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Matsubara Naoko: Funaoka [Pine Tree] (1964)

" … see what that gets you."

Someone eventually wonders after the cause of a success and asks about it, often in the form of, "What were the keys to your success?" just as if success necessarily had keys, whatever those might be. Does it follow, then, that Success originally comes with locks which, absent keys, prevent anyone from achieving it? The usual list of expected suspects emerges, highlighting the rational elements usually associated with any achievement, almost always prominently featuring a few exceptional qualities possessed by good old you-know-who. The net effect should, if properly presented, leave the successful person seeming part wizard and part fortunate, with always a little bit of bloomin' luck wisely attached. The result should be an exceptional story featuring a genuine hero and a happy ending, a pattern that any aspiring might emulate.

Reality, or what generally passes for it here, rarely, if ever, travels so formally and often hitchhikes.
It admits to holding an intention, but only in retrospect can it ever speak in specific or rational terms, for the hitchhiker thrives on Improbability, not strictly irrational terms but admittedly non-rational ones. My hitchhiking years seem magical to me now and, indeed, seemed magical to me then. Just imagine standing on the edge of town early some morning, knapsack and guitar in hand, with a thumb out pointing West, then later that same afternoon, strolling through Seattle's U District with no visible means of support other than a few utterly unlikely stories, each of which was true. However, few likely have really happened. A few new temporary friends transported me across the state and dropped me off a short distance from my destination. Reason out the causal chain supporting that Success if you dare, if you think you can. Something significant should be missing from your analysis, and will be.

Every damned one of these stories seems to feature an unspoken element. Douglas Adams named it The Improbability Generator, for whenever his protagonist found himself in apparently inescapable trouble, he'd seek out that generator which would provide what programmers used to call a wild-assed branch into some different plot line, one entered without all the usual expected rational transitional steps. Whap! and there he was somewhere else and out of mortal danger, though he always seemed able to find some fresh danger again. A story resulted that violated the fundamental principle of storytelling. Adams' books proved wildly popular, if only because they embodied lighthearted absurdism as if their stories were altogether too important to be taken or, indeed, written very seriously. We most enjoy our doom when it comes lightly sugar-coated.

My experience has prominently featured events remarkably similar to those produced via Adams' Improbability Generator. Hitchhiking serves as an example of deliberate invocation of its magic, but the most impactful instances for me have been the involuntary ones. I recounted to our financial adviser how The Muse and I ended up where we are. I mentioned how, at fifty-eight, I found myself penniless and about a week away from losing The Villa and relocating into a barrel when The Muse received a job offer that quite literally changed our lives. The most prominent catch was that we would have to relocate to Washington, DC, to take advantage of the offer, a destination in which neither of us had ever shown a passing interest. Nevertheless, we embraced this bit of Improbability, which eventually utterly transformed our lives and, thirteen dog years later, brought us back to our point of departure, more Successful than when we'd departed.

I cannot imagine my life now without that utterly unwanted intrusion, and any attempts I might make to enumerate the keys to our success seem fated to fail to create an in any way believable scenario. Our story's tenaciously non-rational, utterly Improbable, unbelievable, yet true. I have often told people that bankruptcy after you're fifty might well prove to bring the catalyst to achieve great success that they'd been missing; still, almost nobody believes me because that scenario fails to seem terribly rational. We learn to insist upon our instructions at least appearing rational, even if our lives don't really tend to be all that rational themselves. Perhaps the best policy might just be not to ask, to avoid expecting anyone to be able to tell you how to go about achieving success. It's your mess. Surf the Improbability and see what that gets you. How's that for crappy advice?

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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