When life allows, I sit. Still. And listen for what is important today. To me. Maybe not to anyone else. But maybe.
‘Today’ might be misleading, though. These are not ‘thoughts for the day’. They are just what I wanted to write. Today.
Here are some. Just in case you might also be sitting. Still.
‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘Why?'
‘You look worried.’
‘Well, you’re frowning.’
I had no idea.
A few years later I was looking out at a small audience. I could see every face. Half of them were frowning. I had to process those frowns every time I looked up and manage somehow to keep going. I tried to imagine their interest and the occasional warm smile, or to keep my eyes only on the non-frowning people. Later the frowners were the most complimentary. Navigating their frowns had worked. But it was hard.
Ever since, I have determined to be conscious of my face when I’m in an audience.
And everywhere, actually. Especially one to one, because there is no alternate listener for the speaker to escape to. All the signals are coming from me.
I remember a conversation with my mother when I was sixteen. I thought it was going wonderfully. Suddenly she said, ‘Can you stop frowning?’ I instantly pulled the centre of my forehead out of a crease, relaxed my whole face and warmed it right up. We both giggled. But I never forgot that painful discovery of my out-of-control face.
Then I began to notice how often, almost all of the time in fact, people’s faces are frowning, and how distracting, unsettling, undermining that is. And when I ask them if anything is wrong, they snap out of it and say absolutely not. They even claim to be interested and delighted.
There are also the non-conversations that populate our lives – passing each other in the hall, entering a room, saying hello. Frowns everywhere. And the frowners shockingly unaware.
So I’m wondering what might happen if we all right now woke up to our faces’ unsolicited frowns, and replaced them with interest and the occasional appropriate smile. Smiles (genuine ones, warm ones, not ridiculing ones) can speed up not only the rate of a person’s thinking, but the increase in the quality and elegance of it as well. Smiles also can produce safety so we become more adventurous, more real, more interesting, actually, as we speak. Try it.
Smile. Notice the impact. It won’t be nothing.
I write in books. I underline. I write in the margins and, when really excited, put an exclamation point. I also circle words I want to learn.
At least according to some of the people I love most in the world. They do not write in books. As in DO NOT!!!!. This is literally a hands-off issue. I don’t ever discuss it with them for fear of lunging into and ricocheting off some exotic morality.
I am inevitably the desecrator here. Books are, after all, sacred. But I think so, too. In the way I think humans are sacred. And like humans, books are for conversation not observation. Certainly not for worship. As I see it, to write in books is to honour authors. To think with them. To talk with them. I love it when someone hands me their book to sign and I see that they have written in it and even highlighted it. I feel we’ve been together somehow.
But I appreciate that writing in a book is also a selfish thing. You can’t really offer a friend a book you have just read and loved if you have left a trail of distracting non-author thoughts inside that they will have either to ignore, or to read and involuntarily digest. I get that. So I never offer friends the books I’ve written in. I buy fresh ones for them. I argue that that is a second way to honour the author: a teensy increase in sales.
Regardless, there is no arguing with personal – deeply personal – preferences in life. Especially when the deeply part verges on: ‘There should be eleven Commandments: the eleventh should be: "Thou shalt not write in books”. No, actually, it should be the 1st. Then the one about God.’
Hands off works for me.
So much is going on out here. I hadn’t seen it. I had seen it. But seeing is a slippery, mind-of-its-own thing. Truly to see you have to stop. And stay. You have to stretch. Something. Anything. You have to stop scanning and start landing. You have to do what I guess is all those Buddhist things of being fully in the present. Ho hum. No.
Nothing of ritual, not even of breathing. Nothing organised. Nothing already figured out and published and passed down. Nothing. In fact, nothing is it. Of course there is no nothing. There is only everything all at once all of the time all together.
Go out there. Sit. See. See no thing; see the sequence, the connectors, the transitions. See the invisible wildness willing the seeable song or hop or bath or pecking or burrowing or scampering. It seems like only this and that. But it is world after world after world of somethings.