Red Thread

The term “red thread of fate” originates in Chinese folklore, referring to a bond between people who haven’t met, but who are destined to be with each other.

The term is also used, contemporarily, in reference to an invisible connection between people or things—often, a connective ligament that stands out like a bright red thread when you notice it, but which is quite small and easy to miss if you’ve never intentionally sought it out.

I heard this term used in reference to writing stories during a random conversation many years ago, and have since adopted it for individual projects—tying together seemingly disparate ideas in books or essays, for instance—but also for the holistic collection of work I’ve produced.

I’ve found that while not everything we do will be unifiable through the application of a single theme or tone or genre-description, we can often bundle together more than is initially obvious by focusing less on attributes that are sensical within a specific profession or medium, and more on characteristics that span our work, our pastimes, our relationships, and our lives as a whole.

My red thread, I’ve discovered over the years, is more about curiosity and interest and understanding than it is about writing or travel or analysis. It’s not any specific philosophy, but rather a portfolio of philosophical concepts that orbit around a central core of discovery and comprehension, and then sharing my enthusiasms and learnings the best I can with other people who might also find value in these things.

Desire paths” are informal trails and walkways eroded into the environment by the passage of people and animals: they show where we want to go and where our actions tend to take us, rather than where we’re supposed to go and how we’re supposed to get there based on math and engineering and the desires of urban planners and lawn maintenance professionals.

Our red threads are maps of the desire paths we carve through life. They’re tricky to identify and grasp because they will almost always resist concise, clear, cartographic labeling. They’re seldom symmetrical or clean, and they’re generally “us-shaped” rather than templated.

But if we can get a sense of the general figure our threads trace, the resulting glyph can help us decide where to go next, how to get there, and how our future steps will correlate with where we’ve been before.

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