I’ve never gambled, and I’m too expressive to have a good poker face, but dang it: the idea of taking a risk, crossing my fingers, and maybe getting lucky is thrilling to me. I may not be overly optimistic about most things, but I am always open to the possibility that anything could happen any minute and change the course of a carefully planned life.
My style is that I plan loosely, leaving room for surprises. I’m pretty darn flexible within reason, as long as a few markers of comfort and stability are left intact. If you take a road trip with me, I won’t be harping you about how we should have been in Atlanta by noon—on schedule—and how the delay will mess everything up. I’m more likely the chick who will want to stop at the Starbucks and dawdle a bit, stretch my legs, and think, “What’s another fifteen minutes in the scheme of things?”
If I’m delayed by traffic, or if I get lost, I tend to think I was spared from some horrific accident. Silly, maybe—or worse, inaccurate and naïve—but it’s how my brain works. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time is not the kind of lottery I want to win, and unfortunately it’s impossible to report when someone is in the right place at the wrong time, so it’s something I think about.
I’ve enjoyed a certain amount of dumb luck that’s quantifiable—being in the right place at the right time, or experiencing a favorable outcome—but I’d love more of it. The job I landed because a caller on the phone I answered liked my voice. The best friend I met because I returned her dropped sheet of stickers in third grade. The breast lump biopsy that showed nothing abnormal. The grad school writing award I won when competition was stiff that year. Perfect apartments I got because of some random detail on my application. Dogs that found me and melted my heart. Husbands and lovers who happened to fall for me at the same time I fell for them. The perfect health of my newborn son. My gig here, assembling literature and writing for you every week. Jackpot.
And this week, the first week of a brand new year, I’m spinning the wheel, and I’m feeling lucky. I’ll get a great new job. We’ll sell the house. I’ll finish the novel; I swear.
But let’s be honest: drawing the short straw makes for good fiction. Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet In the Brain,” for example—an account of a guy’s humorously calm meeting with death during the robbery of the bank he’s patronizing—or Lorrie Moore’s “Dance In America,” about the dying child of an ex-lover. There’s tension there. But missing the bullet? Dodging the disease? There’s a reason that the most compelling stories don’t have happy endings.
Which brings me to our selections for this week. Ian Woollen has a knack for pulling off Wolff’s style of making personal tragedy amusing. The dialogue in “Awaiting a Verdict” is the story’s crowning jewel, and deftly shows how we occupy ourselves and pre-occupy ourselves when the chips are in the air, and we have no control over where they land.
Planning leads to an unplanned blow in “I’ve Seen It in the Movies” by Charles Rafferty, who dishes a metaphor for a life’s trajectory with the protagonist’s Comet, the changing landscape, the newness of the ocean, the things lost along the way. I’m a sucker for the bittersweet hope at the end, the recognition that the tide will come in again, bringing new things, but it will always be the same ocean hitting the shore. So much rides on the luck of the draw, place, and time.
The images in “Stumps and Remedies” feel so familiar to me, even though I couldn’t tell you how a “spent bee” moves. Kevin Heaton’s language is stunning, and seeps in on a visceral level, the level where nature operates, where life is spared and spent without intellectual reasoning or malice, only luck, only with an eye on survival.
Now, here’s a playlist that delivers as many ups and downs as our pieces this week, digging into your soul with Aimee Mann’s refrain that “it’s not going to stop,” then throwing ice water on your face with super-powered Joey Scarbury “walking on air” after never believing he could feel so free-ee-ee.
Happy New Year, you guys. Here’s to a lucky 2012.