There is a book store in Portland that I frequent with almost alarming frequency. I’m comforted by the fact (or delusion?) that most Portlandians share my obsession with Powell’s. Honestly, I think I know Powell’s three floors, plus that split level that opens onto Couch (pronounced ‘Cooch’…really!) and the coffee shop west of the sci-fi room as well as I know my own house. Well, maybe this isn’t true because I discovered, during my last trip that I hardly ever travel to the ‘B’ section of fiction authors.
At first I thought this must be statistical anomaly, like snow in June in Florida or a year without rain in Portland, then I thought it must be a matter of convenience-inconvenience that is really just a degree of my own laziness or that maybe I always start my search at the end of the alphabet (near the DFW) and inevitably come to moment where I realize I have to leave the store before I buy my weight in books. At this point, I had to surgically remove my head from my own ass and realize the meaningful implications of my routine book browsing. How many books by Simone de Beauvoir Jorge Luis Borges had I missed because of mere chance/browsing routine?
Which leads to a terrifying/awe-inspiring thought that it seems to have been discussed ad nauseam and thus has probably lost all sincerity: how much of life our life is left to chance? Could it be that, had I been browsing ‘B’ on the trip previous, I could have met a literary agent, or met my sweetheart, or inspired a child, or talked a guy off of the (metaphorical) ledge, or found a book on the ground that would have changed my life, or had my soul saved, or started a revolution, or…
Of course, none those things happened when I explored ‘B’ this time. I didn’t even buy a Bukowski book. And maybe, chance doesn’t really have anything to do with this at all. But of course it does and it was a powerful moment when I realized that, in some small way I had conquered chance. Chance, in its infinite wisdom, gives Good and it gives us Bad. Perhaps it gives and it takes away. Really, chance seems to have control over nearly everything we do. Though any good philosopher will tell you that control is an illusion. Any good preacher will tell you chance is really the Hand of God. The point is–and maybe I really have drifted far, far off the railroad tracks and am flying over a cliff full of insane rambling words–chance always seems to have the upper hand and that can be pretty damn scary. But you can make chance work for you. Just travel to the ‘B’ section.