This I Believe: The Wonder of Staring
I know it’s bad form, but I like to stare. In fact I believe in staring – in gazing – in looking long and hard. Yes, I know, staring is impolite. And yes, my mother, like most, told me more than once that it was rude to stare. But I believe the best way to get to know something is by looking closely. I read and listen, argue and of course write. Before all of that, however, comes looking.
My long career of staring – sometimes known as day-dreaming – probably began with a glance out the window during math class. I was captivated by the way the overgrown bushes danced at the edge of the playground near the swings. This was much more compelling than addition, subtraction and multiplication. In fact I day-dreamed so much that by fourth grade my parents moved me to another school.
When I was young, my bedroom window overlooked old cow fields – the herd long gone. I’d spend hours with my chin perched on the sill – watching the wind run its fingers through the tall uncut grass. I learned how the clouds gathered before rain to march along the horizon. The solace that came from staring out windows I believe carried me through childhood and adolescence. Those landscapes remain etched on my imagination and heart many years later.
I have other “looking” moments. One morning during a run, I came up the crest of a short hill and had to stop. I looked at a small rectangle of light painted on one narrow tree trunk. The slanting light’s illumination of the bark caught me in mid step. I just stood there for a long time looking. I took in that patch of light like a cool drink during my run. I held that impression all day.
The thing about looking is that anyone can do it. And practicing is part of the wonder of staring. Over the years, I have honed my technique by slowing down. That’s essential – lingering over what I notice. In these fast times, looking makes me late for meetings and other activities. Just the other day, rushing as usual, I pulled my car over to watch a box turtle trudge across the road. I missed some of my son’s lacrosse game. But on the other hand, I know the cadence of turtle walk.
There’s a lot to see these days. I live in an image-driven world – from my T shirt to the small tattoo on my ankle to the night sky to my cell phone. As a writer and a teacher of writing, I believe in slowing down to stare. That’s what permits me to make sense of all that I see. I believe in gazing at the face of my youngest son as he sleeps. Soon enough that face will change. It will be rough with beard, then wrinkled, and then it will be gone. I memorize what I observe by staring, which also lets me hold on to what cannot last.
Pamela Hart’s first collection of poetry, “The End of the Body,” will be published in July 2006 by Toadlily Press as part of its Quartet Series. A resident of South Salem, NY, she is married, the mother of 3 and teaches writing.
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