The Quirky Universe

In John Green’s remarkable new novel “The Fault in Our Stars,” the main character and her father are discussing what they believe, the purpose of life and the dad says something that I’ve been mulling over for the past month, since I finished the book. The dad says: “I believe the universe wants to be noticed.”

Huh. The universe? Wants to be noticed?

The “elegant universe in ceaseless motion,” as Green puts it? That one?

You mean, starry skies and slippy slugs? Fuzzy peaches? Squashy mud?

Yup. And I realized this: I’m pretty lousy at this noticing thing.

Oh, yeah, I can attach words to other words. I can create strings of words. But I’m not convinced (and I’m just speaking for myself here) that I’m really “noticing” when I do so. Attending to. By naming, do I type and compartmentalize too quickly, too slickly? Do I label peaches “fuzzy” and mud “squashy,” sum up the experience, move on? Do I but glance at that yellow shape, that brown stuff, call the first “peach,” the second “mud,” and that is that?

As writers all we have to work with are words. But the universe offers itself, a quirky gift. Am I giving back but an easy package?

So I decided to do this, every day. For five minutes. That’s all.

Focus on something. Attend to it, with all five senses (well, within reason). And the tricky part: try not to label the sensation, to put it into words. Just be with it.

Today I ate a leftover burrito. Cold. In a styrofoam container. It was amazing! (The burrito, not the container.) Gummy cheese … but, no, no words, no writing. Just be.

Do you want to try this, too? Pick a thing, an experience … waiting for the bus in the rain, patting the dog, holding an apple. Five minutes. Be prepared for questions, if anyone sees you. (My daughter: “Mom, why are you staring creepily at that tree?”)

What gift has the universe given you today? And how might you notice it?
~Mary Quattlebaum



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4 responses to “The Quirky Universe

  1. timwynnejones

    Outside the house where I’m living in London there is a bush with the brightest blue berries on it I have ever seen. There are no leaves on the bush, now, but it snowed last night and each blue berry has a crown of white. I won’t try to describe it further; it would be far too easy to slip into sentimentality. But I’ll go give the berries another good long look.

  2. Tom Birdseye

    I tend to be overly visual, skipping past the gifts the other four senses bring my way. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I like rock climbing so much; it demands attention to tactile detail: the gritty texture of basalt, the bulge of a tiny nubbin under my fingertips, a vertical break in the stone where I can jam my fists, lie back, and do a little dance with gravity.

  3. Julie Larios

    I love what all three of you have said – Mary, your Perfect Flaneur post; Tim, those berries; Tom, the feel of the rock (hat said, please make sure that gravity always follows your dance steps, Tom, & doesn’t lead.)

  4. maryquattlebaum

    Thanks much, Julie, Tom, and Tim, for sharing your thoughts and moments. Bright berries. Basalt. Baudelaire. I have to confess: since I’ve been spent most of my adult life trying to find words, I feel a little giddy *not* doing so for five minutes a day. Subversive, somehow. Like allowing myself a sweet, thick brick of silence and sensation (instead of, oh, chocolate).

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