I frequently stumble upon a thought or phrase that arrests me only to find it recurring elsewhere, in some other conversation or book or film, a day or two later. It is almost as if a mastermind has meticulously designed a breadcrumb trail of clues leading me to some greater meaning. There is not always a life-changing insight at the other end, but I am nonetheless awestruck by these coincidences and occasionally spooked into thinking The World, in some abstract metonymy for something else, is trying to tell me something. There are myriad theories about epistemology, or the way we come to understand and learn the world around us, and some are kooky and far-fetched to a pragmatist like me. Popular author Elizabeth Gilbert has written fairly extensively along these lines, and her basic philosophy is as follows:
“I’ve come to believe that there exists in the universe something I call “The Physics of The Quest” — a force of nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity or momentum. And the rule of Quest Physics maybe goes like this: “If you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting (which can be anything from your house to your bitter old resentments) and set out on a truth-seeking journey (either externally or internally), and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared – most of all – to face (and forgive) some very difficult realities about yourself… then truth will not be withheld from you.”
What do you think?
A bit fanciful for my tastes.
I’m more inclined to believe that these coincidences (in Gilbert’s formula, “clues”) are the province of a creative mind, trained to ferret out patterns and imprints that appeal. But occasionally I wonder whether Gilbert isn’t quite as far out as I’d thought, and that unfiltered openness to the phenomena of life and art might reveal to me important truths.
If I sound rather unmoored and abstruse at the moment, let me ground these musings in specificity:
I was listening to my new favorite podcast the other day and one of the hosts mentioned her affinity for “people who live out loud.” I’d never heard that turn of phrase, and I cottoned to it. I immediately thought of Mr. Magpie, whose opinions, tastes, and style preferences feel bold — and underlined, and italicized! — to me. He is 100% himself through and through and through, even when that self is at dramatic odds with ambient culture, trends, and prevailing popular opinion. (In other words, you’d never see him caught dead in skinny jeans and white kitchens are not his cup of tea and don’t get him started on how much he loathes and despises many of the most popular television series out there.) He is delightfully old-fashioned and occasionally contrarian, though even those descriptors fail to capture the degree to which he remains true to himself, as his decision-making and aesthetics appear to be entirely unflummoxed by the swirl of life around him. He is just him. An island of deeply held beliefs whose provenance is untraceable. In other words: he remains a fetching and thrilling mystery to me.
But in his commitment to himself and his own opinions: he lives out loud.
I think the podcaster meant something a bit different when she used the phrase. I think she meant something more along the lines of: “People who color outside the lines, break rules, shake things up.” This is not necessarily Mr. Magpie, who — while opinionated — is also wonderfully courteous, polite, and civil in his interactions with others. He is also fiercely private. Were you to meet him, you might wonder whether I was talking about the same person. He is not one to throw out opinions or “get into it” with a new acquaintance.
At any rate, just a day or two after I’d pocketed the “living out loud” phrase, I was revisiting one of my favorite essays from Mary Oliver’s “Winter Hours,” in which she writes about her own philosophy of life:
“To enjoy, to question — never to assume, or trample….to observe with passion, to think with patience, to live always care-ingly.”
I was struck, and not for the first time, by the fact that I share Oliver’s idylls for a life well and thoughtfully lived — and also by the fact that I would describe that life as one lived quietly, in introspection. Not silently, not mutedly, not hushed, as those words imply some kind of incapacitation or subjugation — but in willed, reverent, thoughtful observance.
And so I found myself musing over the fact that I so easily, so instantly, saw Mr. Magpie as one who lives loudly and myself as one who lives quietly. And yet we are not that different at the end of the day; we share similar values, especially when it comes to the treatment of others and their opinions, and there is a fair amount of synchrony in our tastes and outlooks.
But there it was: something about the decibels at which we live that I mused over for the better part of an afternoon. And I wondered why I see myself at the softer end of the spectrum, and what that means, and whether that matters.
And so we have one of those curious coincidences in which I feel as though I am being escorted through a door jamb and not quite sure where I’m being taken, but things feel more colorful, more nuanced, more intricately shaded than before.
What about you, Magpies? Do you ever have these moments of uncanny confluence?
And, more narrowly, do you see yourself as someone who lives loudly or quietly?
+This coat is beyond for a little one…
+I’m intrigued by these acrylic hangers. I’d heard elsewhere that they’re great because they are super slim and clear (and therefore add no bulk and keep the closet looking very clean and tidy) and was contemplating swapping out my hangers for these. But the Amazon reviews are middling! Many point out that they snap easily. Wondering if I should stick with sturdier velvet ones. Any Magpie opinions on the subject?
+Such a pretty top. (Under $50!)
+These dolls are absolutely darling.
+In the market for a long camel coat this fall. I love the look of this one from Sandro.