Following the resounding injunction to write from your own astonishment is a stunning way to begin a blog. Annie Dillard sets us a task, and a high calling; it's a call to arms that gives you nothing less than the very reason you are put here, on this earth. I believe so much in what she is saying that I made it the watchword of this entire blog. But it does put you in an awkward position when you are fixing to write your second post. How do you follow that up? How do you follow through? How do you go about being in perpetual astonishment, and then, summon up the wherewithal to write about it, poof, ready or not, at a moment's notice? The idea of being in a constant state of astonishment calls to mind the 50's comic strip character, "Nancy," the little chubby girl who peered out to readers with balloon-shaped eyes, staring wide-eyed, unblinking, at everything she saw. The cartoon Nancy had no pupils, bless her heart. And thank God, I do, we do, and they work amazingly well, considering what they've been through. If one is to be constantly astonished, if that is the primal thing we must all be about doing, then it stands to reason we must begin by truly, deeply seeing. We must learn how to truly observe and deeply notice, to take time to see the tiniest little details, to absorb and feel the emotional impact these details have on you. This is a blog about astonishment at these simple things, found things, that astonish me, and that I hope, will astonish you, in turn, if I can write about them well enough. I hope, too, ultimately, that once you see, feel, and are moved by my astonishment, then you will take courage to write about your own and share it with the world. These little details are "found things," concrete objects, actions (like an ant carrying a leaf 40 times its size) as well as "found moments" that, whether one notices or not, turn the world a little a-tilt on its axis.
These things happen every day. Walker Percy's Will, in the Moviegoer, wonders why we don't just sit, all day long, in utter rapture at the mystery of life, at the "quotidian mysteries," as Kathleen Norris termed it. It's because we must earn a living, we reply to Will, and fictional characters don't have to work, they're characters. But, we do understand Will's impulse; we hanker after Norris's vision.
Today, I have been able to sit on my porch almost all day long. I'm on a small vacation, recuperating from an infection that settled into my bones and joints. I am reading "How Proust Can Change Your Life" (though I've never read Proust, himself). It's an amusing book about the "uses and consolations" of Proust's works (all 23 volumes of them). From my porch swing, I watch wild ponies munch grass on this, the nearer side of Carrot Island. The grown ones move slowly, ever closer to the sandy beach and still, gently lapping water. They know just how far to go before the sand gets too wet, too hard-packed for their unshod feet, and then they turn away and disappear into the scrub pines behind them, in the center of the island.
It restores my soul. I think, now how did I come to think about the 23rd Psalm? I'm not a conventionally religious person. It is Sunday morning, but I'd much rather read Wallace Stevens than The Upper Room. I think about my mother, how I read that psalm to her as she was dying in a sterile room far from home, far from this place filled with sunshine and grazing horses. She was 87, frail and thin as a starved bird, and as ready to fly away. "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" was her favorite hymn; she sang it to me as she rocked me to sleep when I was a child, many years ago. My mother died a year and a half ago. Yesterday afternoon, a frightening email came, silently, into my inbox, like a stealth bomber, leaving me shivering with its spite and hatred. My women friends said, "ignore it." I just wanted, as I had been able to do without thinking for as long as I could remember, to talk to my mother. If I could have, it would have soothed me, and her., I would surely not have told her about that specific thing, the nasty email from a stranger that was making me feel so low; I would have talked about some other thing, how was her cold? or just have told her that I was thinking about her. "I just called to say I love you" I'd tell her, like Stevie Wonder, like I used to do, by long distance phone.
I looked into the bright sunshine at the ponies, and tried to sing, "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms." Just to myself, no one hearing, no one listening. Except me, and, I like to believe, my mother.