Cheryl Strayed gets a lot of credit for getting me through some of the most challenging moments of the last couple of years. She has a wonderful line in Tiny Beautiful Things: “Real change happens on the level of the gesture. It’s one person doing one thing differently than he or she did before…” That line still makes me sit back in my seat because it’s so simple, but so true.
While I was paddling this morning, I realized that presence happens on the level of the gesture too. I don’t bring a phone with me on the water, which means I also don’t have a camera with me. It’s the quietest part of my day, the part when I most notice the beauty of what’s around me – and I have no way to capture it.
Presence is watching how someone’s body language betrays their words. Presence is not taking photos and instead opting to watch the way the indigo of mountains contrasts the orange of a sunset. It’s taking a minute to notice the feeling of another person’s hand in your own, rather than just rushing to a destination, hand-in-hand .
That presence is what creates our memories. Science tells us that memories that involve multiple senses and emotions are the ones that we hold onto the longest. Being present in a moment, though we may not have a physical ‘thing’ to show for it, gives us something much more. It gives us a moment to go back to, in the quiet of our own minds, when we need it most.
For the past several years, I’ve truly enjoyed any opportunity I could grab to edit for someone else. A couple of times, that’s materialized into the chance to edit books – and I loved every word of it. Meanwhile, I quietly turned an idea I have for a novel over and over in my mind, but I committed very little to the page. I let myself get caught up in excuses like ‘I don’t know the character well enough to write about their story yet’. But when I told a couple of people about a rough sketch of the narrative arc in my brain, no one told me it sucked. They actually asked questions that seemed like maybe it was something even a handful of people might read.
During that same time, I quietly typed away at a private blog. Though it’s been largely abandoned since I took my current job, 75 posts sit waiting on a shelf. I insisted that once I had a proper blog title, I’d do something public. But finding a proper blog title? That could take an overthinker like me years…and it did.
Last week I had a conversation with a wonderful person that I love and admire. The advice she gave was that I didn’t lack the talent, I lacked the courage to ship. It didn’t need to be perfect, she assured me, it just needed to be a habit. Something I gave to myself each day.
People close to me have rightly pointed out that I fritter away my words on social media, choosing to hide behind the narrative I create rather than do something of substance somewhere else. And it’s true. This blog is no guarantee that I won’t still spend words on Facebook, but it’s also a commitment to put my own voice into the world.