How to make anything astonishing

I’ve been away and now I’m back. Whenever I go on holiday, the first things I pack are a notebook and pen. This time I also packed a sketch pad, some charcoal pencils, two oil pastels, an ink brush, various other art-making implements, and a camera. They were all left unused in my suitcase. Actually, now I think of it, I did use some of this stuff. I visited a quarry on Dartmoor and made some notes for a writing project. And I took lots of photos. How could I have forgotten? 

It’s easy for me to tell myself that I’m doing nothing at all and that I am, therefore, wasting my time. But I’m always doing more than I think. And ‘not doing’ is an important part of the creative process. And everyone deserves a holiday. How easy it is to slip into a narrative of failure!

None of this is what I thought I was going to write about. I’d planned to say something about what happened yesterday, when I looked up attention in an online dictionary of etymology. The word has two roots. There’s the Old French ‘attencion’ – the active direction of the mind upon some object or topic. And there’s the Latin ‘attentionem’ – to stretch toward. The dictionary added some interesting nuance to the definition: attention can be a show of observant care, an act of concentration, an interest that leads you to want to know more, an act of courtesy indicating affection, and an erect, motionless stance.

That led me to this observation. If you wander around looking for astonishing things to write about, you will likely be disappointed. Sometimes subjects do leap out and command your attention, but not very often. I can’t even think of one example. An amazing sunset, maybe? What actually happens is this: you pay attention to something, you concentrate on it, you show it observant care and a little affection, you stand and wait, you allow that interest to lead you somewhere, you let it call to you, and then suddenly – or gradually – it becomes astonishing. So, attention leads to astonishment. And that means everything is or can become astonishing, if you pay attention. Which I suppose is what Mary Oliver meant.

#13 of 30. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it