Window unto a new world

September 25, 2008

One definition of serendipity is “an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.” I don’t know whether I have such an aptitude, but I am a keen and curious observer.

Does this characteristic stem from many years in journalism, or did it lead me to that career? All that matters, I suppose, is this: I like noticing something or somebody that invites inquiry and having that inquiry lead somewhere unexpected.

A few months ago at the gym where I work out, I saw a young woman sweating and panting as a fitness trainer put her through hellish exercises. Things such as hauling around a rope so thick I’d expect to see it on a ship deck and running while pushing a big wooden box. Then I noticed words on her left shoulder, neat lines of the Courier New typewriter font.

I soon learned that those words, the first chapter of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, are among 597 tattooed on her muscled body. Other words are from five other writers: William Faulkner, Charles Baxter (a favorite of mine), Sharon Olds, Ranier Maria Rilke, and Amy Bloom. In interviews with Tasia Bernie, herself a fitness trainer and fellow writer, and others who know her well, I learned of her hopes, fears, and obsessions.

All this led to a story published today in The Oregonian. More importantly, it opened a window to another world that heretofore didn’t exist for me.

And who wouldn’t enjoy waking up, as I did this morning, to this text message from Tasia: “YOU ROCK!! I am so stoked. Thank you so much.”

But the words I can’t get out of my head are also on her left shoulder, the last line from the Rilke poem “Archaic Torso of Apollo,” words that became her mantra and should become mine:

“You must change your life.”