Descending upright among staring fish

Here is one of my favorite quotes. It is from Transparent Things by Vladimir Nabokov:

When we concentrate on a material object, whatever its situation, the very act of attention may lead to our involuntarily sinking into the history of that object. Novices must learn to skim over matter if they want matter to stay at the exact level of the moment. Transparent things, through which the past shines!

Descending among the fish

Man-made objects, or natural ones, inert in themselves but much used by careless life (you are thinking, and quite rightly so, of a hillside stone over which a multitude of small animals have scurried in the course of incalculable seasons) are particularly difficult to keep in surface focus: novices fall through the surface, humming happily to themselves, and are soon reveling with childish abandon in the story of this stone, of that heath. I shall explain. A thin veneer of immediate reality is spread over natural and artificial matter, and whoever wishes to remain the the now, with the now, on the now, should please not break its tension film. Otherwise the inexperienced miracle-worker will find himself no longer walking on water but descending upright among staring fish.”

When I was around 7 or 8 years old, I remember laying in the grass on the front lawn of my house on a cool summer day. I lived in Rock Island, Illinois, a small town on the Mississippi river. We lived in a redwood ranch house on a quiet street with a court at the end of it where I played circle ball and other games with my friends. In the backyard was a ravine. Later they cut down the trees on the other side of the creek and built houses, but then it was still all woods in the back. The front lawn was covered with grass. It felt cool and it smelled green. I looked up into the sky and felt like an infinitesimal speck in the great universe. Then I rolled over onto my stomach and looked into the grass. I watched the ants crawling and felt the stems of the grass tickling my cheeks. I thought if I could go into that piece of grass, if I could become just a tiny speck, that blade of grass could be a whole universe. When I read this passage, it reminded me of that feeling.
When I began my Waldorf teacher training, one of the meditation exercises we learned was to contemplate a pencil. Chapter 3 gives a lovely description of a pencil, going back to the time it was a particular pine tree that was cut down and some crystallized carbon.
Uh-oh. I think I’m sinking again!

I am a writer, handworker, artist and teacher (a WHAT!), and a mom of two beautiful daughters who are amazingly 17 and 21. I am working on getting my first book, a fantasy novel for young people, published and am busy spinning on my new spinning wheel. I have been a Waldorf early childhood teacher for 10 years now, and before that, I was a lawyer. Teaching is much more fun.

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