Have you ever learned of a new-to-you word, historic event, interesting fact, or famous person only to see a reference to it again within days?
In school, I loved being able to make those types of connections between classes, especially if they were in different disciplines. Now I find them all over the place.
For example, I was watching Prison Break1 a few weeks ago and one of the characters mentions that he stole a baseball card collection that included a Honus Wagner, not realizing it was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. That one card bumped his crime up to grand larceny, which carries a much heavier sentence than petty theft.
The name Honus Wagner wasn’t really that important—and given a month or two I would have forgotten it—but they made a bit of a deal out of it, so it stuck with me beyond the episode. A week later I was reading The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry for my book club and the main character likens a rare copy of Poe’s Tamerlane to a Honus Wagner baseball card.2
I swear, it was like having a slot machine hit the jackpot. My brain went bing, bing, bing and I got a little thrill down my spine. (I did manage to resist jumping up and down and screaming.)
It happened again a few days later. I’m currently reading What It Is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes for research and personal interest. A few days ago in an episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.3, Agent Ward was reading Marlantes’ other book, Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War. Just a week earlier, his mention would have gone right over my head.
In the book I'm reading, Marlantes mentions Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Tommy.”4 Not familiar with this poem—or any of Kipling's work, though I knew his name—I looked it up online. The third stanza refers to the British soldiers in their red coats:
But it's “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll.
Thin red line. Wait, like the movie with Jim Caviezel and every other famous actor of the day who wasn’t in Saving Private Ryan that year (1998)? Why, yes. Turns out the book by James Jones, on which the movie was based, was named for the line in the Kipling poem.
Bing, bing, bing.
I liked “Tommy,” so I started reading about the poet. As I learned more about the context in which he wrote, I found myself even more interested in his work. I put book of Kipling's work on hold at the library, and when I went to pick it up today the woman told me they’re hosting a Kipling program in a few months.
I almost laughed. The connections never stop. Things I've never heard of are suddenly everywhere.
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace popped up in both book club readings and in a friend’s Twitter feed within a three week span.
Two summers ago on a tour of the UK, we visited the Lake District in Wales. A week later I unwittingly read a historical romance where the hero went to the Lake District in Wales…
These connections enrich the experience of reading, watching, living. They’re one of the reasons I love learning and exploring so much. For me, it’s not about feeling smart, but about finding a commonality of experience in unexpected places.
Have you made any interesting connections lately?
1 Season 1, episode 19 “The Key”
2 Chapter 2, page unknown since I was reading electronically
3 Season 1, episode 2 “0-8-4”
4 Page 87