Think Small is My New Hobby

This week’s invitation is to notice small . . . then notice smaller. The invitation reminded me of a favorite quote:

from And the Pursuit of Happiness by Maira Kalman

There is comfort in “thinking small.” I first came across this quote while I was reading Kalman’s book to distract myself as I waited for my dad to make it through heart surgery. It was a good fit at that moment in time. Now, every time I read these lines, I am transported back to the seventh floor Sky Lobby at the University of Chicago Center for Care and Discovery. Throughout my dad’s cancer treatment and his subsequent medical care, I became closely acquainted with the space.

I can close my eyes and see the smooth stones placed side by side, like a natural puzzle, lining the short expanse of rooftop just outside the wall of windows giving a view of the city. I don’t carry an image of that city view inside me–just the casual order of the matte stone rooftop surface. There was so much to admire in the long shot–all that thriving greenery makes for a friendly introduction to the strong and solid skyscrapers in the distance. But I remember focusing on those stones between page turns.

My view from the seventh floor Sky Lobby at the University of Chicago Center for Care and Discovery

You see, thinking small is not something I have to work at. It is kind of how I move through life. Thinking small is like a default setting I use to reset.

So, it is no surprise that I have taken up a new hobby that involves noticing the small things–I have been staging Instagram photos of the books I read (you can see the fruits of my new hobby by clicking on the READ tab at the top of the page, or heading to my instagram @rushreads).

Even though thinking small often comes naturally to me, there always new things to see. Knowing I am going to create a vignette to showcase the book at the end means I read with a slightly different lens. I notice and hold onto details that might not otherwise call for my attention.

For instance, when reading Christina Soontornvat’s amazing book A Wish in the Dark, I might not have taken notice of the pattern of sensory images related to fruits if I wasn’t looking for concrete objects I might be able to pull from the story for the photo. Although I did not end up using fruit at all in the final image, my reading experience was much richer for having noticed. I can still see the joy on the faces of Pong and Somkit when they hear the sound the mango makes as it pops away from the tree before falling into Pong’s hands.

In turn, I may not have noticed that the poplar aspen trees in our backyard make a similar popping sound as they release dangling seed pods from their grasp.

from a distance the dangling seed pods look like leaves

Because of my attention to concrete sensory images, I can still clearly imagine the tangerine smell that always signaled Ampai’s presence to Pong. Thinking of that tangerine while Soontornvat’s story lingered in my heart, I spent just a few seconds more lingering over the scent while I squeezed lime juice into my latest batch of guacamole. I breathed more deeply and noticed the separate fragrances of fresh cilantro and citrus.

For now, whether reading or walking through the world, thinking small is my new hobby. It helps me handle the complicated too-muchness of it all.

Why I Write

a response to invitation #1

Recently, I participated in the #100daysofnotebooking challenge started by Michelle Haseltine. One of my notebook entries is a list of reasons why I write:

Notebook Entry #100daysofnotebooking

But I don’t think the truth is on that list.

In her TED Talk, Susan Conley (author of The Foremost Good Fortune) shared her response to a question about why she would volunteer her time to do workshops for young writers. Although she hadn’t been quick enough to say it on the spot, she realized later her truest answer would be, “For the magic that might go down.”

That’s really it, isn’t it? The reason why we all write? For the magic that might go down.

Because writing, like most creative endeavors, opens a door of possibility. Even when I am fairly certain I know where a piece is headed, the possibility exists that a new thought will emerge and create magic.

One of the most amazing bits of magic I encounter around writing, though, is the way it impacts my view of the world.

Take these trees, for instance.

At first glance, you may not notice they are wearing metal tags. I did not notice until I began jogging past them in the dusky light of morning. The reflection of light off the metal tags looked like a forest of eyes keeping watch over me.

Years later, with a return to blogging on my mind, I walked down the same path. Something about these tags tugged at me. They felt like a story. I edged into the woods to study them more closely.

I noticed:

  • the tags are numbered
  • the numbers are in sequence from east to west
  • some tags are bent, seemingly from the tree growing around them
  • the tags don’t appear to be selectively placed, but rather they seem to mark every tree

My first thought was to do some research. I wanted to uncover their meaning and purpose. After a quick search brought me nothing but tales of trees marked for removal, I lost interest in what I feared would be a boring truth.

Instead, I prefer to tell my own story of the tagged trees. You see, I am certain there is a forest ranger, likely with a woman with wrinkles of wisdom or a man with a long gray beard, who has been watching over these trees since they were nothing more than seedlings. This ranger carries a tattered log book with pages of lined grids, like an old ledger. On each visit, the ranger fills interstices with marks that tell each tree’s history. The numbers serve as a means of sorting out their stories, since the trees have not yet whispered their names loud enough for human ears.

These many-storied trees are just one example of the magic that might go down when I walk through the world with the eyes and heart of a writer.

And that is why I write.

interstice: A New Blog

in-ter-stice: an intervening space, especially a small one

-from Oxford, via Google search

I discovered this word after listening to Kylene Beers interview Naomi Shihab Nye, who has longtime been a favorite poet of mine. Nye spoke about her appreciation of the gaps, the spaces between things. I searched for a word to capture that idea and found interstice. I like the way it sounds…interstisss, with that soft cushion of sss at the end.

It is sort of a big, fancy word for such a small space. Did you know that interstitial creatures can be so small they live in between grains of sand? What really drew me to the word might have been the sample sentence Google produced to teach me about the word: “Sunshine filtered through the interstices of the arching trees.”

That’s what makes branches so attractive, isn’t it? Not the branches themselves, but the spaces between.

blue sky lives in the interstices of the branches

That thought led me to consider the presence of synapses in the brain. Why is it there is a tiny space across which neurotransmitters travel, carrying our thoughts from conception to connection? Perhaps there is something special–something essential even–about having space. It seems our brains depend on space to function effectively.

This blog is my way of claiming space–my way of ensuring space intervenes it’s way into my writing life.

Ten years ago I started blogging. I had no idea at the time what gifts blogging would bring to my life. Through blogging I met some of the most inspiring women. I am blessed that some have since grown to become face to face friends. These friendships have wrapped me in comfort and support, nudged me into growth, and shown me who I want to become.

In the past few years, I stopped blogging. I started believing my life had no space for writing without a professional purpose.

I was wrong. Just because you don’t acknowledge them doesn’t mean the interstices don’t exist. And perhaps they exist because their presence is vital to our existence.