This One Somewhere: On Paying Attention

Lying half-asleep, listening — little dog having a fit, chatter of two people walking past, a child’s high-pitched piping in what I am startled to realize is English, mutter of a small boat motor. Tink tink chunk of workmen — no drills, no electric saws — old-fashioned noises of hand tool on old plaster. No: shift and grr of trucks, no whine of car tires, no rattle of loose muffler. I get up and look out the window at my morning Venice: this small canal that is my neighbor, its high wall companion, and the cobbled quay. I see one of the two kinds of people Italy seems to be full of — this one: old woman in shapeless shift pulling her shopping bag on wheels. (The other group in Italy are men somewhere between the ages of 25 and 35 who seem to have found themselves jobs that don’t require them to do much and they don’t do much of it, and what there is to be done annoys them slightly, constantly.) Chill of stone sill under my elbows. The canal’s water is a uniform gray-green, as if it is some substance other than water, something viscous or jelled. One yellowed leaf floats slowly on its back toward me on the subtle vestige of incoming tide. Arc of a bridge down beyond the small plaza. A neighbor is humming somewhere. Church bells suddenly demand attention. Come. Come. Come. Gather. Faint smells: sea, or the dead things of the sea, pee, and coffee. I turn my back to the window to reach for the coffee. Tick tick tick of passing heels. What does this have to do with writing? Just the pleasure of paying attention, of drawing in the world in sips and sniffs. World in the ears. World on skin.

Rilke wrote that travel, to him, was part of doing the work of writing. Anything could be inspirational, and his work was to open himself to that anything, wherever, whenever. As good excuse as any.

Someone else said that the writer is someone on whom nothing is lost.

Where are you?


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