Here’s a little anecdote on why it pays to keep your life-enhancing antennae up at all times: you never know what useful ideas might lurk in unlikely – and even undignified – places!
Recently I was at a student’s home, helping him rehearse for a video presentation. After a few run-throughs, I figured he’d do a better job recording the clip without an audience, so I stepped outside his room to give him space. On my way out, I quickly perused his bookshelf for something to keep me occupied. Apart from textbooks, there were only four books on hand: two dog-eared John Grisham novels, a fake-looking “true story” purporting to be the scandalous psychic memoirs of a 19th century industrialist’s wife, and a fat novel called Lace, touted on the back cover as “a big, brash and bouncy novel” – from 1982.* Everyone knows it’s pointless to spend only 3 minutes on a Grisham novel (especially the only two Grishams you’ve actually read), and the print in the psychic diaries was ridiculously tiny, so I went with Lace.
Now, Lace is the kind of book I’d have secretly read as a young teen – full of secrets, scandals, glamour, decadence and, of course, steamy sex scenes (as written in the Dark Ages).I wouldn’t have given it a second glance in the years since. This time, with three minutes to spare, I’d give it the old “count the adjectives and adverbs” test (too many of either = bad writing) from the first two pages. Surprisingly (I hypocritically write, using an adverb), it passed the excess-modifiers test with flying colors. But what really caught my attention were these short lines on the first page:
… she liked comfort; so one suitcase contained her pink silk sheets, her special down-filled pillow, and the baby’s shawl, delicate as a cream lace cobweb, that she used instead of a bed-jacket.”
Bingo! All of a sudden I knew what I’ve been lacking, for countless years, without even knowing it! You see, I love reading in bed at night, but it’s a problem in winter: my lower body is snuggly warm under the covers, but my neck and shoulders shiver. Wearing a housecoat in bed doesn’t cut it; it bunches up around my legs and annoys me. Sweaters don’t do the trick either—not cozy enough. My mother, I remembered, used to have a soft pink bed-jacket in her closet that intrigued me: when and why would one wear such a garment? (I never saw her wear it until she was bed-ridden with my youngest brother in utero.) Now that I remembered such a thing existed, would I ever be able to find one? I suspect they’ve fallen out of use altogether. But just as I yearned for what I’d probably never have, here was the solution: a baby’s shawl, delicate as a cream lace cobweb. Surely that was more easily sought, and found. Yes, it was exactly what my almost-perfect reading life has been lacking. And I’m going to find one – hopefully in shades of lilac and rose. My newest “must have” is waiting for me in a thrift store nearby — I’m sure of it!
The moral of this story? Keep your eyes open as you rush through your days, glancing at bits and pieces of “useless information”. You never know what might move you, stir you, shout in you – “That’s what I should do/get/be!” I’m not talking about excess consumerism and wanting whatever you lay eyes on. That kind of wanting and getting only breeds the ugly greenies. This is more about making those little ‘inside’ changes that brighten your life and give you a rush of gratitude. Bed jackets. Baby shawls. I can’t wait to find mine.
*For the record, my student has no idea how any of these books ended up on his bookshelf. He never reads anything unless it’s assigned. But he suspects his uncle might be sneaking books in to make room on his own crowded shelves.
Categories: Whimsy and Flashes of Brilliance