I wrote this note in my journal a day or two prior to the world premiere of one of my plays:
I believe [actor] will rise to something with this show. I have to believe that and I do. When we give up totally on luck, when we try to drive it meanly into the narrowest of margins of pure reason, that’s when it really lashes out nasty. This is a project that ran on luck: good fortune and good will—from the get go. I can believe it’s going to abandon us now. It’s practically a collaborator.
Let me stipulate to an important point from the outset. Of course luck —strictly speaking— doesn’t exist. But that fact doesn’t exclude the notion from having a profound effect on the preponderance of people who believe in it. For that matter, the list of things that do not—strictly speaking—exist, but that still affect believers—and often non-believers, too—via the membrane of consciousness, is long and evocative:
- Free will
- Life after death
Arguments for the non-existence of all of these have been convincingly and consistently posited. Even consciousness itself has been advocated for inclusion in this group of “things-we-ardently-believe-in-but-should-understand-do-not-actually-exist”. See the works of Daniel Dennett and Suzanne Blackmore for relatively compelling arguments in this vein.
So why should grown rational human beings even indulge in considerations of luck at all? Well, I would contend that perhaps it pays to pay attention to luck in the same ways it pays to give notions such as “free will” and “consciousness” the benefit of the doubt. Belief in luck might be a bit like being able to see the grid of a chess board: ultimately unnecessary, but plainly helpful in playing the game.
ASPECTS OF LUCK
Here are some things most of believe about luck:
- Luck follows luck. Or, restated: luck, good and bad, comes in runs.
- Luck runs out.
- Luck favors the prepared.
- Good karma brings good luck. (In the West we tend to egregiously conflate the notions of “luck” and “karma”. In places where karma is contemplated as an article of faith, the concepts are quite separate.)
- Even losers get lucky sometimes.
Regardless of whether we believe in luck, all of these propositions require us to notice it. It’s this noticing that gives luck its power.
MY LUCKY WEEK
I have a lucky week and it’s coming up. In my early teens I started noticing that good things happened for me on March 10th, which is also my half-birthday. Coincidence? I think not. Luck scorns coincidence. Later, in my 20’s, I began noticing that fortune tended to concentrate its beam on me throughout the entire week, from March 10th through March 17th. Notice that? My lucky week has eight days. Why? Well, duh! ‘Cuz it’s LUCKY!
I have landed several jobs in my lucky week. I have opened several plays that turned out to be important and favorable for my career in the theatre. My wife was born on March 16, the second to last day of my Lucky Week. Indeed, she has started to piggy back on the Lucky Week’s power, having had some very fortunate things happen for her within its span.
Some superstitious sorts might argue that talking about my Lucky Week is about the least lucky thing I could do, tantamount to abrogating all of its effects. I call horseshit on this. The very essence of the thesis I am tendering is that luck only matters, only exists, only has power, if we notice and celebrate it. In other words, the God of Luck to whom I pay reverence craves having reverence paid. The more I talk about my Lucky Week the more powerful it becomes, especially in this, the 49th year of my life. (I won’t digress to explain the particular puissance of seven’s square.)
LUCK CONNECTS US TO THE INEFFABLE
We are a pattern-seeking species, a tendency which has served us well over the deca-millennia. Even when the patterns we saw weren’t, strictly speaking, real—dippers in the sky, the comings and goings of Persephone, regular chariot races of sun and the moon– recognizing them still helped us survive and thrive.
When we see luck running through the events of our lives, we palpate a substance that we have helped generate through our own hard work and tenacity. Luck connects us to the ineffable, to the patterns of life we can’t quite otherwise understand. Courting luck creates a working relationship with the otherwise overwhelming randomness of existence. By contemplating it we coax and kneed meaning out of meaninglessness. Sometimes it’s enough to realize just how lucky we are in any given moment, like striking a match and tossing it into a pitch dark well: perhaps a pointless gesture in the grander scheme of things, but our lives are short, and the grander scheme of things is often—no, almost always—beyond our ken. Luck is a map of the unknown and unknowable forces that buffet our lives. Of course it doesn’t exist. All models are wrong, but some models are useful.
LUCK LIKES TO BE FED
The professional golfer, Gary Player, widely recognized as one of the sport’s all-time greats, says “The harder I practice, the luckier I get.” And I say, with the approach of my Lucky Week in my Lucky Year, “From your mouth, Gary, to God’s non-existent ear.” After twenty-five years of working almost exclusively in the theatre, I have been working hard for several years now on a slate of new things: memoir, fiction, writing these essays and poetry. This March I could use a well-earned lucky break.
PS I’m thinking this might be the first in a series of essays titled “In Praise of Unreal Things”.