I’ve written before on how important I find it to pay attention.
At times I find myself observing everything around me in great detail. In staggering detail in fact. Our brains have this fascinating capacity to block a lot of the world out, especially when we concentrate on something in particular.
If you’re riding the bus or train or whatever else you use to get to work in the moring, or home at night for that matter, you’re quite likely to absorb yourself in the paper, a book, a game on your phone.
All these things occupy our brains so much that we’re hardly aware of the world around us and sometimes barely make it out at the stop we need to get off. I can get so sucked into a good book that I will read past “my bedtime”.
The most aggravating part in this is, of course, that I have a bedtime to begin with, because I get up early in order to get to work early, even though I don’t enjoy either, but a packed tube I’d enjoy even less.
Sufficent to say that I’d rather get up at 8, have a cup of tea, get dressed, or not, sit down and write for the next eight hours. Can you imagine the work I’d get done, if I could write for an entire eight hours?
Yes, I’m running off on a tangent here, bear with me, I found the need to mention this.
I am one of those people, who like to sit in a cafe when working. I get my brain to zone out the humdrum around me and focus on writing. If there’s nothing to drown out, my brain runs off without me and gets itself distracted, which means I don’t get as much done as would like to. In other words, working in quiet at home is usually not happening.
Also, I am more likely to not go online in a cafe, because battery life is precious and Wifi tends to use it all up a lot faster. All I am ever doing on this laptop is write and if it is a blog, I will also upload what I have written. It doesn’t serve any leisure purposes at all.
Anyhow, when I do need a break, I will look up and take everything in around me. I’m not sure, why I keep my eyes so wide open sometimes, why I listen to people around me. Why I take extra care to look at every detail.
Okay, that’s a lie. I can actually tell why.
My head is full of what most people would consider useless information. And guess what, I keep collecting more of it and I don’t find it useless. You never know when a certain information may be of use, if only in a game of Trivia.
I am a writer. I try to live as much as I can, but sometimes I just sit and take everything in. Paying attention to every little detail. Somebody’s cheap, black shoes, his cheap dark blue suit. The white button down shirt with teal-coloured stripes, a grid in fact, not even checkered. A cheap purple tie with little white dots. Large brass cuff links that seem to be the shape of an animal.
He wants to look a certain way, professional and business like. You can clearly see he made an effort, but if you have any dress sense, you can’t help but think that he failed somehow.
When I observe detail, looking at each and every person around me, the clothes they wear, their make up, hairdo, the bags they carry, the expressions on their faces, I don’t judge. I can’t help it when I form a certain impression of the person behind the details I am looking at, but I don’t know any of them and this is not the time for me to invent any personal detail of who they might be.
I don’t think that they wear unflattering clothes, ugly shoes or could’ve toned it down on the make-up. I don’t, because I don’t care. I just observe.
Other times, however, I will wonder. Why is this woman sitting across from me exchanging her little flats for high heels that look horribly uncomfortable? Who gave the guy those ugly cuff links? Does he know they are ugly, or does he like them? Who is this girl applying her make-up for? Is she self-conscious at all that everyone around her might be looking over at her, if only for a moment, to see how the result will look? She glances at them unconcerned, but they will then avoid their eyes, embarrassed to have been caught looking.
I once read somewhere that children are the only ones, who still look at everything and everyone unafraid and with curiosity. But parents tell them that it is rude to stare so they will stop eventually, because it has been ingrained in them.
When a child looks at me in such a frank way, I will always look back just as frankly. If they smile, I smile, if they poke out their tongue, I will do the same.
Don’t tell your children not to look. Tell them to keep their eyes wide open. There’s a world for them to see and discover.
Correct me, if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that artists as a rule pay a lot more attention to the details around them. That they do still look at the world with wide open eyes taking in all the detail there is. Not all the time, because that would certainly result in a sensual overload and our brains aren’t really up for that, but when opportunity arises an artist may be opportunistic and observe.
Whatever their medium, it is the detail that feeds their craft and can yield captivating results. Whatever their medium, artists want to draw attention to something in particular and you can’t do that if you omit detail.
The truly stunning bit (I find) is the fact that the detail can be anything, even such a seemingly simple and innocent thing as a ray of light, the crook of a neck, the petal of a flower or the colour of somebody’s eyes.
Keep your eyes wide open. And no matter what you see, what you experience, the good or the bad, the in-between, follow Neil Gaiman’s advice:
Make good art.