Everything You Notice

In August 2014, on a rainy afternoon when I was living in Denver, I walked—aimlessly— down the 16th Street Mall, discovered the famous Tattered Cover Bookstore, and found what has become my all-time favorite book about writing: several short sentences about writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg, a book with a Ron Swansonian title, voice, and overall disdain for authority and capital letters. I’ve flipped through it so many times, dog-eared so many pages, and crammed it into my backpack or back-pocket so regularly that the front of the book now has its own tattered (re: missing) cover—and I had to Google the name of the book just to find the author’s name because the book’s missing the first four pages after three years of affection.

It’s a book about brevity and clarity—and the syntax that enables brevity and clarity.  It’s a book whose premise, according to the prologue, “is that most of the received wisdom about how writing works is not only wrong but harmful. This is not an assumption. It’s a conclusion…how you’ve been taught to overlook the character of the prose in front of you in order to get at its meaning. You overlook the shape of the sentence itself for the meaning it contains, which means that while you were reading, all those millions of words passed by without teaching you how to make sentences.” It’s a book about simple sentences and how we get there. But more than anything, it’s a book about noticing:

“…and if you notice something that interests you, it doesn’t have much to do with anything you’ve ever been asked to write.

But everything you notice is important.

Let me say that a different way:

If you notice something, it’s because it’s important.

But what you notice depends on what you allow yourself to notice,

And that depends on what you feel authorized, permitted to notice

In a world where we’re trained to disregard our perceptions.

Who’s going to give you the authority to feel that what you notice is important?

It will have to be you.

The authority you feel has a great deal to do with how

you write, and what you write,

With your ability to pay attention to the shape and

meaning of your own thoughts

And the value of your own perceptions.

Being a writer is an act of perpetual self-authorization.”

The other day I noticed something that felt important, an excerpt from Wesley Morris’ wonderful NYT Magazine feature on Jordan Peele that deeply and cosmically resonated with me:

But as a teenager, Peele used [Central Park] to clear his head or explore his thoughts, the rainier and gloomier the better. He wasn’t a morose kid, he said, just introspective. “I don’t know, there was always something about the rain that was like I couldn’t be upset,” he said. “It was just always instant happiness, instant connection to something.”

I also love the rain, the rainer and gloomier the better. It slows me down. It calms me down. For whatever reason, it makes me more sensorially aware and more in tune with noticing. I love thinking in the rain. I love the sound. I love the smell. I love running in the rain. I love walking—slowly—in the rain. I love walking in the rain to bookstores and finding books about noticing.

I’m hoping 2018 is a year where I allow myself to notice a little more and read a little more (and maybe even dress a little more like Child’s Play’s 2017 inaugural Creative Hero Of The Year, Harry Styles.). Here’s to noticing and noticing what we notice.

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