One of my neighbors is a fireman. I don’t know if it is part of his profession or not, but I’m always amazed by what he sees. We’ll be standing in front of my house, talking, and he’ll reach down to palm a candy wrapper some rotten child has left on my lawn. We’ll stop our cars on the street to exchange news, and he’ll remind me to turn out the mirrors I turned in to squeeze out of the garage. He’ll ask about a tree branch on our property that looks like it is about to fall down, one I pass under every day but never seem to notice.
My neighbor has vision that is all about the external. I have no idea what his inner life is like, but I’m fairly sure he doesn’t spend much time imagining the life of Henry VIII or contemplating how an April snow shower might resemble falling apple blossoms, two ways I find myself spending time. (Although I could be wrong.)
As writers, we tend to spend a lot of our time in our heads, or obsessing over a single external detail. The trick is to find the balance between external and internal vision — between being present and noticing the world around us, and saving a quiet space in our heads for our work.
It’s a balance I still struggle with. How do you manage?