23: “Creative Reading” (R. W. Emerson)

        “There is then creative reading as well as creative writing.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
        “If you aren’t paying attention, you don’t even know that you have a choice.” -a student of fourteen, as quoted by David Mochel

        Creative reading: that’s the class I want to take. Reading, perceiving can be so active. Too often I’m only listening, or worse, I’m plugged in and letting my ears hear. It’s like the old idea about acting versus reacting: when I start just reacting to stimulus, I’m a pinball bouncing through the machine. When I start consuming entertainment, I’m often passively accepting another’s view of the world. And then, as far as I can see, which isn’t far in that moment, their view becomes my landscape. Maybe I like their view, and where it leads; maybe I don’t. But how would I know, if I don’t consider or even notice the story, the perspective? I think we can each choose our own creative, thoughtful view on the world, but it isn’t easy. It takes paying attention. It takes choosing my responses, and the stories I tell myself. It takes creative reading.
        Lately I’ve been thinking about two good reasons to pay attention: first, there’s me, and second, there’s the world. Sure, sitting back and being entertained can give me a buzz, but I don’t think I’ve ever found being entertained as truly rewarding as setting off on a good adventure or settling in to a silly afternoon. When we pay attention, we let ourselves see who we really are, and our own heart is the only one we get–if we choose to look at it, and know it enough to listen to its murmurs and feel its pulse. When we pay attention we get to choose to have that heart, and to direct its work.
        Creative reading also makes world the deeper. Learning about photosynthesis helps me see even more beauty in the trees. Running my hands along a stone lets me feel the rough of its side, the cool of its silence. When I pay attention, people become people, instead of objects to be manipulated, used, and cast aside. I get to take part in the symphony of wondering together.
        Then, after pausing, noticing my own eyes and reading (creatively, and as clearly as I can) something in the world, I get to choose what to do. There’s a lot the world needs. There are crops to grow, wounds to heal, and planes to fly. Paying attention lets me explore; it lets me hone whatever talents I have so that I can offer more.
        Sometimes I don’t want to. Sometimes I just want to be entertained instead. Sometimes, when I’m tired or sick, a little entertainment or relaxation seems wonderful. I think it is. But if there’s ever a voice in my head that says binge watching some TV show is actually as rewarding as wonder, work, and exploration, then I try to take that voice and dunk it into an icy pool to wake it up, or else give it some hot tea, because it must be feeling sick. After a sip of tea, that voice usually speaks a little smoother. It’s my voice, and I say I’d really rather be working with you.
        Each and every time I make a choice, I am shaping my world. And because we share, I’m shaping yours, too.

3 thoughts on “23: “Creative Reading” (R. W. Emerson)

  1. But if there’s ever a voice in my head that says binge watching some TV show is actually as rewarding as wonder, work, and exploration, then I try to take that voice and dunk it into an icy pool to wake it up, or else give it some hot tea, because it must be feeling sick.

    Do you really this is true about art, that it can never be as good as that stuff you can come up with on your own?

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    1. I don’t think that’s what I’m trying to say. Art can be wonderful: but it’s better (for me) when I pay attention to it. I’m saying that art is more meaningful when I am a creative reader, instead of a passive reader. I’m saying that I can learn from art more deeply when I’m a creative viewer, thoughtful about the stories I’m being told, the perspectives I’m being offered. And at that point, I suppose, my experience is part the author’s art and part the “stuff” I’m coming up with on my own.

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      1. oh ok, whew! Yeah, “The Tender Land: The Promise of Living” is no better than muzak if it goes in one ear and out the other. I do like to just let whatever art thing kind of wash over me when I first experience it, and then go back and try to figure out how it worked. But one of the best things I get out of art (especially music, ymmv), is momentarily forgetting the people/things/world I usually think about–forgetting that I think, or even exist–yet feeling the opposite of alone.

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