The Lucky One: On Success, New York and the Artistic Impulse

by Mara Jebsen

DownloadedFile-4I met a woman the other day; she told me she was writing a book on luck.“Luck!” I said, “that’s an excellent topic.”And someone else drank some beer and said: “Luck, I’ve heard. . .is just statistics taken personally.”

And the woman laughed, agreeing, I think. But I must confess I’m superstitious; really, most of us are.

I teach at NYU, and so it was odd for me, recently, to read the article on president John Sexton in the New Yorker. It seemed to name pretty accurately the changes in the university over the last ten years or so. It made me think of the hundreds of freshmen I’ve taught, and I wondered where they all are now. I think they have an excellent education, but I worry about (and suffer from) our culture of debt, and so, often, I hope they are all lucky.

An illogical faith in one’s own luckiness can arrive early. Here is one way it can happen: on a particularly dreary day in a dreary city, when you are six years old, you might step on eight gasoline rainbows, which you believe to be good omens, on the way to school, and by the time you get to school, you are already thrilled, because you stepped on so many rainbows.

Then, maybe that day, you’re the line leader, you sing a solo in the school assembly, and your mother picks you up at recess, with ice cream. Or whatever it is that you like. These were the things that I wished for, one day when I was six, and the things that I got. And so I felt I understood something. You wish for something, you wait, and then there is some sign, some strange greenish light, and then you get it. Sometimes.

That is childish thinking. But perhaps nowhere, besides in the realm of romance, are otherwise logical adults so mystical as in their thinking as about ‘gifts’ and ‘vocations.’ The notion of having a ‘calling’ is such a beautiful idea, asserting, as it does, that a person has an unquestionable reason for being on earth. It is an idea so satisfying that it still has a lot of purchase with the more secular and realist types.

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