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It's Nelly's World


alec vanderboom

With a little patience and a lot of paper, I could map out every great thing in my life. I would discover, when I studied it, they are all to be found at the junction of other people and chance. Where these two roads meet, wonderful things appear.

Riding a motorcycle takes you to that corner faster than any other way. Motorcycle riders are a source of the same endless surprise that their rides offer them--open to serendipity and to what happens: to the great Come What May.

Through a chance meeting (and is there any other kind?), one rider has lately become a friend: closer and closer, bit by bit. Funny and magnanimous and generous, he is willing to share his friends in turn. And so, one night a while ago, I found myself at a table of people new to me, and the possibilities they represented were spread out like a feast. As in fact a feast was on the table in front of us; it's a very good restaurant. But some possibilities are tastier than others. Midway through the meal, I asked the man next to me--talking to whom proved a bit like getting rocks out of a mountainside garden--if he wouldn't mind changing seats. That is because there was something about the woman on the other side of him. Our mutual friend had had the idea we might get along. He is perspicacious that way.

A few rare times in a life, we are given what we need at the precise moment we can use it most. A person appears whose words, ideas, spark and burn.

They reveal themselves slowly, though, in their ideal purpose as catalysts of furtherance: that is in fact how you know it was "meant" to be. Because you had no idea, at first. No idea that a friend can help show the way with such a bright light, or even that the way had been so dark before. Not to mention how much fun it is to talk about the things that matter most to one, when they are also the things that matter most to the other.

I was told at first only that she was an artist. OK, an artist. There are millions of those. But a real one, one of the true uncommon, and one who just happens to have a studio in the factory building next door, the roofline of which you can see through the winter-bared trees out your kitchen window?

This was beginning to feel eerie. And then I walked into her studio, and gasped. Emily Dickinson, herself one of the rarest of the rare--the true artist--said she knew something was poetry "if I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off." I felt my skull rising skyward as I saw the beautifully strange works hanging there. And then I caught sight of the small office space off to one side of the studio.

The walls were papered with show ribbons, a solid quilt of blue and red. Her dogs. Agility champs. Turns out she is also a dog trainer, and she knows more about positive reinforcement training than any nonprofessional I've ever met. This--the artist, to bring me back to what had fed me for a long time in a past life, and the dog training theorist, to bring me back to a project long stalled and now barking to get free again--feels like I've stepped into a moment of preordination. By way of a very nice dinner, a friend who knows more than he knows, and the lines converging on a map.

Let's go now.