My novel, Zen Mississippi, takes place (largely) in a fictional town called Lyonness near the Alabama/Mississippi state line. I based this town on some of the rural communities I used to drive through when I was living in Columbus, MS, particularly those along US Highway 82 in Pickens County, Alabama. I had a friend and bandmate at that time who was from Ethelsville, in that county. Ethelsville is actually much smaller than what I imagine Lyonness to be, but its location and topography is very much what I had in mind when I was writing the book (except on the MS side of the line instead of the AL side). I always had a fascination with that whole area. There is something odd and mystical about it.
Seven or eight years ago, when I was living in New York and the book was “in process,” some friends of mine introduced me to their new roommate, Daniel, and they told me he was from Alabama. I asked him where in Alabama he was from, and he was quite surprised that I had actually heard of Ethelsville and knew where it was, and that I actually knew someone else who was from Ethelsville. As I mentioned in a previous post, this town has a population of about 80 people.
So years went by, and I frequently saw Daniel at parties and around town. In a coincidence that is only mildly related to this story, I had a neighbor in my building that also knew Daniel because they’d gone to the Alabama State Math & Science high school in Mobile together (tangentially related weirdness: when I met THAT guy, it was not in my building but at a show, and we discovered by casually talking that we were not only both originally from Alabama but also lived in the same building).
Then I moved back to Alabama a few months ago, and I sent Daniel a note saying we should hang out when he comes home to visit. He replied that I should come to his family’s New Years Eve party because it’s a big blowout. This was during the summer. By December, I almost entirely forgot about this invitation.
A few weeks ago, through mutual friends in Birmingham, I met a dude named Charlie. We have been around each other a few times but haven’t talked much. We have a lot of friends in common. I started hearing things about a New Year’s Eve party at Charlie’s parents’ farm, but I didn’t think I knew Charlie well enough to invite myself. But then I saw the event listing on Facebook, and I noticed this party was in Ethelsville. Then I noticed Charlie and Daniel were both listed as hosts and that they had the same last name. With some digging, I confirmed that they were brothers, and I realized I had actually already been invited to this party months ago.
But the strings of coincidences don’t actually even end there, though this next part doesn’t really have to do with the New Year’s Eve party so much.
During the time when I was living in Mississippi, attending MUW, I had a few poems published in the college literary magazine. I got a fan letter from a girl who was then in high school, and I wrote her back. And then I never heard from her again, until one day she noticed that I posted a comment on Daniel’s facebook wall. This is an excerpt from an actual conversation I had with her.
Me: What a small world this is. So you know Daniel. And I know Daniel because he lived with some friends of mine in New York. AND he went to high school in Mobile with one of my neighbors. And I am obsessed with Pickens County.
Her: Daniel and I went to high school together. It was because of his status comment that I saw you. Oh, and your ex-wife is my best friend’s sister.
The fan girl, unfortunately, could not make it to the party this year, but you can see that this whole weird thing simply deepened the intrigue that led me to attend. And then, almost as an afterthought, this also all ties back to my ex-wife Doris who hardly even talks to me anymore (for good reason, but that’s another long story).
AND to bring it all back around, my college friend who was from Ethelsville was one of the very few people who actually attended my wedding, and in fact, now that I think about it, he was likely the person to first introduce me to Doris.
Diagram below for those who have trouble following this: