Many writers try to live up to Henry James’ advice: “Be someone on whom nothing is lost.” We writers need to approach our internal and external realities in a mindful way, taking in as much as we can so that when we write description, create dialogue, and develop characters, we have plenty of material to work with. But being mindful also means we are more alert to our surroundings and, hopefully, more alive in each moment.
Of course, we’re human, and we constantly have to remind ourselves to pay attention. It doesn’t come naturally. So when I shop at my favorite grocery store, I use that time to practice what James is preaching. Not only do I have a wide range of people to look at and speculate about, but I also have so many products to savor, especially the fresh fruits and vegetables.
I’m still drooling over the display of several squash varieties that I saw yesterday during my weekly shopping blitz, each with a unique appearance. There was canary yellow along with different green varieties, one a deep forest green with tiny speckles of white, making me think of stars populating the night sky. Others were much lighter in color, more a pistachio. But all were lush and tempting.
As I walked down the aisles, I not only watched for the items on my shopping list, but I also wondered about the people I passed. Each has his/her own distinctive story, just as the squash I’ve described had its particular color. Some seemed lost in their own worlds, unaware of those around them, leaving their carts midway in the aisle so no one could pass. Others smiled and tried to make a connection. Yet here we all were in this Eden, storing up on food to nourish body and soul.
I recall someone saying that a writer lives in a state almost as magical as pregnancy. Everything that’s ingested becomes threshed into useful nourishment. That image has stayed with me, and I frequently call on it, reminding myself not to lose contact with this expectant attitude that transforms the everyday into the stuff of life—and art. I also remind myself that to “be someone on whom nothing is lost” needn’t just apply to artists. It seems a desirable way for everyone to embrace each day, alert to the possibilities inherent in each person and thing we see.