Also, there’s a book recommendation list in this one
Saturday night: I walked on a busy street, a street that in the initial stages of quarantine got pretty unbusy, pretty bare, but now it’s busy again, filled with honking cars, but who, who’s busy, why are they honking and where are they going?
Sunday morning: I was staring at the wood-paneled walls in my office but looking at something else, the brightness that bounced behind my open eyes, post-exposed lights, visual noise, patterns on the panels.
Monday morning: I was upset with a stranger because I had checked out a book from the library so obscure I was sure I would have plenty of time to read it, that no one else would want it, but I couldn’t renew it, I had to return it, someone else had put it on hold.
Every day, there are a zillion things surrounding you that your mind has to sort through and sort out. We simply can’t pay attention to everything at once. But some things you try to sort out rudely make their way back in.
Those small things that protrude into the periphery can be a great source of annoyance. All those cars were loud, honking, disrupting my walk. The strange patterns my eyes played on wood-paneled surfaces made me want to blink them away so I could concentrate on writing. And the person who put a hold on my library book, how dare they!
I’m trying to pay more attention to these things. The things that annoy me, the things in my periphery.
It started when I was walking, with the cars. Rather than become irritated at imaginary quarantine-breakers, I decided to wonder who was in those cars and what they were doing. Driving home after a day in the park. Going to Target to buy a new swimsuit so they can dream of a beach while they lay on their bed. Finishing up a day’s work at said Target and thinking about what to make of their night. Bringing hotdog soup to their ailing mother. Driving around listening to music, driving around to avoid another black hole of a Saturday night. What about me? I was walking for the sake of walking, wearing too many layers, a bundle of moving fabric with a peek of cheek and glasses.
The light patterns. I’ve always been intrigued by the patterns that dance on the back of my eyelids whenever I close my eyes. This is the first time I’ve realized they are there when my eyes are open, too. That it’s not just light making its way through the blood vessels of my lids, but visual noise that always exists, memories of lights that the eyes can’t forget. I hope it doesn’t mean I’m going blind (I’m pretty sure it doesn’t). If nothing else, it makes for a nice distraction to replace Twitter when I am stuck between sentences. I can simply watch my visual noise patterns dance.
And the library book. Instead of being annoyed I decided to be glad for the person who found this book. It’s called Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction by Grace Dillon. It’s a compilation of science fiction short stories and novel excerpts by indigenous authors. Before each story there is a discussion of how each one fits into indigenous scifi canon, what themes it carries on. It’s really cool. I (naively, stupidly) thought I was the only one in the world who was interested in this, or at least in DC, but there is at least one other. So I wrote a note for this mysterious other person, on a separate piece of paper, and stuck it in the back of the book. The note asks them to email me with thoughts on the book. I want to know who this person is! I really want to know.
The thing is this: Those things on the edge of your vision, on edge of your mind, to me, those are the things worth looking at. If you don’t look, your mind tends to fill in your peripheral vision with what you expect to see. Literally, according to science or whatever. (I believe it. Sometimes I still see a bug crawling in my peripheral vision because I’m so traumatized by bed bugs, then I am grateful to find it’s just an unmoving speck of dirt). Your brain does this because peripheral vision isn’t all that accurate, left with incomplete information that the brain fills in. Normally, this is fine. The wall to the left of you will still be the same wall thirty seconds from now. Probably. The cars driving past you will be just cars you don’t need to think about. Probably.
When I was writing with pen and paper the other day, I noticed something funny. While writing a sentence, I would already be thinking about the next sentence; but by the time I finished writing that first sentence, slowly, with the pen, I had forgotten my next thought. It took too long.
For the most part, I think in full sentences. When I begin a sentence, I usually know how it will end. (Except for sentences like first sentences in this piece, and in this one, where I intentionally decide to see how far a single sentence can go; even in that case, however, I still think in complete clauses, it’s simply a matter of finding out which clause will be the final one, maybe it’ll be this one, no, this one.) What writing does for me is open up the edge of what comes next. It allows me to chase a thought from one to the next. When it’s going well I can barely keep up. I’ll stick with pen and paper when I need to think over one thing slowly, but in order to discover a story, I need my keyboard, I need to type as quickly as I can so I can follow what shows up on the periphery.
The librarian will probably remove my note from Walking the Clouds before it gets to the next reader. But maybe they won’t. Maybe the next person will receive the note and immediately throw it away. Maybe they won’t.
Either way, I finished the book. Thank you, mysterious person, for giving me a deadline.
PS: It occurred to me when thinking about my reading list that people generally like lists. If you’re curious and/or looking for a book rec, here are all the books I’m reading, enjoying, and have promised to myself I must finish before starting a new one — nobody let me start reading anything else!
- Luster – Raven Leilani (fiction)
- The Ministry for the Future – Kim Stanley Robinson (fiction)
- Manhattan Transfer – John Dos Passos (fiction)
- Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind – Shunryū Suzuki (nonfiction)
- The Artful Edit – Susan Bell (nonfiction)
- Dialogue – Robert Mckee (nonfiction)
- Indian Mounds of Wisconsin – Robert Birmingham (nonfiction)
- When the Hills are Gone: Frac Sand Mining and the Struggle for Community – Thomas W. Pearson (nonfiction)
- A draft novel by my talented friend Jeremie (sorry, no link, it’s not published yet but it definitely will be soon)
PPS: No Ellie of the week (she’s fine), but I did make this long-nosed snowman with a couple friends (yes it took three of us (masked) to make this tiny thing). I checked on it the next day and most of its lower body had disappeared but the nose stayed true: