Monday, January 11, 2016

Opening Your Eyes to the Newness in the Familiar

"Hey, can we go for a walk now? I'm ready!"

One thing I love about going home for the holidays to visit my parents is that it feels, in a way, like I get to briefly remove myself from time. Many things about my usual routine are shaken up in the best way possible. Instead of feeling pressured by my typical to-do list and errands, I woke up in my childhood bedroom, surrounded by cozy and comforting knick-knacks. Instead of driving around town to tutor students in the afternoons, I lounged on the couch with a thick novel, chatted with my parents, and visited my grandfather who lives down the street. I helped my mother cook dinner, played board games with my brother, went out to the downtown Irish pub with my dad, and met up with old friends at the local coffee shop we used to frequent in high school. I spent time reflecting on the year that had passed, and dreaming about the year to come.

Perhaps my favorite “vacation routine” when I am home visiting my parents is taking our boxer dog Murray for his morning and evening walks around the neighborhood. Every day we would walk the same loop, yet every day I would notice new, startling details:
  • A small bird strutting jauntily across the street, like a band leader in a parade.
  • Sprinklers watering a front yard of dead grass.
  • A toddler shrieking with glee, running in circles in a driveway as her mother watched with a tired smile, raising a hand to us in greeting as we walked by.
  • Bushes laden with bright red berries.
  • A father and son playing catch in the park.

So many rich and beautiful details that it would be so easy to miss, if you were not paying attention and looking for them. And indeed, we would pass many other morning walkers on their phones or listening to music, rushing ahead with a glazed look in their eyes.

Meanwhile, every single day, Murray exuberantly sniffed at plants and lampposts and studied the sidewalk like it was a brand-new territory to explore -- even though it was the exact same path he had taken the day before, and the month before that, and the year before that. Perhaps he is on to what it means to be a writer: mining the same inner territory, day after day after day, for new sparks of joy and wonder.

Now, when I feel creatively blocked or when I am out of ideas or when the writing just doesn't seem to be going anywhere fruitful, I think of Murray's excited daily exploration. He is a reminder for me that being a writer is not so much about coming up with some totally new, never-before-seen-or-done IDEA. Rather, I like to follow acclaimed author Pam Houston's advice (from a wonderful talk I was fortunate to attend at a writers conference) and think of myself more as an observer, seeking out the extraordinary in the ordinary.


As Lera Auerbach writes in her wise, magical book of aphorisms and musings Excess of Being: "These thoughts have occurred to many people and for a very long time. I just happened to write them down."

Here's to a sparkling new year filled with open eyes, even -- perhaps most importantly -- in our familiar, everyday surroundings and routines. Here's to being world-class observers. Here's to writing it down.

And, Murray would like to add: here's to lots and lots and walks.

All tuckered out after a long walk.

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