Being Still

In December 2012 American writer Silas House posted a quietly thoughtful essay, "The Art of Being Still" in the New York Times "Draft" blog. It's about the need for a writer (or anyone else!) to pay attention, deliberately, nonjudgmentally, in the present moment — what House calls "being still". He observes:

... I am being still even in my most active moments. This is because I'm not talking about the kind of stillness that involves locking yourself in a room with a laptop, while you wait for the words to come. We writers must learn how to become still in our heads, to achieve the sort of stillness that allows our senses to become heightened. The wonderful nonfiction writer Joyce Dyer refers to this as seeing like an animal.

Most writers today have jobs or families or responsibilities, and most often, all three. We don't have time to sit in the woods for a few hours every day, staring at the leaves, pondering life's mysteries and miracles and the ways we can articulate them for the reading masses.

We writers must become multitaskers who can be still in our heads while also driving safely to work, while waiting to be called "next" at the D.M.V., while riding the subway or doing the grocery shopping or walking the dogs or cooking supper or mowing our lawns.

We are a people who are forever moving, who do not have enough hours in the day, but while we are trying our best to be parents and partners, employees and caregivers, we must also remain writers.

There is no way to learn how to do this except by simply doing it. We must use every moment we can to think about the piece of writing at hand, to see the world through the point of view of our characters, to learn everything we can that serves the writing. We must notice details around us, while also blocking diversions and keeping our thought processes focused on our current poem, essay or book.

This way of being must be something that we have to turn off instead of actively turn on. It must be the way we live our lives. ...

Precisely — being mindful. Translate "writer" to "human being". Every word applies to everyone who wants to be aware and alive.

When asked at a reading how long he writes every day, House reports that he once was inspired to reply, "I write every waking minute." He observes, notes, mentally records. He's there. Perhaps it's like what the protagonist was doing in the film "Shakespeare in Love", capturing bits of dialogue from overhead conversations in daily life. Or what David Foster Wallace described in his commencement address "This Is Water".

House concludes with advice he got from the late author James Still: "Discover something new every day."

(and is the title and key-word theme of House's essay a sly play on James Still's name? hmmmmm!) - ^z - 2013-05-20