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Monday, January 8, 2001

I can't remember when I had a more relaxing day than yesterday. I worked some, but it was so cold that I spent most of the day in the loft, reading or just letting my mind take in the sights and sounds around me (and coming downstairs once in a while to check on the football games).

I finished Patricia Cornwell's most recent novel, The Last Precinct. I've read Cornwell before, and though her plot and characters aren't quite compelling enough to hold my interest, I love her descriptions of autopsies, anatomy, the various processes of the human body, and crime scene techniques.

The level of detail she goes into to define precisely how a crime was committed gives me an odd (and awed) perspective on the minute details of everyday life. What she does is to freeze a moment in time. In the book it's a moment of violent death, but I think about any ordinary second of an ordinary day, and I marvel at the kaleidoscope of sensory experiences that come together to make that moment unique.

Moments aren't frozen in time, of course. One leads to another in an endless progression, the details of each one forgotten as it becomes part of a fluid memory. Each moment is like a page in a flip-book. Alone, out of context, it makes little sense, but if we look closely at it we can see details that aren't noticed when it flits by as part of a whole.

The awareness it takes to be in the moment is a faculty that has to be learned, I think. Religions and philosophies have been developed around the learning. Or maybe it's a re-learning, because infants live very much in the moment. Every sensation is new and vivid, and until time allows for some perspective, as far as a baby knows, "now" is all there is.

This state of immediate awareness doesn't last long, though, because babies learn so much so quickly. That uncomfortable wet diaper, it is discovered, doesn't have to be the permanent condition it at first seems, because a particular type of wail will get it changed.

Learning to alter the current condition by manipulating others leads to the discovery of time, that the future can be different from the past.

A visual artist captures a moment in time. Even a non-representational painting has this element, because we can [take the time to] study it and appreciate it for what it is.

It's hard, maybe impossible, to capture a real moment of real life that way, even in the mind, because it's composed of so many sensory experiences. What a wonderful gift, though, to have so many varied ways to make the vast and wondrous world a part of your own life. What you see and hear. What you feel against your skin. What you smell and what you taste. Each moment part of an infinite continuum, to be experienced and savored.

The world flashes by so fast these days. Maybe it always did, or maybe it always seemed to. I don't know. But we're bombarded with information and images, not just in physical three-dimensional space, but on TV sets and computer screens. And the world is so loud, every car that passes seeming to blast a different kind of noise.

Its such a comfort to be able to escape to my house in the country, where the chirruping of the birds doesn't have to compete with the sounds of a thousand different machines. Where I can look out my window and contemplate the sturdy, twisted limbs of an oak tree older than any person alive. Where the sweet scent of nature is not overwhelmed by exhaust fumes.

It's almost too much beauty to bear, but it makes me glad to be alive, each and every moment that I allow myself to stop and take it all in.

When I finished the book, I thought about it awhile, made a few notes, and then went downstairs to my new bookcases to decide what to take up next. I'm now starting North Toward Home, Willie Morris's 1967 memoir. Who needs to buy more books when I have something like that lying around? Yesterday I also finished reading A Solitary Blue, the young adult novel by Cynthia Voigt. I have no philosophical reflections about it, but I loved the depth of the characters and the truth of their emotions. This one made me feel more than it made me think.

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Latest recommendation:

On the idea of how much meaning one moment in time can have, go read Saundra's entry for today. It gave me chills.

Be sure not to miss Rob's entry for January 8. (There's only one picture of Schuyler, but I guess that'll have to do this time.)

Other recent recommendations can be found on the links page.
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I just want to be your teddy bear.