Things aren’t truly about what you think they are about. Take watches. If you want to know how a watch works, or why it doesn’t work, you need to look at each brass gear and understand the purpose of its shape and place. Some things can be learned at face value, with trial and error. Systematic, repeatable, quantifiable. But if you want to know how time works, you study change.
You must first turn that thing over and over in your mind until you determine what you need to study. If you just focus on a leaf, you will never understand the tree. To understand the potato sprouting eyes in your pantry, you study art.
To understand how people work, you study choices.
“A writer is essentially a spy,” Anne Sexton wrote. A secret observer, a collector of information. A writer is someone who watches in detail, someone who turns things over and over inside her skull.
Early this morning in the rain, with my headlamp, on this windy fall equinox, I went for a run (when I say, “running is about fun and health,” I truly mean, “running makes me feel better about everything in the world, including myself”). I had some things crowding behind my eye sockets.
A very unfair thing about human nature is that we link feelings with similar feelings: if I once ate cheesy broccoli until I threw up, the next time I smell cheesy broccoli, I will feel nauseated, right? Simple. But what about the webs of fragile feelings, the ones where you tug one and they all strain toward the pull and start snapping.
What if you lose something, something very important that demands grief. If shortly after, you lose more things (smaller things), the fuse is already burnt down. And suppose you find yourself in a season of losing, like Elizabeth Bishop (One Art):