On Corrosive Convenience
And reconnecting with wonder.
Over the summer, I wandered into my local library, though I suppose “wander” is a misnomer. I planned the trip, a literal five minute drive from my house, with the intention of wandering the stacks. Familiarity with the Dewy Decimal System led me to the 800 aisle in the non-fiction section where I perused books about writing.
Despite my best efforts, I was in a slump. A miserable, grasping, “dumb words about nothing” spiral that made me question my entire identity. I needed a fresh perspective. A new approach. To be jarred out of monkey mind and get back to the business of prose. Several Short Sentences About Writing was not the key to Endless Well-Crafted Creativity I sought in the stacks that day. It changed my life all the same.
I could have opened the Libby app and searched a list of titles just like the last ten titles I borrowed. If I wanted to shake things up, I could scan the library’s digital suggestion tables (Action Packed Adventures, Cooking for the Kitchen Novice and the like). I could have checked my trusty TBR on The StoryGraph—fuck GoodReads. Or paid $5 for the latest 5/5 spice level, TikTok swoon-inducing recommendation from my favorite Bookstagram accounts.
This is how we do life. We make lists, we check reviews. We set the algorithm to serve up our dopamine fixes. We sacrifice our sense of wonder on the altar of time saved.
Is it possible to practice noticing?
I think so.
But I also think it requires a suspension of yearning
And a pause in the desire to be pouring something out of yourself.
Noticing is about letting yourself out into the world,
Rather than siphoning the world into you
In order to transmute it into words.
Practicing noticing will also help you learn more about patience
And the nature of your mind.
Noticing means thinking with all your senses.
It’s also an exercise in not writing.
VERLYN KLINKENBORG, SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING
What if I told you I didn’t finish Several Short Sentences About Writing? That I got up and got dressed. Drove roughly five minutes down the street to stroll my local library for 30 minutes, sat lotus style in the middle of the 800 section, stared at titles until something jumped out and didn’t finish the book I took home that day? That my writing output didn’t improve as a result? You’d call it a failure.
I didn’t need the entire book. Not yet. I needed that passage.
I can have the entire world in the palm of my hand; my questions answered, any direction I wish to pursue mapped to perfection, my mood improved by the flash of carefully-curated images. If I wanted, I could publish every single day, add my voice to the cacophony of thoughts about thoughts, ideas on ideas, reactions to reactions. I could build an entire identity out of inner dialogue. Make an idol of witty banality and feed my soul with your worship.
It would be easy. Convenient.
But noticing is the stuff of living.
It’s meeting Mike, the wine cafe owner who puts on made-to-order artichoke dip as soon as I walk in and serves me free wine samples while I sit, because one day, I noticed a nondescript restaurant on my evening commute.
It’s walking from the Hilton to the Rock Hall on one of the last warm nights in October. And the crisp air and winking city lights being a more memorable birthday experience than the $80-per-ticket, Instagram-advertised event I walked to.
It’s stopping for tea and overhearing a woman in thick-rimmed black glasses recount her mother’s stroke. The startling memory of sitting with my grandmother, hearing her answer “Lord help us, George Bush” when the doctor asked “Who is the current President of the United States?” the day after the Supreme Court decided the winner of the 2000 election. And that being the last time I recognized the woman who raised me before the massive stroke she suffered dulled her mind’s sharp edges.
As it turns out, Dear Reader, my slump was an awakening. An invitation to open the door and let myself out into the world. An invitation I never would have received if I didn’t step out in the first place.
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