Well Said: a reminder to ‘lose the atmospheric smog of most grown-up vision’

Next to my bedside is a copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, a book I pull off the shelf every few years to put some spark back into my fingers and get them onto the keyboard. The tattered paperback’s pages have yellowed, with nearly every page dogeared, asterisked, and marked up in highlighted technicolor, but each time I leaf through I find something new. Last night (or should I say this morning?) at 2 AM, this quote grabbed hold and hasn’t let go:

You take in all you can, without the atmospheric smog of most grown-up vision.”

Her advice is directed at writers, encouraging us to pay attention and learn to communicate what we see. But the wisdom in this brief quote runs so much deeper. As I read it I recognized that often I think I’m observing something – a young woman with an Aussie accent lamenting over a bum knee to a friend on the other end of her iPhone, a wall-sized mixed media work covered in Polaroid shots and chicken wire – when probably I’m succumbing to subconscious filters that keep me from appreciating the wonder of it all.

this book rarely stays on the shelf

this book rarely stays on the shelf

Anticipation, reflection, and judgment are always conspiring to yank us out of a pure moment in life. Whether good (anticipating a journey to Barcelona in a few weeks) or bad (reflecting, ruing, over an impulse purchase ‘all sales are final’ dress that fits like crap), isn’t what’s at issue here. What is, is this: when you’re there (fantasizing about another walk through the extraordinary Sagradia Familia; hoping you can repurpose the dress – a pillow slipcover perhaps?), you’re not taking in what’s in front of you.

Judgment is sneaky saboteur too. Before I noticed the youthful voice, mile-long eyelashes and special connection with a friend the lovely young Aussie expressed through her phone, I allowed the polluted clouds in my judging mind to get irritated over feeling distracted by her conversation. My immediate reaction to the artist’s expression on the studio wall was frustration over not figuring the thing out. My ten-year old self, free of the heavy burden of requiring answers, would have gaped in awe over the sheer size, various materials used, and crazy assemblage of pieces holding it all together. No description needed.

Grown-up vision can be rife with cataracts, clouding over new perspectives, possibilities, giddy joy at simply being alive. Lamott’s quote woke me up. Literally (at 2 AM) and figuratively. So far today my ten-year old self emerged and caught the vision of a dog/parent/child playgroup in action outside my window; the sound of rustling spring leaves canopied over the bike trail; the smell of curry emanating from the Thai restaurant on Elm St.; the taste of fresh ginger in my morning smoothie. No time wasted ruing the past, planning the future, or judging life as it was unfolding right in front of me: clear as day. Free of any needless grown-up haze.

 

 

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