone next to me was saying, “Paul’s just had a root canal.” Paul was a guest, standing across the lawn from me. Obviously, coincidence. Three people having root canals; it happens. And yet: I have never in my life known a person who had a root canal. So to run across three of them, in my small circle, on three successive days. Well, I found it amazing.

These things do happen, and perhaps more than we realize. Not long ago I was reading a book and came across a word I had never seen before. Wouldn’t you know I came across that word again that very afternoon? In class last week, we were finishing up Lolita. In the back of my mind was a mental note to tell the students that a great new pizza place, Otto, had opened in Harvard Square, and that if they found themselves in that part of the woods, they should be sure to check it out. But our discussion of the novel pulled me far away from my note. Then bingo! On the next to last page of the novel, Humbert informs the reader that “There are in my notes “Otto Otto” and “Mesmer Mesmer” (alternative names). I looked up and told the students about pizzeria Otto.

To a writer, coincidence can be a way to free yourself from a trap. Dickens has been accused of using it too much, and John Irving, who fancies himself a latter-day Dickens, goes a bit overboard himself in using the trick. Television uses it all the time. Critics deplore its use, but such critics, I would claim, are actually ignoring reality. And critics don’t write novels, do they? Coincidence is a big and mysterious part of our lives and no less a person than Aristotle gave the subject considerable thought. Speaking for myself, I like it. Already, I am using it—too much—in my current novel. I might even make it a character, give it some lines and a hat.

Today’s guest blogger

George O’Har
Department of English
Boston College

Books By Derek Haines
Derek’s Vandal Blog
Derek on Twitter

Let Be Be Finale of Seem
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13 thoughts on “Let Be Be Finale of Seem

  • 10/06/2011 at 4:50 pm

    George is it coincidence that you read the word Otto, or that you found three others who had gone through the same dental procedure as you?

    I prefer to believe that until we come across a word or whatever it may be, we remain unaware.

    For instance, take the brand and model of your latest vehicle as an example. Only after you buy it, are you aware of just how many of that specific brand and model are on the road.

    Coincidence George? I think not. :)

  • 10/06/2011 at 9:18 pm

    You might be right Jack. I was called a blithering old idiot today, and not ten minutes later when I took my dog for a walk to escape the tirade, I saw at least 5 other blithering idiots while I was out. Amazing huh? :)

  • 11/06/2011 at 3:56 am

    Blithering idiots abound, blithering old idiots are the ones with something interesting to say.

  • 11/06/2011 at 8:44 am

    Blithering idiot you ain't Derek. Point the moron out who called you names and I'll call him/her out for a duel at dawn. Weapon of choice – Cucumber (plenty of them being thrown away at the moment across the EU). :)

  • 11/06/2011 at 9:23 am

    Who would have thought that one could write a crime story and use salad as a weapon?

  • 11/06/2011 at 10:48 am

    Well Quirina and Jack, I think we've entered a Monty Python styled fight to the death! Ready your cucumber! lol

  • 11/06/2011 at 11:22 am

    In his first comment, Jack called you George! Is this perhaps because he just spent the last two days meeting (coincidentally) several other Georges? Or could it be that he is one of the chosen few – blithering old idiots (or BOIs for short) – in which case, can I join the club, please? :-))

  • 11/06/2011 at 11:30 am

    Well poetjanstie that was because George O'Har wrote the post. He was my guest blogger for the day. BUT, I bet you start meeting more George's now! And yes, please join our elite club. I like your acronym BOI's . Do we pronounce it 'boys'?

  • 11/06/2011 at 11:36 am

    We do indeed pronounce it 'boys', Derek, and I thought the photo of the bloke didn't look very like you! And, do you know, I was so keen to get to comment as I came to the end of the post that totally ignored the signature at the bottom (apologies to George – expect you'll be invited again after stimulating this sort of debate!). So, I failed the exam, but still qualify as a fully fledged BOI ! Hooraaaaay!

  • 11/06/2011 at 12:43 pm

    I feel immensely honoured to be a member of BOI's poetjanstie. If we are considered blithering old idiots by some, then the world is not such a bad place after all. :))

  • 11/06/2011 at 2:29 pm

    I am please to be in such elevated company, Jack.

  • 11/06/2011 at 10:39 pm

    Oh, please could I also join the club. I am a tom BOI. I climb trees …

  • 11/06/2011 at 10:59 pm

    I don't think it's a boys club Quirina, so welcome aboard! But maybe you're not old enough yet! lol

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