And now for something completely different...

Suspicious Serendipity

Or, This Cabal Meets in a Pseudo-Starbucks

Are you ever suspicious of serendipity? I don’t mean the junky ice-cream place (that goes without saying), I mean the kind of random (and usually happy) occurrence that seems just… not quite random enough.

You see, I used to notice this pattern. Back when I was a regular reader of newspapers and magazines, every so often I’d notice a curious repetition of the same unusual word, the meaning of which I did not know — gormless, fabellation, or pantoglot — all clustered within the things I read that week. The word would appear in a New York Times Magazine story on disabled football players, a New Yorker review of a new German opera, a Newsweek article on Jesus, and the Harper’s index, related to some statistic about Etruscan poetry.

This happened frequently enough to convince me that someone was trying to improve the vocabulary of all voracious mass media readers, albeit obliquely, one word per week. I always figured there was some kind of competition among New York journalists and columnists to use the word in a story, arranged each week at some kind of swank cocktail party, or at lunch in a hotel restaurant that named a salad.

Anyway, it hasn’t happened in a while — until yesterday. I noticed it just after engaging in some shopping therapy at the local Barnes & Noble. In both the (highly recommended) books I bought, the same clichéd John Lennon quote was trotted out. And as it turned out, the order I read them in was quite important.

Here’s the first:

In short, it’s been incredibly useful in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I started it in the hopes of getting a column. It is a prime example of something that John Lennon once said: “Life is what happens to you when you’re making other plans.”
~John Scalzi, Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever, 1998-2008 (Tor, 2010; orig. 2008), 16

And the second, read about an hour later:

I gave him the honest, depressingly typical answer, which amounted to “life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” That led to a discussion about John Lennon, which led to a discussion about The Beatles, which led to a discussion about Yoko Ono, which led nowhere.
~Seth Grahame-Smith, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Grand Central Publishing, 2010), 7-8.

Here’s the thing: until I read the Scalzi, I had no idea that quote was commonly attributed to John Lennon; and if I hadn’t read him first, the Grahame-Smith line would have passed me by completely.

This secret cabal correspondence course in pop-culture trivia that I’m apparently signed up for is beginning to freak me out.

daliborlev, “The Cabal,” Flickr, CC License