From the simplest lyric to the most complex novel, literature is asking us to pay attention. Pay attention to the frog. Pay attention to the west wind. Pay attention to the boy on the raft, the lady on the tower, the old man on the train. In sum, pay attention to the world and all that dwells therein and thereby learn at last to pay attention to yourself and all that dwells therein.Frederick Buechner, b. 1926
I had the pleasure of finalizing proofs for my story with Chelsea Lemon Fetzer, of Little Patuxent Review, in early January. Because of what she paid attention to, I discovered that my timeline was inconsistent, as was my use of bulleted lists. The first is a Big Deal for the flow of the story; the second is a Smaller Deal that would distract only the copyeditor-inclined among us. But both made me think harder about the story, the questions it raises, and how choices large and small impact its effectiveness.
And that thinking in turn led me to ponder all my other life editors. My friend who reminds me that my tendency to go from “not-too-hungry” to “gotta-eat-now” was present when we met each other, thirty+ years ago, so maybe that trait isn’t an indicator of oncoming type two diabetes. My ex-husband who reminds me that once upon a time, I didn’t give a rat’s ass about accurately measuring coffee and just drank whatever–so maybe I can rethink my current practice of ditching an espresso shot that is a few grams above what it should be. My young-adult children, whose continuing participation in family traditions show that I did some parenting well and perhaps I could stop beating myself up about my mistakes. My current partner, who points out that I drive myself literally nuts when I try to do more than one thing at once–so maybe I can consider not-baking a (literal or metaphorical) cake from scratch. My own journal entries, which reveal that I’ve struggled with consistently submitting stories for my entire wiring life, and so maybe it’s time to stop spending time resisting my resistance, acknowledge it’s a thing for me, and move on. Because the odds of getting to learn from editors of all types and stripes increases when I accept that I don’t know what I don’t know, open up, and engage anyway.
May it be so for you, too.
Giovanni Mannozi, “Death Seated on Political and Religious Trophies,” study for the ephemeral decoration for the funeral of the Grand Duke of Tuscany. Which I interpret as: pay attention and give it a go, we’re all gonna die anyway.