I would make a terrible police witness. If I witnessed a crime and had to testify, I would have to write the victim a profuse apology note for my crap observational skills. As I previously mentioned in an earlier blog, I need to pay a lot more attention to what's going on around me.
See, I have a tendency to live in my head. I have lengthy dialogues in there, as I suspect many people do, and sometimes, I'll even repeat those conversations out loud. In other words, I talk to myself a lot.
My husband (who has amazing powers of observation) has caught me doing this in the shower. He silently peeks through the curtain, not unlike Jack Nicholson in The Shining because he thinks he's funny (although I'm now onto him, so he can't scare me anymore), and says, "Who are you talking to?" The first time I was a bit embarrassed when he caught me, and now I don't care. "Myself! Duh! Get out!"
I mentioned in an earlier post that I was going to start reading a new book: How to Live, or A Life of Montaigne by Sarah Bakewell. Chapter 2 is called, "How to live: Pay attention." That chapter might as well have been subtitled, "Michelle Lewis, I am talking to YOU." The French Renaissance writer learned to pay attention, halfway through his life, by deciding to write about everything. "Simply describing an object on your table, or the view from your window, opens your eyes to how marvelous such ordinary things are," writes Bakewell.
So I thought, Let's give this little exercise a go. Right now. If it worked for Montaigne in a tower in a 14th-century French chateau, then it might work in a 1957 Florida bungalow.
I work from home. I spend most of my day, and frankly, my evenings, in one room. The room is called ... surprise ... a Florida room. In Britain, it would be known as a conservatory. I look at these objects in this room, and the view outside, every day, all day, but I don't LOOK -- really look -- at them. And so that is what I'm going to do. Right now. Let's take a little trip round the ordinary, shall we?
So many words for just one room! It's hardly a tower in a chateau. And I sure as hell am not Montaigne. But there are so many memories and experiences in this room that span centuries, beyond my lifetime — of people I know and people I don't. If you put all the people who have touched every object into this room together, they'd barely fit. And if I don't pay more attention, then I will miss the narratives of everyday things if I'm always inside my own head.
This may not have been all that interesting to read, because these objects belong to me, and there are many houses just like mine — thousands. Millions, perhaps. But perhaps try this exercise in one of your own rooms. See if it evokes memories that make you smile, or think.
Montaigne was right: Writing really does open one's eyes to how marvelous ordinary things are. I hope it never happens, but perhaps, I'll become a better crime-scene witness, and ultimately, be more present.