Saturday, October 29, 2011

Holy Serendipity

If there ever is a reason to flaunt the word serendipity this is it. Thursday I went to my critique group and read a scene from my dark fairy tale that takes place within a labyrinth. The maze I described was complex, and my partners asked if I could draw it. “Yikes,” was my first thought.
Friday dawned clear and warm. I headed out for a long beach walk, musing on how I was going to tackle a maze drawing not being a) an artist, b) a puzzle-maker, c) a farmer with a corn field.
As I walked under the pier, I noticed a young woman ahead making a large drawing in the damp sand. Beyond her, a young man was doing the same. There were more than a dozen people busy making circular designs. They were drawing labyrinths!
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Spooky music? Celestial horns? Drum roll? I mean, this is pretty serendipitous, is it not?


So I approached the girl and asked if they were in a club or something that likes to draw mazes. I mean, there are clubs for everything, right?







But, no, they’re students in an architecture class being taught by Ben Nicholson of the Art Institute of Chicago.


And Mr. Nicholson is so nice he invited me to hang around with them. We even all held hands in a big circle—but I’m getting ahead of myself.


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First thing I learned was to begin a labyrinth with a cross. (see illustration)

Then you put L-shapes and dots in each quadrant. After that it gets tricky. Lines are drawn from an end of the cross or L or dot to a point in another quadrant, thus creating the pathways. I practiced a lot. Sand is forgiving, but I won’t be earning a degree in labyrinth making any time soon.


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Mr. Nicholson talked about the perfection of a beach as a drawing surface, how the horizon is wide and can be used to set horizontal lines, how a penny can be dropped in the sand as a radius to the center of the earth. “On the beach you have, natively, the axis to the world,” he said. And, it suddenly felt very momentous standing there in one of my favorite places.
And then he did one of my favorite things, he told an ancient Greek story about shipwrecked sailors who swim to shore and see geometric drawings and conclude that means they’ve found civilization.

Oh, and then there was the hand-holding. We stood in a large circle, arms stretched wide so our hands strained against one another and walked around and around and around, always keeping eye contact with the person directly across the circle. This led to giggles since there was a dizzying strenuousness to it. After our tramping feet had made the widest circle our group could make in the sand, we squished forward into a tight knot and gave it a bulls-eye. “Any group can make the largest circle and the smallest. Where’s the sun’s axis?” Using his own shadow he drew it in.
One of the things I liked most about stumbling into this class were Mr. Nicholson’s prompts for observation. He may be teaching students about architecture but anyone can benefit from being aware of surroundings. Notice how the sun changes its place in the sky by hour and by season, how its light falls differently on familiar objects, how you can ascertain direction if you know where it will be on the horizon.
Not only did I learn useful real world stuff, I got a few ideas for my characters and story from this encounter. Serendipity is a wondrous thing.
Now back to practicing maze-drawing… I've a long way to go.

49 comments:

Jan Morrison said...

Wow! This is a wonderful story - serendipity indeed - or as we Buddhists might call it 'auspicious coincidence'. How nice that you found the teacher right when you needed one.
Carol Shields wrote a book called Larry's Party - you might be interested. Here's what Wiki said:
Larry's Party is a 1997 novel by Carol Shields.
The novel examined the life of Larry Weller, an "ordinary man made extraordinary" by his unique talent for creating labyrinths. Like its predecessor, The Stone Diaries, Shields' profound insights into human nature transform Larry from an ordinary, average man into a figure of universal humanity

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Jan: Oooooo, thanks for the book rec. It sounds intriguing.
And I like that auspicious coincidence, too. It felt quite auspicious. I could hardly not grin silly-like all the time.

storyqueen said...

That, my friend, is definitely a good sign!

(And I love how this post, with the twisty labyrinths, contrasts with the smoothness of the sand in the post below. Just kind of cool.)

Have fun...don't get lost in there, now.

Shelley

Jemi Fraser said...

Wow! That was so amazing - serendipity indeed!! I love the pics - so pretty and intricate. What a terrific experience :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Shelley: Ha! I'll try not to get lost but, oh boy, have I created a monster maze. :)

Jemi: It was totally amazing!

Katy said...

Wow! Love this! Isn't it fabulous when things work out so perfectly. Thanks for sharing your photographs, and good luck with your future labyrinth drawings. Can't wait to see more!

Stephanie Thornton said...

Whoa! Very, very serendipity! Sometimes things just work out perfectly, don't they?

And I love the idea of labyrinths in the sand.

kathrynjankowski said...

Great story. Never thought of the beach as a venue for labyrinths.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Hi Katy and thank you. It was fabulous, indeed!

Stephanie: I went back today to walk and draw. I'm so fired up about it.

Kathryn: It's perfect for it--wide space, easy drawing surface and just the whole atmosphere.

Wen Baragrey said...

What a story! I can completely imagine that whole scene and the little buzz of excitement you must have been feeling while it was all happening. I love moments like that :)

Robyn Campbell said...

Ahhh kismet, my sweet friend. I can see your smiling face as you joined together with this fabulous class. Mr. Nicholson must really be something.

Labyrinths. And in the sand. So cool. I wish I were there. Love the photos, Pat. Oh, how I miss the beach and my Keys. *sigh*

xoxoxo

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Wen: Oh boy was it ever a buzz. I knew they'd think I was bonkers if I grinned like a fool, though. ;)

Robyn: Mr. N was great. I would have loved a class like that in college. I wish you'd been here, too. I know you would've loved it as much as I did.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

weird! crop circles. cool!

Wub2Write said...

I totally love serendipity!!! And I enjoyed reading your post! Miss you & your writing.... :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Shelli: Yeah, Weird Tales, right?

Maria: I miss you, too, and your hilarious, spooky stories!

Yvonne Osborne said...

Cool story, Tricia. I totally believe in serendipity. Good luck with your dark fairy tale. It sounds good, and with the ocean for your muse it will be.

I was recently composing a flash piece and threw in the name Germaine from I don't know where. I've never know one or heard it used before. Later that night in bed I opened up the book I was reading and there, on the next page a character by the name of Germaine was introduced. Isn't that downright wierd?? This is totally true, whatever we want to call it. Things like this are almost spooky!

Tanya Reimer said...

Oh I just love it when the answers fall upon us like this! Great story.

Hobo Annie said...

Wow. WOW! The maze coincidence is crazy weird, and that you got to hang out and learn about labyrinths from what sounds like the coolest architecture professor ever is awesome! Your photos are great. I love the thought of sand as a medium, a little swish of water, and you get to start with a clean slate, every time :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Yvonne: Oooo, that Germaine anecdote is strange indeed. There is much that can't be explained in this world, and that makes it interesting!

Tanya: Hi and thank you! I love it, too.

Annie: I know, wow! It blew me away, and he was so cool. I've been drawing in the sand every day now.

rilla jaggia said...

Ooh, what a great tale. I'm so excited this happened right now, and ever. I can't wait to hear the new description of your hedge maze. It was so great having you with us last Thursday. Hope you will make it a habit.

MG Higgins said...

What a wonderful experience. And I LOVE the idea of a story that takes place within a labyrinth. Once you've drawn your maze, I wonder if new ideas will emerge.

Nancy O'Connor said...

How incredibly lucky it was for you to stumble upon the maze-makers. I'm so glad I posed the question, "What exactly does this spiraling maze look like?" What an amazing (no pun intended) and timely experience it must have been Thanks for sharing the photos, too.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Rilla: It was really incredible to stumble on, and so cool, following our meeting. It's always wonderful to see all of you and get to work on our stories.

Mel: Just part of the story is in the labyrinth but it's a complicated design. I may need even more help before I'm done!

Nancy: I was stunned by it, to be sure. And a big thanks to you!

Ed Pilolla said...

what a confluence of thought and interaction. it's hard not to think something else is alive in our world when that sort of thing happens. that doesn't mean a spirit is weaving our world from our shoulder, but that sometimes as we run into things we are wondering about. labyrinths are so meaningful.

Carol J. Amato said...

How totally cool, Pat! And what a great idea to draw them in the sand. This really was serendipity!

Bish Denham said...

Far out Tricia! That is wonderfully serendipitous. A hands-on experience, what could be better?

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Ed: Yes, some occurances defy explanation, and sometimes they are just soooo awesome.

Carol: It was indeed. I'm hooked on sand drawing now.

Bish: Precisely! I always prefer hands-on. ;)

E. Arroyo said...

Wow. It looks...complicated. LOL. Just passing by from Shelli's shout outs.

Lisa Gail Green said...

OMG, what an incredible thing to stumble on to! How cool is that? Definitely serendipitous.

Christina Lee said...

Get OUT of here!! How strange and wonderful when things take shape to fit right into your world!!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Hi "E" nice to meet you and thanks for stopping by. Complicated it is.

Lisa: I know, I know! Isn't it?

Christina: Yeah, I wanted to pinch myself. Is this real???

Julie Dao said...

Tricia, this is SUCH a great story! How lucky is it that you wanted to learn how to draw labyrinths and BAM! Ran into a couple of maze-artists on the beach, of all places? Wonderful. That sounds like such a great class and a cool professor.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

Wow! That is crazily serendipitous! It must be fate!

Liza said...

What a great story! Serendipity indeed! I love your pictures in the sand!

VR Barkowski said...

I prefer not to believe in serendipity. I like to think we make our own luck just as we determine our own paths through our choices. It's meant to be because we made it happen. Yeah, I know it's contradictory, but it's served me well. :)

Marvelous photos of a perfect day that was meant to be.

The Golden Eagle said...

Wow. That's a great story. :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Julie: Wouldn't that be a fun class to be in? I was so glad to be allowed to tag along. It was a great day.

Sarah: I'll take Fate when it dishes out treats like this!

Liza: It was so much fun to do this and photograph it. You would've loved it.

VR: I feel pretty good about myself if I made my path cross theirs. I like your take on things meant to be, my friend.

Eagle: :D:D :D

Stina Lindenblatt said...

That was definitely kismet. Wow, that's all I can say.

Love the part about NOT being a field family. :D

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Stina: Ha! Glad someone laughed with me on that. :D:D

Angela Ackerman said...

Okay, that's awesome!

Now I know how to make them too, so thanks for sharing this!

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Paul Greci said...

Oh man, that is super-cool and other-worldly!!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Angela: I WISH I really knew how to make them. I'm still struggling with all but the simpliest design.

Paul: It was other-worldly. :D

Sherrie Petersen said...

That is SO cool! I love how serendipity works :)

One of the churches near here has a labyrinth on the grounds. My kids like timing themselves to see who can get in or out the fastest. And free fun always scores high with me!

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

That's amazing. Just...wow! Serendipity, indeed. And what fun, too. You'll remember this, I'm sure. And I'm betting it'll make it into your acknowledgements.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Sherrie: Wow, how cool is that to have a labyrinth right in your neighborhood!

Carolina: Oh, you! I hope get there someday. :)

Medeia Sharif said...

What a fantastic experience. I enjoyed reading about Mr. Nicholson's lessons. That's what I call serendipity.

I've never seen a maze drawn in the sand before. It's a great visual.

Faith Pray said...

Here's to serendipity! I love your story. There are those moments when we are lifted up just high enough to see that there is a pattern, a plan to the labyrinth we're weaving through. Thank you for sharing your newfound treasures! What a treat.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Medeia: He was a fascinating teacher. I couldn't believe my luck.

Faith: Ooooo, I love your take on being lifted up to see the pattern(and, guess what, it kind of corresponds with something in my fairy tale). :D

Tyrean Martinson said...

Sounds like an awesome experience!