Life Lessons

Deus Ex Machina

Close Calls for Second Chances from Second Sight

Copyright Ben S. Pollock 2008
Brick paused. Posting this month has been more inconsistent than usual. Bricks do get started but tossed to the slag heap. The lump, with its gaps and off corners, can be reshaped or mushed with others. After all, none of those has been fired yet and won’t be glazed.

Second chances are welcome.

In every place I’ve lived since college, I occasionally would move a tall stool to a corner of the main room and perch on it. Sometimes this helped me rearrange the furniture, and other times it was a good place to think big thoughts about work or romance. A new physical perspective can inspire intellectual insights.

It’s second sight, of a sort.

More recently, I’ve found that regular writing provides better insights more often. No, I don’t write atop a stool near the ceiling. With research, planning and trusting my gut — plus the stool-vantage and journals — I’ve made all the best choices all along.

See where that’s gotten me? Too many close calls.

The problem is no one really can predict the future, outside of the sun will come up tomorrow and the morning after that. (When that prediction fails, the others won’t matter.) Breakfast? Corn flakes this week. I know that future. Unless I microwave a ramekin of egg white.

It’s the close call. Say you brake just in time to not hit the stoplight-running SUV. You absolutely know you’re not going to die, not right now, so you reflect, have you been living well? That calmness lasts a moment, maybe hours. The rest of the time, I wonder, can see anyone my internal turmoil? A while ago, the erratic fellow a few desks down tripped over a thin line so he’s not around anymore.

Aren’t I at least as erratic? Eccentric? Ergonomic? That’s a good thing for office supplies, unless:

Longhand, put down that stapler. We have you surrounded. With staple removers.”

Job security comes from sitting still. Yet I have to move. Work demands a jolt, and the coffee pot is way over therrrrre.

As much as I love coffee and avoid idiots in other cars, neither gives quite enough insight. I crave wisdom on, for example, work. Yes, take my job. Please.

I believe in career miracles. I do picture being discovered while sitting at the soda counter at the drugstore in Hollywood. Only it’s my desk where some muckamuck from the home office any minute will show up, saying, “You’ve got it. We’ve been watching. You’re ready. Now’s the time. We’re counting on you. Please don’t say no.”

The “Mitty” keeps me coming to work every day, checking my e-mail even before the first cuppa.

A reverse Mitty, the wake-up, came last week. An Aug. 12 letter announced a hiring and wage freeze through Dec. 31. Gulp. I recall generic Cheerios in the cupboard, but after breakfast is the future more or less certain?

Increased certainty is freeing. After the anger, you let go of the deus ex machina. That’s the last-minute-rescue plot device you learned about when studying Greek drama, “god from a machine,” where a supernatural being would be lowered by wench to save the hero, or rescue the story.

Literary theory holds modern writers avoid these in the name of realism. It’s a contradiction, though. The reason memoir often seems wilder than fiction is because coincidence makes or breaks people’s lives all of the time. Realism avoids randomness for believability. In a second contradiction, current novelists and screenwriters favor touches of inconsistency: It sells well.

I buy into today’s deus ex machinas at the multiplex and library, because they’ve happened to me. It’d be great to credit research, planning and pulling intuition from the kitchen stool and the paper pad, but they don’t account fully for the best college’s acceptance letter … a mutual friend dragging a great woman to a party where we’d meet and fall in love … a good house getting listed when you’re hunting … even a good conversation among semi-strangers at intermission. …

Randomness and luck, even miracles, occur, but by definition you can’t rely on them. Knowing where on the stage that one might appear helps the old day-to-day. Even better is knowing where the deus ex machina is not hidden. It’s an ideal form of second sight. A hiring freeze means no tap on the shoulder. And it probably means neither layoff nor “voluntary separation.” We can peer over the edge, into the future, and no one will push. I have the rest of the stage on which to move, or just perch on that stool by the wings.

Besides, machinas burp up ethanol.

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