A trick of the eye

Posted on Wednesday 28 October 2009

Someone has said that one of the most crucial aspects of writing is noticing. I don’t disagree. Oh, sure–there are tricks of the trade, and even rules any writer must learn so that he or she will know when to break them. (I imagine my English teachers cringing here…I am sorry. But only a little.) But if a writer’s eyes and heart are not alert and awake to all that is around him, if he is not keen to notice the smallest sights and moments and spoken and unspoken words, well, you and I won’t likely read his work for long.
As readers  we’re looking for recognition: for the moment we say “Yes, of course, I’ve seen that, too.” Or, “Oh, that’s like the conversation I had with my spouse last night,” or “That makes me think of that little deli in Cleveland.”
If a writer really notices, his readers see what the sees–even if the image they perceive is not exactly the same one he describes. They experience a kind of literary trompe l’oeil: a trick of the eye that renders a “flat” image three-dimensional. The words on the page create something more substantial than simply ink on paper. They take shape in the reader’s mind, connecting with a thousand tiny synapses of memory, and resonate as real.
Last Friday I sat and watched a hummingbird hover near the blooms off my front porch. I’ve lived in this house over a year, and not once before seen a hummingbird. I decided I would stay as long as she did, and watch until she tired of my hedge and moved on. I’ve never seen something so small work so hard to stay in motion.
On Sunday morning as a storm was brewing I opened the screen door to smell the rain and feel the pregnant breeze stir. I swear I felt the thunder before I heard its slightest rumble: just the tiniest contraction in advance of the big event.
As real as these things seemed to me, I suspect they were only a trick of the eye– quick renderings of God that struck my eyes and ears and skin, but were really flat in comparison to reality they hint at. There is more than this. So much more.
C.S. Lewis said, “We do no want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words–to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. . .at present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.”
Some day, I will climb through the frame that is this world, and enter another. Some day the hummingbird will rest easily on my outstretched finger, and I will surf the wind that blows before the rain. I’ll say “This reminds me of that morning on the porch,” or “this is like the smell and sound of the storm beyond the screen door.” Some day I will know that what I thought was the real thing was only a beautiful trick of the eye, and even so–be grateful for the preview that was mine.
For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (I Cor. 13:12, KJV)



“Speak what you feel, not what you ought to say.”

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