There Are No Accidents

BY: Robert H. Hopcke

 

In many of the stories concerning synchronicity and work that I have been privileged to hear, many of the people I talked to had fully intended to proceed in one direction professionally when a synchronistic event derailed them, leading them mysteriously into an entirely different line of work altogether. In response to the question, "How do I work with synchronicity?" I extend the apparently paradoxical advice to "expect the unexpected."

A singer I'll call Elise told me the story of her big break. Like most professional singers, Elise had spent much of her life in voice, acting and movement classes, all at her own expense and with the full knowledge that the possibility of earning a decent living from performing was a gamble against poor odds. Like artists in any field, though, she did what she did because she loved it, despite the difficulties, frustrations and uncertainties.

Because she was classically trained as an opera singer, her interest in appearing in musical comedy productions was not especially strong, though her coach and colleagues had often urged her to try out for such roles, given her sparkling, naturally comic personality and the remarkable versatility of her voice. But, in spite of such advice, Elise resisted their encouragement and continued trying to break into the very small and highly competitive world of opera, going to audition after audition with middling success, landing a small part here and there in local companies, while working her day job to pay the rent.

For a small but well-regarded opera company's production of a popular opera, Elise spent a good month polishing her audition aria, and when scheduling the try-out had specifically requested one of the last audition appointments, knowing she sounded better later in the day. When she arrived at the community center where the auditions were being held, however, it was immediately clear from the deserted air that a mistake had been made. Anxiously approaching a woman who seemed to be an assistant and who was in the process of packing up her papers at the end of the hall where "Auditions" were indicated, Elise said with as much self-control as possible, "Don't tell me auditions are over. I had a five o'clock appointment."

The woman seemed taken aback. "Actually, they are," she said, "But the committee hasn't left. Let me see if they'll hear you."

After a brief consultation behind closed doors, the woman returned and led Elise into the room. Elise told me she did remember the pianist giving her an odd glance when she gave him her music. Two men and a woman sat behind the desk, looking, as always, impassive but attentive, and after centering herself, she launched into her audition piece, a coloratura aria in Italian. She felt it went very well, and at the end she thanked the committee a little more graciously than usual, given their indulgence of her lateness. As she was preparing to leave, one of the committee asked her, strangely, if she had prepared anything in English.

Not understanding, she answered that she hadn't thought the show was being performed in translation.

"Candide?" the man responded, referring to Leonard Bernstein's quasi-operatic musical comedy, which of course, had an English libretto.

That was the moment Elise realized that she had stumbled into, of all things, the wrong audition entirely. "Oh. I really don't know what to say. I thought I was auditioning for another company and another show."

The woman at the door laughed. "Their auditions are tomorrow, Sunday."

But the director of the show motioned to the pianist and asked Elise if she was willing to sight-read a bit. Somewhere between mortified and game for a challenge, Elise went forward with the unfamiliar music, and at the end realized they were interested in her for the difficult role of Cunegonde, Candide's wife, which she indeed got, finding out later that she was one of only three sopranos they had heard that day who were capable of actually singing the role. Most of the others either hadn't had the sort of musical background Elise had or couldn't adequately sing the music Bernstein had written.

From her performance in this musical, Elise received a great deal of attention in the press, from which came other offers for performances locally then regionally, in musical theater rather than opera. "It took going to the wrong audition to make we wake up and do what I guess I should have been doing all along. I'm working steadily, I'm happy. That's what counts, no?"

So far, I've been using the word "accident" in its most abstract sense: an occurrence that seems random, unplanned, or without specific causation. The accidents in Stephen's story of how his job got him, rather than the other way around, are both literal and figurative.

"In my teen years, my ambition was to be a filmmaker. After high school, I went to film school and got my first degree. Armed with my sheepskin and much youthful confidence, I set out to be a great filmmaker. I applied everywhere. No one was hiring filmmakers, and a year later, I was taking baby pictures for seventy cents a crack. One day in February, my car caught fire and blew up, almost killing me.

"As I needed a car to be a baby photographer, I decided to sell my Bolex {a type of movie camera}. I had given up on the notion of ever getting a job in the film business. Every TV station and production house in town only hired those with experience, and I had none: the old Catch-22. Admitting defeat, self-condemned to be a baby photographer forever, I put an ad in the newspaper to sell my film camera.

"About nine-thirty in the morning, a fellow from a big TV network called in response to the ad. He was a cameraman who was looking for a second camera to keep in the trunk of his car as a backup, and he asked if he could come by after supper to check out the Bolex I had for sale. I said yes, of course.

"That afternoon, one of their cameramen was shot [but not killed]. When the fellow from the network came by that evening, he asked, `Can you shoot news?' I said, `Yes, you bet.' He said they needed someone to fill in for a month or two and asked if I could start right away. Eagerly I said yes, and the next day I started shooting news. Although it was only temporary while their fellow was recovering from the gunshot, I was able to get enough experience to get hired by another station several months later, and I never shot another baby picture.

"Despite will and intent, it was a series of undesirable events that made possible that which could not be attained in other ways: no job; car blows up; sell camera; network guy gets shot; I get job."

The meaning in this series of synchronistic events has to do with how we, like Stephen, but together a story of what has happened to us in these accidents, of what they mean and how they changed our lives.

Accidents happen every day. We mix up an appointment time like Elise, or our car blows up and a colleague is unlucky enough to take a bullet, like Stephen. It is not the event itself but its place in the narrative of our lives which determines whether or not an accident is synchronistic.

What is interesting, though, in so many of these stories about the meaningful coincidences that occur in people's work lives is the admission of defeat that seems almost required before they are able to move forward, an admission forced upon them by apparent misfortune. Having to sacrifice his Bolex following the explosion led Stephen to the man who eventually got him a job. Elise's blunder led her to have to admit her own mistake in keeping her eye so narrowly on a single sort of musical career. The expression "accidentally on purpose" comes to mind when thinking about accidents of these sorts, for in the arc of the professional lives of these people, the accidents they suffered and the sacrifice of previous attitudes that such mishaps forced on them actually were the hinge upon which the plot of their work lives turned.

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