“[L]ong before the child learns to talk properly—and long before it learns to think philosophically—the world will have become a habit. A pity, if you ask me.” – Sophie’s World
I’m currently reading a book that I’ve had sitting on my bookshelf for years. I literally moved it across an ocean two years ago, and still it had sat mutely, patiently, until I finally plucked it out and cracked it open a few days ago: Sophie’s World. I’m only a quarter of the way through it, so will withhold offering a critique, but so far I’m enjoying the questions it raises—it’s essentially taking your own correspondence course in philosophy, without getting graded 🙂 Less than twenty pages in, I was struck by the above quotation…I hadn’t really reflected on how the world becomes a “habit” as we age:
“The world itself becomes a habit in no time at all. It seems as if in the process of growing up we lose the ability to wonder about the world. And in doing so, we lose something central—something philosophers try to restore. For somewhere inside ourselves, something tells us that life is a huge mystery. This is something we once experienced, long before we learned to think the thought.”
At this point, the “philosopher” instructing our protagonist, Sophie, has been pointing out how infants and young children look about at everything surrounding them with wonder, getting excited about even the little things we adults come to take for granted through familiarity.
I’m not going to wax philosophical on this, but what it did make me think about is how writers seem to be blessed with the ability to behold the world with that same wonder we did as children. We have to, really, in order to continue creating our own little worlds.
The writer is someone for whom a bus ride is not merely from Point A to Point B; rather, it’s an exercise in character study as we little voyeurs observe those in such close proximity that it almost seems weirder to pretend that they’re not there (as the masses do on the London Underground…the eye aversion is almost unbearable – and on sidewalks, too! This Chi-town gal misses eye-contact *sigh*). Anyways, we watch these people, speculate on where they’re going, where they’re coming from, what their whole backstory might be. We get ideas in our noggins as to the perfect character to insert into our current tales or on which to base a whole new novel…all thanks to paying some attention to the real people right under our noses.
We notice subtleties, the body language that suggests insecurities or the butterfly that carries so many metaphors aloft the breezes of its wings. We notice with a painter’s eye that the clouds aren’t just white and that the sofa is illuminated differently when the sun shines in from that late-afternoon angle. We notice the people who smile to themselves when they think no one’s looking and that a tree can look sad, hopeful, or maternal. We notice what a gust of fresh air feels like in our lungs, through our hair, and the new story ideas that the sensation can conjure.
We can describe what happens in a meadow at dusk.
We behold the world with wonder, and the beauty is that not only are we richer for it, but we have the calling that compels us to write it down so that others might experience the world through our eyes and look at it as though for the first time through their own. There is not always beauty in this awareness; in fact, we may reveal the darker sides of humanity and tell gritty, disturbing stories without that happy ending. But what there will always be is Truth – I’m talking the capital ‘T’ truth so long as we write, to the best of our abilities, what it is we wonder at through our genuine voices. That is what makes a story authentic and universal, for something has told us that “life is a huge mystery,” and now that we can think the thought, we can write it.
August 26th, 2010 at 22:32
Beautiful, thought-provoking post; this is why you’re a writer! I wish there was a “reblog” button to pass this on. Every struggling writer should read this and be encouraged by it. I know I am.
August 28th, 2010 at 10:40
Aw, I’m so touched by this response, Milo, thank you! Am so happy if it provides encouragement; I think I need to remind myself of this time to time as well when I really get down about my writing and abilities of observation. So thank YOU, in turn, for the support.
August 27th, 2010 at 01:53
I have to ditto M.J. above. This was pure poetry. I have to say a hearty “Amen!” And I completely agree w/ the clip: EVERYTHING happens in the meadow at dusk. And I’m so thankful to be blessed to see the world w/ the wonder of child. It’s always new, there’s so much to write, to paint w/ words.
Thanks for sharing! This was one of those days I beat my head on the bricks with the chapter I’m working on and this reminded me why I should care–and beat my head some more.
August 28th, 2010 at 10:42
I’m *blushing* at these responses 🙂 Thank you so much, Sharmon, for the kind words, and I’m so glad it struck a chord with you as well. Don’t you just feel so bad for that woman’s character in the film clip who’s so insistent that nothing happens at dusk? So, indeed, keep figuratively beating your head on those bricks as long as you don’t hurt yourself 🙂 Write on!
August 27th, 2010 at 08:02
“but what it did make me think about is how writers seem to be blessed with the ability to behold the world with that same wonder we did as children. ”
How right you are. I have often thought that myself but you expressed it so well on this entire post. I have often wondered why we lose that sense of wonder as we grow up. It’s like adults get hard and cold. Too serious. I have been lucky that I have never lost my sense of wonder and I am fortunate my father is the same way.
Yes, and I understand what you mean about London and its people. It’s a big city, people rush from place to place. I can always spot a tourist because they’re the ones in front of me taking way too long to walk and I find myself getting irritated as I go around them picking up speed. I don’t take the tube often (prefer buses) but whenever I do, I can’t help but notice how miserable people look, but I am guilty of detaching myself from others and I’m happy nobody bothers me (I am so good at blanking other humans, people have told me they’ve seen me on the street, tried to get my attention and I never saw them lol) but it does get to you sometimes. What’s amusing is that I am shocked when I travel to America and a complete stranger talks to me anywhere, in a shop, in the street, whilst waiting forthe lift. It used to annoy me, since I am a very good Londoner…but now, I see that it’s better to be warmer to your fellow humans 🙂
August 28th, 2010 at 10:54
Too funny, I think there’s a happy medium where stranger communication is concerned—am sure a lot of Americans should just mind their own business time to time as well 🙂 In all honesty, I think I would be really annoyed if someone on the Tube just started talking to me (like Gwyneth Paltrow in a scene of Sliding Doors, if you’ve seen that…”I just want to read my book…”). In any case, thank you for the positive feedback on the post! It’s similar to the way I’m trying to keep myself from getting jaded with travel ever since moving to the UK. Now that London is the city I actually live in versus visit, I never let myself just walk by St. Pauls or the Tower or any beautiful, historical structure without gawking…who cares if I look like every other American tourist! We just don’t have stuff this old back home! (*hee*) I always want to hold onto that fascination… In any case, how blessed your father is to share this ability in wondering at the world (I love that he’s a beach comber—good for him!) and has passed it on to you. It will surely show up in that magnificent novel you’ve just finished!
August 29th, 2010 at 09:13
Oh lol, I had forgotten about Sliding Doors. Great movie actually. Yeah, on the tube, one would be shocked because we are all used to just being left alone.
I love your attitude towards London. I don’t often go into Central London but when I do, I also admire all the landmarks.
My novel begins by Westminster Bridge as my boy looks onto the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, he himself appreciates the landmarks…
August 28th, 2010 at 00:24
Beautiful post, fallenmonkey. I guess that is true. We can’t help but look at the world in wonder, us writers. But sometimes it makes other people think that we’re nuts, doesn’t it?
Hey, it’s not my fault you can’t see what happens in a meadow at dusk. 😉
August 28th, 2010 at 10:59
Thank you, Ollin! Of the things I do wonder at, the varying levels of awareness across people is among them. It seems unfair that we lucky ones get to tap into something so special, but then again, like you said, that’s not our fault! Maybe it’s not simply a gift but something all people can attain, some just having to work harder at it than others. Your story is readily coming to mind, actually—ah, just think, Ollin, if everyone would exercise their powers of observation and wonder…it would keep that air purer, wouldn’t it ;).
August 28th, 2010 at 07:27
“It seems as if in the process of growing up we lose the ability to wonder about the world.”
I think this is the biggest lost we suffer as we age; the ability to wonder and that natural curiosity we had for the world when we were kids.
This is one of the many things I am grateful about writing, it helps me to keep on wondering about the world and forces me to be curious about everything around me.
Life as a writer- it never gets dull… 🙂
August 28th, 2010 at 11:02
That’s for sure, Lua :). Sometimes I actually wish I could draw the shades over my mind’s eye just to quiet my inner self a little bit…the observation and analysis is so constant, it’s fatiguing! When I’m lucky, it gets channeled productively into writing, but other times I analyze to the point of paralysis, hence the occasional block. How is yours coming along? I’m sorry I haven’t gotten over to your Story Monday yet (did I mention yet that I’m psyched that’s back! Great concept for a blog–excited to read your blogger friends’ stories as well!), but I take that as a good sign that you’ve gotten over the hurdle. Good luck with the rest of your preparations for the school year!
August 29th, 2010 at 19:39
Thank you, I’m glad story Mondays are back too 🙂
But I wrote that story early this summer, before I got blocked so the block is still here, I guess it’s waiting for me to move to UK. Some rainy weather and cold air might be my answer 😉
August 31st, 2010 at 17:19
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