I’ve blogged a bit of late about observation, and harvesting potentially telling details from the world about you. A longer while ago, I blogged about “try[ing] to make the world strange again, so I can dive into it anew.”
I thought this blog post was sharply relevant to all that. It’s by Stephen Kuusisto, a writer and professor attached to the MFA program I attended (though I’ve never worked with him, myself.) It’s about how he sees the “dreadful color” of school buses.
How you see something is shaped by everything that came before it: who you are, the sum of your past experiences, the associations your brain forms, your mood at the moment, what you think is important or unimportant. In Steve Kuusisto’s case, it’s affected by his history with vision as well as with school buses: “I’ve been blind for for most of my life, and now that I can see a little I’m largely flabbergasted by the commonplace,” he says.
I love this blog post because it’s so unexpected – I honestly see the color of school buses in an entirely different way that probably has to do with the color of standard #2 pencils, and not so much with failure – and also for what that unexpectedness gives me, the reader. No two people see a telling detail the same way, and the shock of seeing the school bus from someone else’s context is one of the lovely, rich displacements of reading.
But also I love that phrase he uses: “I’m largely flabbergasted by the commonplace.” As writers, I think that would be a good state to cultivate. Our habitual, ordinary world can lull us, and stop us perceiving it or piercing it. I want to be shocked anew by the strangeness of things that have surrounded me for decades. I want to be flabbergasted by the commonplace, don’t you?