It’s Not that You Make Things Up — You Notice Things, Patricia Hampl in “Timelessness”
It’s summer, oh, those lazy days. When was the last time you had one of those lazy days? If you are lucky, there were one or more of them and not too long ago. But with the political turmoil in our country, the social networking scene, most of us working and/or volunteering, family needs, home maintenance, health maintenance, and even more to keep us busy, the lazy days are few and far between. There’s a book out now by one of my favorite writers, Patricia Hampl. It’s title: The Art of the Wasted Day. Ahhh. A big sigh comes just from reading the title!
And here is an excerpt from one of the essays, “Timelessness,” that you can read in its entirety on the publisher’s site.
When you close your eyes, you see and hear things you didn’t notice before, though they must have been there all along. It’s not that you make things up—you notice things. Maybe that’s a kind of making up? Hard to say…
…Words are partly thoughts, but mostly they’re music, deep down. Thinking itself is, perhaps, orchestral, the mind conducting the world. Conducting it, constructing it. I sense this instinctively.
There is no language for this, not then, not even now, this inner glide, articulation of the wordless, plotless truth of existence. Life is not made up of stories, much as I adore them—Charlotte, Heidi, CaddieWoodlawn. Really, life is—this. It’s a float, my body a cloud drifting along, effortless but aware. Drifting over the world, seeing, passing along…
I think of these lines of poet Walt Whitman in Leaves of Grass:
The play of shine and shade on the trees as the supple boughs wag,
The delight alone or in the rush of the streets, or along the fields and hillsides,
The feeling of health . . . the full-noon trill . . . the song
of me rising from bed and meeting the sun.
Oh, to allow the perceptions of that small girl I was, that small girl who sat in the grass watching a bee land on her arm, allowing the thought, “That bee is going to sting me,” being affirmed when it did. It didn’t hurt that much. And watching it up close was absorbing. Not that I would do that again, of course. But, oh, to be that in the moment and in the presence of wonder, with or without the sting of it.
Any time is a good time to be inspired by the poet Walt Whitman and the way he thought of himself in Leaves of Grass. If we persist in our desire to observe, to rejoice in what we delight in, and not to have to quickly act and quickly do, or quickly worry, we re-energize ourselves. In fact, we recognize our deepest selves as part of the natural world. There is nothing more energizing.
My wish for you, and for me, is that, like Patricia Hampl points out, we take time to drift and float, passing along over the world, and that, like Walt Whitman tells us, we can affirm ourselves and our spirit by acknowledging the “full-noon trill,” the song of ourselves rising.
And later, not during the floating, but hours or even days after, let your experience infiltrate your writing. Try these prompts:
1. Frank O’Hara wrote a poem in which the sun talks to him and urges him out of bed. Try writing a conversation between you and the sun. What has the sun come to tell you and how do you answer? What do you think about after the conversation?
2. Do this again, but with the moon. Describe yourself rising from bed to meet the moon and write the conversation you have.
3. What about the air you encounter when you open your door in the morning? What does the air have to say to you and you to it?
4. Go into a supermarket one day soon and walk slowly up and down each aisle imagining yourself seeing this store and its contents for the first time. Write a letter about the store and what you marvel at to someone who can’t be there with you.
5. Think of a small area you know well but usually don’t think about — a hall closet, an empty lot, the garage where you park your car. Write three paragraphs of praise for this place and the particulars about it. Don’t worry if it seems silly and farfetched. Just let yourself find details to praise.
Enjoying the lazy day infuses life, quiets the mind and excites the senses. Allowing lazy days, even remembering them from the past, is a gift you can give to yourself and ultimately to your writing. Go forth into the lazy day without intention other than to notice and be present to nature and the rhythms of what surrounds you—leaves in the wind, surf on the shore, bees in the lavender, pine cones on the ground, and oh, those clouds or the sunrise and sunset or the moon changed into a new shape or butterflies coupling in a fluttery dance over the Indian Paintbrush plants, the warm squish of the berry plucked from a vine, the brown leaves from last year among the green ferns of the present, the wet nose of a neighbor’s dog come to say hello. When you pay attention to what is there without the intention to do anything about it, you are alive.
And your writing when you get to it will hold that aliveness, too.