I'm Noticing...

...I have a preconception about every city I visit on this tour—an inaccurate, stylized idea of what it’s like even if I’ve been there before. I think I arrived at this conclusion as a passing thought the last time I lived on the road. But this time I’m reminded again of the importance of noticing. If you look long enough at something, you get the sense that language doesn’t capture the thing you’re looking at. All we know about the world is understood through language and symbols. True, some things we know only through experience, but to put them into words minimizes that experience. So the artist tries to share the experience by evoking it through poetry, painting, drama, cinema, etc. But even art relies on symbols, metaphor. It’s not the experience itself.

I’m saying all this to express that I can’t express what I’ve been feeling as I travel. I tend to be a pessimist when it comes to Western culture because I tend to associate it with American pop culture. I’m a recovering cynic in regards to what I find familiar, redundant, and contrived. But even I have to admit the beauty that surprises me from city to city. American culture changes as frequently as the county lines; and that’s what makes traveling so interesting. 

As someone whom the psychologist Jerome Kagan would almost certainly classify as “high-reactive”, my tendency to become overwhelmed by unwanted distractions from my surroundings leaves me with a desire to avoid overstimulating my brain, especially from potential stressors like taking big risks. So quitting my job and throwing all my cards on the table for the second time in my life in attempt to “make it” as a musician isn’t conducive to the peaceful state of mind my personality type so much desires. 

When I begin to reach my brain’s threshold of overstimulation, I maintain my sanity by noticing. Usually it’s something small like the wood grain on the table or the callouses on the tips of my fingers. Noticing slows my brain down. I’ve had to notice frequently during this tour, and I’m only two weeks in. The logistics, the constant driving, the whatever takes me out of the moment. And the moment is exactly what life is about. The moment is reality itself. It is the common thread of space and time that we share, and it’s always right in front of our faces. Unfortunately, we are usually not present in it. 

I think noticing is important to any personality type, not just as a way to cope with stress (in fact noticing doesn’t eject you out of stress, or chaos, or pain; it allows you to engage it properly); for the artist whose job it is to make connections between the seemingly insignificant, the first thing he/she must do is notice the very fabric of reality, the stuff of metaphor, the scaffolding of songs and poetry. Noticing is a type of marveling; and when we marvel at the world, the most fallow ground in us can be tilled; the cynic becomes a dreamer; the grip loosens on ourself.

We don’t notice enough because we’re afraid of what we’ll discover in the silence of noticing. I think sometimes the words silence and noticing can be interchangeable. I’ll leave you with this quote from David Whyte’s interview with Krista Tippett on why silence is so daunting:

“I’ve often felt the deeper discipline of poetry is overhearing yourself say things you didn’t want to know about the world. And something that actually emancipates you from this smaller self out into this larger dispensation that you actually didn’t think you deserved. And so one of the things we’re most afraid of in silence is this death of the periphery, the outside concerns, the place where you’ve been building your personality, and where you think you’ve been building who you are starts to atomize and fall apart. And it’s one of the basic reasons we find it difficult even just to turn the radio off, or the television, or not look at our gadget — is that giving over to something that’s going to actually seem as if it’s undermining you to begin with, and lead to your demise. And the intuition, unfortunately, is correct. You are heading toward your demise, but it’s leading towards this richer, deeper place that doesn’t get corroborated very much in our everyday outer world.”

*This entry was written in May, 2017 but was not posted until September, 2017