Are You Listening? Are You Looking? – Bearing Witness to Our Lives


Taking notice, being attentive, bearing witness, practicing mindfulness.  What is this hocus-pocus?  Being present is hard.  We have not trained for it, or else we did as children and then forgot it all when we became practiced in presuming.  I am thinking that to live a mindful life is what a writer must do even if their job is to create fantastic or futuristic worlds.

I am thinking the creation of worlds may be a transformative process, which begins in this realm and grows beyond it.  Our imaginary worlds may echo with today.  These echoes could be the bridge or portal through which the reader steps and so we had better do it right.  Could we see this kind of mindfulness as a special power?  It is the job of writers to take close note of small things, those things that may be so mundane they are invisible and to push them back into consciousness.  Readers will say.  “Yes, it is like that, isn’t it?”  They take note again.  It’s like artists, who presume nothing.  It’s not just a chair they see.  They can see the shapes, which give dimension and the colours which make light and shade.  This is the kind of mindfulness I mean for writers.  In being attentive, we soak up what we see and turn this into something else.  We stand to lose a lot by not stepping outside our own obsessions and bearing witness.  We may lose our authenticity.

This idea of mindfulness has come from  reading Joshua Foer’s book, Moonwalking with Einstein.  It’s a book about memory champions, those super nerds who can perform prodigious feats of  memory – the order of multiple shuffled decks of playing cards, reams of binary numbers etc.  (Read my take on it at The Non Fiction Review, if you are interested.)  But what has memory to do with mindfulness, you might ask?  Well, everything.  Foer shows us we can’t remember what we don’t attend to and while we may not wish to become a memory champion, we might want to bear witness to our lives.  In many ways, that is what writers do.  It’s what a lot of artists do.  They represent life.  We writers may do it by stepping into the future or moving back into the past.  We might do it by creating a world which is new, but all the while we are, whether we mean to or not, making a statement on today.

If one is set on writing contemporary fiction, mindfulness is the life’s blood.  It gives the story flesh, even though the story world we create is fiction.  Still, it must resemble today more truly.  One must walk the streets and breathe the air and feel what there is to feel because its at that level of feeling where authenticity may lie.  It’s not just that we can describe a thing so truly, and yet is that too.  It’s not only that we have captured a sound, a sight or an action with precision, although it is that as well.  It’s that we take note of the world and, in doing so, we capture and embed our stories with what it means to be alive right now in this place.