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Seeing Things in a New Way


We went on vacation last week to L.A. You know, smog, crowded freeways, materialism, and too many people everywhere. But weirdly, I didn’t notice any of that. More than anything, I was just struck by how nice it was to change the routine. There was nothing earth-shattering about what we did, but it was different than our regular up-early-jam-too-much-into-too-little-time days, the regular worrying about deadlines, driving the same routes, talking to the same people, and eating the same food.

Instead, we saw art and architecture and it put us in the mood to talk about ideas rather than where we have to be at 6:30 tomorrow. We walked on the beach, we took photographs of the sunset and the skyline and each other. We read books for hours. And it reminded me that changing things is good. It is hardly ever my first inclination, and sometimes when change occurs because of something or someone else, it scares the heck out of me, even makes me mad. But ultimately it makes everything better.

It reminds me of the drawer next to my bed. At this very moment, it is filled with more pens and pencils than I could ever need, a calculator, little notes I’ve written about things I want to remember, a thermometer, throat lozenges, $2.63 in loose change, and a tiny stapler from long ago when I used to grade papers in bed and would come across some wild collection of pages from a student who apparently could only find a heart-shaped paper clip. The drawer also contains many more less interesting items that are simply too tedious to mention. It is so messy that it is almost painful to look at it. And, this is the condition of this drawer most of the time, because I imagine it would just be too time-consuming to clean it up. I just get used to it. And yet, when I do toss out the dreck—when I just decide to make that drawer look different and be more useful to me, it’s wonderful. And it takes about a half hour. And then, when I look in the drawer, it’s like seeing the stuff that is important to me with fresh eyes.

When I can truly take in the fact that my own little comfortable rut often keeps me from looking beyond it to see what’s out there, it inspires me to aim for creativity before I strive for comfort.

This is how easy it is to change the smallest thing. I used to occasionally drive to work a different route than my usual one and I always felt so lucky when I’d see an egret or a hawk or even a decorative brick wall I hadn’t noticed before. It got me thinking about how much I lean toward routine because it makes me feel safe, but how the pattern and the similarity almost put me to sleep, keep me from noticing what’s right in front of me. Even driving around downtown wakes me up sometimes, when I see a house I haven’t noticed before or the way an old building stands proudly next to a new high rise.

Last week, when we were in Southern California, my eyes were everywhere—that canyon, those clouds, that palm tree, those buildings. I felt as if I’d been unconscious for a while, as if I’d been lulled into a quiet, content boredom, just happy with my messy drawer. The stimulation of being in a new place, driving on roads I don’t know in unfamiliar directions was so good for me. I’m lucky because I get to do something different like this every couple of months, but I realized on this trip that I need to remember to change when I’m just here living my regular life.

It might feel simpler to always go for my morning jog on the same route or to buy my weekly groceries at the same store, but I think I’d be better off in the long run if I did try something new occasionally. That’s how I felt last week when I was drinking my morning coffee out of a strange cup, watching people I don’t know walk past my window. It’s comforting to know that Skittles and his dad will walk past my house in Sacramento several times a day, but seeing a new dog, a different horizon, makes me think about new ideas and connect things in a novel way.

I’ve been reading a book lately that talks about letting go of the stories we’ve been telling about ourselves for our whole lives. This, of course, could be the topic of an entire blog post in itself, but it reminds me of the importance of shaking up my brain occasionally. As much as I like things to be and look and feel a certain way, I enjoy this feeling of not knowing what’s next, or what’s around that corner, or what the air feels like in a different place. When I can truly take in the fact that my own little comfortable rut often keeps me from looking beyond it to see what’s out there, it inspires me to aim for creativity before I strive for comfort.

There are so many ways to do things, so many colors and clouds and cars and people and ideas. I have only so much time ahead of me. I’d like to spend a good part of this next phase seeing what I haven’t yet seen, noticing things I may have been too deep in thought to notice. I like traveling because it’s fun and it’s an adventure. I like it even better because it forces me out of my sameness and makes me think about things in a new way. I want to remember to keep bringing those changes home with me, to sort through them like I do with trip photographs and souvenirs, to encourage myself to tell new stories and see things with fresh eyes.