Serendipity, synchronicity, and grief

This month’s theme for newCardigan’s GLAM Blog Club is “serendipity“.

Fair warning: this will get heavy.

Work is busy. Uni is back. I’m trying to teach myself Koha. And my father is in hospital.

We’re still waiting on a diagnosis, but the evidence is leaning towards “it’s bad”, and “he’s not coming home again” is definitely on the table.

I have a lot of emotions about this. Sadness. Anger. Frustration. A desire to be useful. And grief.

It’s a messy, complicated sort of grief. It’s grief that doesn’t know yet if I should be grieving. We don’t have a diagnosis. We don’t know what happens next. We are on hold, while the wheels of medicine turn. But my dad’s 85, his health has been going downhill, and–to be callously realistic–no one lives forever.

It feels like a betrayal to write that. Isn’t this private family business, not for the internet? I don’t know. I’m feeling my way forward, confused.

What has this go to do with libraries, or serendipity?

Serendipity, in research, is the unplanned, fortunate discovery that opens up new lines of inquiry, or creates new understandings. It’s the book on the library shelf sitting next to the one you were looking for, the hyperlink in a blog post that leads to a whole new direction, the talk you hear at a conference that makes you rethink what you were working on.

It reminds me of Jung’s concept of synchronity: the meaningful coincidence, the causally unrelated event that still provokes psychological insight.

Sometimes, it takes time and effort to understand my emotions. Sometimes the things I do normally take on extra layers and depth, and it takes some synchronicity for me to understand why.

For example: I’m interested in the relationships between masculinity and feminism. As an aspiring YA writer, I’m particularly interested in the ways teenage boys decide what sort of men they want to be.

Here’s where the serendipity comes in: browsing the Guardian’s website, I came across this article: ‘A lot of us are in the dark’: what teenage boys really think about being a man.

It’s a fascinating and thought-provoking read. I was particularly struck by how these young men feel towards the feminist movement, and that message that masculinity is somehow toxic:

“I think it’s a serious problem,” Joel says. “A lot of young men are becoming angry and disenfranchised. You know the rise of the far right that’s gone on in recent years? I think that’s partly because there’s a lot of young men who’ve come out of working-class families, like mine, and they don’t have anyone to look up to. They don’t have anyone saying: ‘This is what you as a person can do.’ Maybe that’s where the drift comes in. Young men join these groups that have the typical far-right message, ‘You should be fit, you should be strong, you should provide’, because they’re not given anything else to look to.”

There’s a lot to unpack there: “toxic masculinity” doesn’t mean all aspects of masculinity are toxic, in the same way “cancerous cells” do not mean all cells are cancer. But that’s a different blog post.

The article is part of the Guardian’s How to be a boy: a masculinity special.

Another article in the special discusses Andy’s Man Clubs, which is sort of like Fight Club except the men talk about their feelings instead of hitting each other.

The article contains a reference to the Men and Boys Coalition, a “network of organisations, academics, journalists, professionals and leaders committed to highlighting and taking action on the gender-specific issues that affect men and boys.”

The Men and Boys Coalition website includes a page of their published research. One of the articles there caught my eye: “I’m missing out and I think I have something to give”: experiences of older involuntarily childless men’ by Robin Hadley,

It’s on Emerald Insights as a subscription article. One of the nice things about being a student is that I can access paid content like this through RMIT Library. Yay libraries! (That is the only library content in this blog post. Sorry.)

Hadley’s article analyses interviews with 14 older men who are all childless. It discusses how childlessness affects their sense of identity and their place in society.

I’m childless, and I have some pretty complicated feelings about that that I’m not going to go into here. But the article made interesting and resonant reading.

And then I got to the bit about grandfatherhood. And it was like a knife in the heart.

Because my childlessness doesn’t just impact me. It impacts my father. He doesn’t get to play out the role of grandfather. And there are reasons that I’m childless, and I have the right to choose my life. But right here, right now, reading that article? It feels like another betrayal.

That’s not a neat conclusion. Serendipity is sometimes called the happy accident. But not all accidents are happy, and not all insights bring comfort.

For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.

Questions beget questions, and the paths of inquiry twist like a maze. Meanwhile, the wheels of medicine turn slow, and we wait for a diagnosis.


Sorry. Got a lot on my mind lately. I’ll get back to the Koha stuff next post, promise.


About davidwitteveen

IT person. Zine Maker. Level 0 Library Nerd. Doctor Who fan.
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