Slice of Life Story - Writing in a World of Wonders

In the John Prine song, ‘Angel From Montgomery’ Bonnie Raitt’s uniquely evocative voice sings,

But how the hell can a person
Go on to work in the morning
To come home in the evening
And have nothing to say.’

I sense a profound sadness in these words. It tells a story of people we have all encountered at some stage in our lives. Too many people experience their worldly existence in this way. They are undernourished souls. Their days drift by. They mean nothing.  The new day holds no demonstrable attraction. Detached and desensitized to the world around them, these diminished souls live a life detached from the abundant rich pickings that surrounds daily existence. Opportunities slide by. Opportunities to enjoy the simple pleasures of this world don’t register. A bland existence is their dubious prize…

I have just moved to a new house, a new neighborhood. To connect more fully with my new surroundings, I have increased the amount of walking I am doing. I deliberately choose to walk in different directions, taking different routes, while gradually increasing the duration of these walks. Apart from the obvious health benefits, my awareness of the immediate area grows each time I venture forth. These adventures engage my senses. –the voices of people going about their daily lives, the beauty and fragrance of the local flora, the sounds of magpies chortling. The feel of the lavender bushes, the crunch of dry summer grasses under my feet. -The lingering sweetness of onions frying on a barbecue floating over tall fences, or the salty air of the sea floating over the headland and the hissing of the wind through the eucalypts along the esplanade. Walking  along the esplanade overlooking the bay, I find myself captivated by sudden intensity of the sapphirine ocean. The morning light displays the water at its brilliant best. Just recently, I was privileged to see dolphins chasing a school of fry through the shallows. They dived and romped directly off the beach and the assembled witnesses oohed and arhhed in unison each time the dolphins leapt in the air. Now that’s a quicksilver moment.

 Dog walkers, beach bound teens, towels slung over their shoulders, bike-riders surging up hills, the intoxicating smell of coffee as I walk by Lilo Café, - I an awake to it all.  I run my hand over the smooth trunk of a ghost gum. I marvel at the vivid purple of the lush bougainvillea in the nearby laneway. It dazzles. I notice the shapes of shadows on the footpath as I pass. On those mornings when the summer air is windless, I walk in hope of sensing a breeze.  All these phenomena there to be savored, noticed, appreciated, enjoyed.  I celebrate my good fortune. I soak in the sights.  I am awake to them, ready to receive their immeasurable bounty. Their presence in my life nourishes and sustains me. I breathe them in, ever thankful to be  tuned into the part they play in my sense of wellbeing. My reading and writing life is profoundly enriched by these amazing experiences. Vicki, my wife called out to me this morning, ‘Al, come quickly, come quickly, you don’t want to miss this!’ Her voice was infused with urgency. I responded straight away. I trust her observational abilities implicitly. On the wall in our hallway she pointed to a faint rectangular shadow on the wall outside the study. It quivered almost imperceptibly; this moving picture. The image of thin tree branches projected onto the wall in delicate shadows greeted us. Fragile, fleeting and beautifully framed. Another simple treasure shared. We stood in admiration. That’s as it should be.

It is increasingly apparent that many kids go on trips in the family car equipped with DVD players, ipads, and other techno wizardy. As a result, they never see anything beyond a screen. They never play I-Spy. They never notice that the tennis court they just drove past actually had a kangaroo sitting in the middle of it!  They fail to notice the passing parade of natural and man made wonders  simple because their eyes are locked inside the vehicle.  They only have eyes for the screen. Their world view is severely limited in every sense.  I am fearful they may grow up to be the kinds of people Bonnie Raitt is singing about.

Teachers, therefore have an added pressure to ensure the classrooms they operate are full of wonder and genuine curiosity for the world beyond the classroom walls. It begins with the teacher and what they value, -what they bring with them.  So much of teaching is about engagement and provocation. Thinking and questioning. Noticing details, valuing small moments. The developing learner (the developing writer) needs this stimulation in order to launch the essential creative processes. 

In so many ways teaching is about compensating for the gaps in a learner’s experience. When a teacher makes it a priority to share personal connections to the infinite wonders of the world, they are shining a light into what might have been a previously unlit space in a child’s mind.

By sharing one’s personal wonderment, hopefully a spark is lit. What did you see today that amazed you?  What did you hear today?  Tell me about a conversation you overheard?  Who noticed something small and wonderful today? Who was awe struck by something they witnessed today?

Teachers are faced with the challenge of instilling habits of mind that will hopefully last a lifetime. -Habits that will develop intelligent human beings, infinitely fascinated and interested in the world; global citizens who persist in asking questions of themselves and others.

‘Anything wonderful is something to smile in the presence of.’
Lewis Thomas


  1. Alan, you had me at "Angel From Montgomery". One of my favorite Prine songs....

    I think you are right. And it's not just the kids--it's adults too. Writing about the ordinary is something I model and talk to my creative writing students about all the time. They always think they have nothing to write about, or they have no interesting people in their lives. Sometimes you just need to slow down and open your eyes---little bits of joy happen every day and those are worth writing about.

    1. Hi Deb,
      'Angel' is indeed a great song, and it prompted this piece, so I am ever grateful to John Prine for his thought provoking lyrics. As you say in your response, its about valuing the small moments and'little bits of joy.' Slowing down might indeed be the key to all this. Taking the time to take a look around. I learnt so much from reading Annie Dillard's 'Pilgrim At Tinker Creek.' last year. She is a supreme observer as well as being an incredible wordsmith. I am about to purchase 'This Writing Life.' a book she wrote some years back that is now a must have for me.
      Stay well

  2. Morning Alan,
    Good to read one of your posts with so much richness, I don't know where to begin. I'm inspired in my head to get up and take a walk around the complex but right now, the snow covers all the walkways, but I love the idea. I don't do that enough... and that's just the beginning of your post.
    Love Bonnie Raitt too.
    Bonnie K

    1. Thanks Bonnie for your kind response. Maybe when the weather eases you can rug up and explore. That was something I loved about living in New York. Put on all your warmest gear and venture forth into the snow in Prospect Park.

  3. You make me want to go take a walk and look closely at my neighborhood. There have been some huge changes in our area and I need to insert them into my expectations.

    1. Lori, it sounds like your surroundings are summoning you to go forth and explore. It's a connection I'm certain will bring its rewards. Thank you for your response.


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