Have you ever had one of those moments where time seems to slow down and the details of the scene are so clear and memorable that they become almost crystallized in your mind? When you can look back, even some time later, and describe the embroidery on the shirt of the person sitting next to you or the exact scent of the air? Normally when these occur, I’ll turn around and write poetry about it, but they have traditionally been few and far between, which is why my poetry portfolio is so pathetically sparse (I’ve only written maybe three or four poems that I would term ‘good,’ while I have at least passably-decent prose coming out the yin yang).
These moments have been occurring more frequently; I’ve had two of these in the past week, where time was slowed down to the point where I was aware of my blinks, of my heart rate, the sound of traffic. Suddenly, I’ll go through a sensory overload, as though the overbearing power of the world somehow slipped through my brain’s natural defense mechanisms. Imagine you were chewing on a piece of hour-old Doublemint Gum that without warning turned into an Altoid. I guess it shows just how media-centric our society is, but it always makes me feel like I’m in a movie with a slow-motion scene, and since those are generally some of the most important scenes in the movie, after time has caught back up with me, I feel as though I lived through something momentous and inspiring.
This doesn’t have to be with things that actually are momentous–for example, it happened earlier this week when I was sitting in Barnes and Noble. (Yes, I go to the big conglomerate chain bookstore. So sue me.) As I was getting ready to peel an orange, I glanced up and caught sight of the window washers outside the window, and boom–time slowed while my mind raced. I noticed every detail of the soapy water, of the way they hunched under the awning that stretched over them, of the technique they used for the squeegees. They didn’t speak, but seemed to know exactly what to do without discussing it, and I didn’t snap out of my trance (if that’s what it was) until one glanced up and caught sight of me staring at them. This certainly wasn’t momentous, but it was definitely inspiring.
My mind began to shoot off the types of questions creative writing classes always encourage: What are their names and what do they get paid and do they work for barnes and noble or do they work for a contracting company or are they self employed and do they enjoy their work and do they feel like it is work and are they afraid of heights and do they trust the wires holding them up or do they take it for granted and what do they do in the winter season and have they ever been injured on the job and have they ever seen anything they weren’t supposed to see through a window they were washing and did they get caught and did that make them feel like peeping toms or did they feel it was all in the line of duty and are they in a union and what do they think I’m thinking right now?
I felt like I was in a stream-of-consciousness poem, as though Allen Ginsberg were trapped in my head and fighting to get out. I should also say that it wasn’t necessarily pleasant, partly because it’ll be incredibly difficult to write anything with any kind of rhythm and depth with the word “squeegee” in it (“Across the glass he drew the squeegee / A pointer in the game of Oijui”), and also because it made me realize how out-of-touch I normally am. Why is it that I don’t connect that way with everyone I see? I’ve always enjoyed people-watching (what writer doesn’t), but it normally isn’t that personal for me; it’s generally a sort of vague curiosity about the world around me, not really an interest about the world around them.
Regardless, I think John Fowels described it best in The French Lieutenant’s Woman (which has been tying into my life remarkably well recently):
He felt himself in suspension between the two world, the warm, neat civilization behind his back, the cool, dark mystery outside. We all write poems; it is simply that poets are the ones who write in words.