The World Through a Creative’s Eyes

This time last week I was in Portland, OR, as part of an extended weekend/mini-vacation. Julia’s main goal was to secure some leather as part of her design gig, but I was all about venturing into Powell’s Books. Unlike previous visits, this time I was prepared with a pretty long list of books and authors I wanted to look for. That worked great, but even then it was almost overwhelming. I filled my basket, culled some, filled it again, and culled some more. When all was said and done I still had a basket all but overflowing with reading material.

I was standing in front of a shelf of books considering a few more possibilities. The line leading into the coffee shop extended out near to where I was standing, and this gentleman, probably in his 70s or so, asked me, “Are you going to be able to read all those books?” I said I hoped to, as that was the plan. He chuckled a little bit and moved on. A few minutes later he was back. He said, “How long do you think it will take you to read all of them?” I looked at what I had, shrugged, and said, “Well, if I started in and read just these, probably a couple months or so. Problem is I already have a bunch at home I haven’t read yet! Seems like for every one I read I get two more to take its place!”

This started a conversation that lasted several minutes. The man — I never did get his name — was eager to talk. He explained that he is dyslexic, and has only read a few books in his entire life, but that he has always admired people who read. He said as he got older he felt he could tell people who are readers, or any kind of artists, just because their view of the world is always a little different — deeper, maybe — than people who don’t. He said he had actually started writing, though it was very difficult for him, but ever since he started doing that he began to see the world in an entirely different way. I’m paraphrasing, of course, but it was an interesting little conversation, even if I didn’t have an opportunity to say much.

I think there is much to what the guy was saying. I’d never thought of it so much as a reader, but over the last couple years of writing I’ve noticed that how I view the world has changed. We talked about this in one of the workshops I participated in last year, seeing the world with “a writer’s eyes.” I’m sure other artists experience the same thing within the medium they work with. Everything we see, or hear, or smell, has the potential to be part of our art. It could just be window dressing for a scene, or even the catalyst for an entire story or novel. Certainly a song. People we meet in the street become potential characters. A building admired on a city block can become the lair of either our villain or protagonist. Even simple things, like how the light strikes a certain stretch of alley at a certain time of day, can be filed away and used in the future. None of it is just data to be processed and forgotten about, at least not for me.

That is one of my favorite things about writing that it’s given me, that won’t go away regardless of whether or not anything I do ever gets published. I enjoy that experience, and the filing away of little details that register against my senses. I’m curious to know if other creative types recognize this happening in their own day-to-day lives as well, or if I am just being overly sentimental. I like to hear those stories of lightning bolt recognition when something happens, and just blooms with inspiration.

As for Powell’s it was a glorious haul. Between this stack and what I already had in my TBR pile, I really don’t need to buy another book for about a year, I think. But I’m sure that won’t stop me. . . .

The Take:

  • Private Wars by Greg Rucka
  • A Gentleman’s Game by Greg Rucka
  • Got Fight? by Forrest Griffin
  • GI Joe — The Rise of Cobra by Max Allan Collins
  • The Real Cool Killers by Chester Himes
  • Man for Hire by Michael Harley
  • Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse by Victor Gischler
  • Down by the River by Charles Bowden
  • The Last Child by John Hart
  • Dead Boys by Richard Lange
  • This Wicked World by Richard Lange
  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
  • Fay by Larry Brown
  • Joe by Larry Brown
  • Big Bad Love by Larry Brown
  • Scar Lover by Harry Crews
  • Classic Crews by Harry Crews
  • The Knockout Artist by Harry Crews
  • Body by Harry Crews

Happily, all of these books were either used, on sale, or out of print. Some of them were all three. Score!

7 thoughts on “The World Through a Creative’s Eyes”

  1. >Fantastic post, Chris. Thanks for sharing your experience at Powells' – see, because you're a creative, you were able to appreciate the encounter you had with the gentleman and report it to us in a rich and thoughtful essay.

  2. >Thanks, Laurie. What I liked best was the idea that this guy was taking up writing at whatever age he was — late 60s, 70s, whatever. It was inspiring.

  3. >I have experienced the same thing, Chris, but in terms of photography. One begins to see the world "through the lens" in a fashion, see details, see pictures waiting to be taken, color, pattern, juxtapositions. I love Powell's, we go there whenever we're in Portland. One of these days I'll get to the satellite store in Beaverton.

  4. >David, Larry Brown has produced some great stuff. Well worth your time.Richard, the more I dabble in photography the more I can relate to what you're saying. I'm not surprised at all.

  5. >gooood luck with Infinite Jest! (I gave up years ago!)As a visual design person,I always see things that are postcards for my memorybank. Exactly: the light hitting a certain building texture, the west mesa's volcanoes and the reflection of dusk, a crappy side of another building's worn out facade. My life's events often seem like chapters someone needs to write (not me), especially with this wild client case work I am doing. I think it was truly brave and honest of the guy you met to admit what he couldn't do well and describe how he saw other folsk that had adapted. I bet he's looking for that same deeper view in himself–without reading and getting frustrated over the mixing up of words. I think you had a magical encounter-with a guy who enjoyed the hell out of talking to you.

  6. >It's funny how I now see things in a different light, ever since I started to serious up with writing.Almost every encounter I have, whether by planned, by chance or observing from afar, takes on a different meaning and a greater appreciation of life in general.Fantastic essay.

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