Karen K. Mason ponders how a writer is often moved toward “placing the particular against the larger backdrop”.
This can lead to a kind of being alive in the moment that “makes it possible to be aware of other dimensions of the reality I’m inhabiting”.
Alive in the Moment
by Karen K. Mason
To write, for me, is the opportunity to reflect and ruminate – and be surprised by my own spontaneous emotion if some forgotten memory should surface in the process of writing.
Of course, a lot of writing I do is like the journalistic news article, a straight presentation of what happened to whom. The challenge is then to get the story “straight”. This kind of writing or reporting requires me to concentrate on information. It’s good mental exercise that disciplines my craft and develops skills in the areas of critical thinking and communication. But when the writing task is to share my views confidently with a wider audience, the process of wrestling with a complex issue means that, as I look for the piece of the issue that speaks to me, the current topic invariably gets set against another place or time. I end up placing the particular against the larger backdrop, usually societal, that forces me to think and feel outside a knee-jerk response.
This second more exploratory kind of work is where spontaneous associations with the past leads to insight and personal learning, where being alive in the moment makes it possible to be aware of other dimensions of the reality I’m inhabiting.
If my senses are awake to the moment, being alive in the moment adds fuel to the writing process. As my craft has developed writing nonfiction essays and poetry, I’ve discovered sensory memory kicks in to recreate a scene, remind me of my feelings, provide graphic detail, give a name to the thing needing a name or at least clarify it.
No matter how lifeless a topic may first appear, as in “minimum age for a driver’s license”, the details I need to build a case, tell a story, explain a situation come from my personal archive of sensory detail, from testimony and first-person accounts. Sometimes I relive the moment, actually experience it again. More often my thinking process leads to a reconstruction, which helps me analyze the work at hand. To the extent that my senses were awake to the whole moment at the time, the moment recreates itself.
Thinking about the prompt, “minimum age for a driver’s license”, and apart from listing reasons for an argument pro or con, can I even access that period of my life? I remembered that I failed the road test, which led to this:
Once again I’m 16, being driven home by my mother from the Department of Motor Vehicles. The silence is awkward because normally Mom would be talking, but I sit quietly crying. I must retake the road-test portion of the exam. My future slips further into the distance because I don’t know if I’ll pass the test the next time. This bit opened a window for me onto a particular place and time in my life when days seemed like years.
I attribute my aptitude for life in the moment to family culture and spiritual practice. My family immigrated to America in the 1840s but our roots are in Norway, and family traditions and culture are still closely tied to that country. I’m fifth generation. My family identifies less closely with ancestors these days than in years past, but my approach to life is a die that was cast before I was 10. I had already begun to look at life through the eyes of the immigrant, thanks to the stories I heard from relatives.
When I was 25, I discovered first-hand what it means to be the foreigner. My husband’s work took us to live for years in Switzerland and later Luxembourg. We moved house many times. Moving often was a reality for my birth family, too. Each time in a new locale I noticed the many ways my otherness rubbed up against the manners of the local population, a habit that as an adult became intentional, building on my natural inclination to live in the moment.
With counter-culture shock upon returning to the US, I began to look for details in place and in people that makes something “American” or “Swiss” – looked for “thing-ness”. The practice of being awake to life for reasons of learning something new enhanced my effort to be “in” a place but not “of” it, which is a spiritual discipline.
It seems to me that what values people display transcend place and time even as they are seen in the moment. So, the spiritual practice helps me perceive the other in a context outside of the physical one we inhabit. This mode of thinking adds another dimension to being alive and leads to being alive to the intangibles that exist in the moment, a kind of out-of-body experience. These are discoveries I’ve made as a writer by developing craft.
Karen Mason was born and raised in Illinois and spent nearly 20 years in Europe as a result of her husband’s job transfers. She is a teacher by profession, an inevitable choice given her fascination with the contents of the family bookshelf before she could even read. She started writing stories as soon as she was able to write a sentence and turned seriously to poetry in college. Karen has taught writing in Illinois, Geneva and online from Luxembourg. She now lives in New Hampshire with her husband and their dog Lucy.
Karen Mason’s chapbook of poetry, Not From Around Here, published by Finishing Line Press in 2013, can be found at: https://finishinglinepress.com/product_info.php?products_id=1638.