Thursday, May 31, 2012
Shrinking the Cosmos, a Writer's Guide to the World
That may be a big title for a small idea, but the notion hit me today as I sat munching on my salad and reading Inside Out and Back Again. I realized how differently I see the world now that I am an active writer. Sure, I'm a grown-up too, full of wisdom and introspection (ha!), but I'm not sure I would take the time to consider the world in the same way if I weren't a writer, no matter what my age.
Of course, I started as a reader. A lover of stories. An explorer of histories. A scientist on a quest. I can't help it. Every day I catch myself examining the smallest bits of the world around me and asking why and why not and what does it all mean? A snippet of conversation overheard at Burger King suddenly becomes a momentous revelation that must be celebrated...somewhere. Out of nowhere, that stupid thing I did in 5th grade makes sense all these years later. As expansive as the universe seems, there is a reason you can find the word microcosm in the dictionary.
I might be taking a little writing break at the café. Some kid walks in dressed like an oompa loompa or a pro wrestler or a Sid Vicious wannabe. Rather than retreat to my comfort zone and chalk it up to drug addiction or mental illness, I ask myself questions like: What did he eat for breakfast? What frightens him the most? What does it feel like to wear that? What is the last thing his father said to him? Has he ever saved a life? Or lost a life? How many times has he lost his keys in the last month?
The deeper I am buried in a writing project, the more powerful these moments are. The more open I become to the unexpected simply because it is so...human. That is easy to forget. In this time of convenience foods and mass production and social media overload, the truly human has been homogenized and processed out of our curiosity and replaced with a simple like or #epicfail in our minds and then we move on. Life has become so conspicuous. We laugh and watch it go viral, never considering where it came from in the first place. At least it seems that way for many people I've met.
Sure, the whole public persona thing is nothing new, but it has become a much more concerted effort in the modern world. If we really look hard, listen closely, lay our hands on long enough to feel what wriggles beneath the surface, we can know life. Honest to God, painful, joyful, twisted life. As a writer, I always want to know and feel more. I want to understand why and see where that connects to my own experience or what it tells me about the universe.
Marlo Thomas, I hear ya...free to be you and me...right on. But what's behind the performance of you and me? Always more. Much more. The writer in me will keep asking. She will always put it under the microscope and look for what she knows and then look at what she doesn't know.
And wouldn't it be awesome if our kids did that a little more? So often their cruelty comes from fear of the unknown. The unknown is not what lies in the other kid, either.