This is a legacy post from a blog I wrote in 2018 about language, storytelling, and the shape of things. Delivered here straight from the archives, please enjoy the following issue of The Quiet Post.
In Lady Bird, an older nun named Sister Joan notes that the title character seems to really love the city she grew up in. When Lady Bird replies that she just pays attention, Sister Joan counters: “Don’t you think they are the same thing? Love and attention?”
Some of my favorite things are stories about or by people who pay attention. 99% Invisible, the podcast that got me into podcasts, is about exploring the hidden side of design. Nearly all Studio Ghibli movies contain an undercurrent of finding peace in the minutiae of life. Paying attention is about noticing small things, and I agree with Sister Joan. It’s an act of love.
So I went to Party City and bought the very best trophy I could find. I will now give this trophy to ten things in my house that deserve some attention.
This is a bag filled with corn and rice that you heat in the microwave and that my former roommate dubbed a “warm thing.” In wintertime, objects that give warmth are basically sacred. The Warm Thing gets a trophy for that one Sunday in 2016 that was thirty below, when I read in my pajamas on the couch all day.
I’ve taken to bulk ordering my books online in a somewhat ill-advised attempt to recapture the feeling of the Scholastic Book Orders arriving in the classroom in fourth grade. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to restrain myself from placing another order before the stack runs out so now I have something of a “to-read ouroboros,” perpetually devouring itself without ever getting smaller. My Stack of Unread Books gets a trophy for reminding me that it’s okay to take things slow, because there is no end to catch up to.
This out-of-tune monstrosity weighs in at one billion tons, came compliments of the house, and will certainly not be leaving said house without aid of crane or magic spell. So we’re stuck with it for now. The Broken Piano gets a trophy for reminding me that the fruit of my eight years of piano lessons is two songs I know by muscle memory, and that maybe that’s enough.
This fine pair of hiking shoes has taken me up mountains in Colorado, across the city of St. Paul for the Women’s March, and through various state parks in various states of snow and mud. The Adventure Shoes get a trophy for being excellent at crunching leaves.
It makes the house a lot more pleasant, and I like the way it breaks itself over the step. It gets a trophy for that.
I have owned this piece of cookware for nine years, since I was a sophomore in college. It’s traveled with me through six different homes, I use it nearly daily, and thus it has made me upwards of two thousand meals. I don’t know how I’ll ever part with it. I love it. My roommates know I love it, and don’t dare use it themselves. This Non-Stick, Strainer-Lidded, Rubber-Handled, Indestructible Cooking Pot gets a trophy for popping great popcorn and never burning it.
His name is Dewey and he was afraid of the trophy, so wouldn’t sit next to it. The morning routine we are developing is that I will lay down on the couch and he will leap into my stomach and curl up like a caterpillar. My Roommate’s Dog gets a trophy for shoving his dumb, wet nose in my hand whenever it gets too close.
These folders have been sitting on my desk, unperturbed, for about five years. What’s in them? Why do I allow them to continue taking up such prime real estate? Why do I never sort through them? Who knows. Those secrets have been lost to time. This Rack of Old Folders gets a trophy for probably containing some pretty bad writing I did when I was younger. I mean, probably. Who can say?
This is where I read, write, and where I watched all eight episodes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on my laptop last week, which I highly recommend. The dialogue is sharp, and this is a small thing, but it has one of the best brother and sister scenes I’ve ever watched. The Righthand Side of My Couch gets a trophy for doubling as a bed when I’m reading and accidentally fall asleep midsentence.
In the morning, when it’s very quite, the rooftops out this window are humped shadows, one after the other. Steam rises from the chimneys, and beyond the trees I can see a stoplight. Every morning I have to remind myself that it doesn’t matter if it’s red or green when I pass by. The day will be what the day will be. The View Over the Rooftops gets a trophy for being a snapshot straight out of a Miyazaki movie.
There’s a line in the song “God Help the Girl” by the band of the same name that I think about every time I move into a new home. “I love my room,” the singer proclaims. “I’m getting used to sleeping.” It’s a pleasant way of expressing the feeling of gradually warming up to any new space. Houses, neighborhoods, restaurants, offices. They start as strangers and then, over the course of filling them with the small things, the warm things, the sun, the shoes, the folders, and the view, there comes a moment when they become more than the sum of their parts. We get used to sleeping.
I’ve been at my current house for seven months, and am only now beginning to notice the things that make it home, that make me want to pay attention to it. I hope they’re grateful for their trophies.
Hey! Send me a picture of something small in your life that deserves a trophy and tell me why. I’ll post my favorite ones to Twitter.
Also, I came across this Twitter thread about nostalgia that ties in well with last week’s issue and takes the idea in directions I’d never thought about before. It was prompted by a misguided Twitter user who wanted sci-fi and fantasy novels to drop the politics and go back to being just fun stories—“as they once were.” Alexandra Rowland’s rebuttal about nostalgia and dreamspace is well worth reading.
And, finally, some thoughts on walking and paying attention to your neighborhood, from Austin Kleon.
Have a great week. Here’s a brief poem from Mary Oliver to round things out:
Instructions for living a life.
Tell about it.