Saturday, November 13, 2010

In Honor of Sunsets and Old Shoes

Writers don’t need tricks or gimmicks or even necessarily need to be the smartest fellows on the block. At the risk of appearing foolish, a writer sometimes needs to be able to just stand and gape at this or that thing—a sunset or an old shoe—in absolute and simple amazement.—Raymond Carver

Ah, permission to gape! I feel vindicated. Two of my favorite verbs are “frolic” and “loll.” And yet I am studying in a culture self-described as “revivalist.” My two verbs of choice don’t seem to carry merit in such a context. Or do they?

If it is a confession to admit to my verbs, I will continue confessing; I like to read Oprah’s magazine, O. I read it for Martha Beck’s monthly essays of insight and advice. Early this autumn, she wrote a piece called “Lying Low” in which she advocated the maligned idea of rest in a hyperactive society. While in Africa, Beck watched a pride of lions lying down and purring for hours after a long hunt. Her friend’s comment led to this gem of advice: Rest like you mean it.

Not: rest when we have worn ourselves out to the point of an immune system collapse. Nor: rest when our annual vacation finally rolls around (at which point we likely suffer said collapse). Rather: be intentional about rest.

In the book of Isaiah, rest is linked to strength which is found in quietness and trust. If I want strength for revival, I’m going to need those traits.

To revive means to bring back to life, to renew, to restore from a latent state. Usually, the dormancy is the recharge time for the following vibrancy.

It is from a place of pause, of rest, that I am able to gape at a sunset (as opposed to hurling by in a car on an errand) and craft a poem that encourages someone to do the same. It is from a place of rest that my writer self can practice the art of paying attention long enough to write about what I’ve paid attention to.

“To just stand . . . .” Or to just sit.

Simple amazement, I welcome you.