Stories on the edge of familiarity

Unobservant, or “Differently Focused”?

Several years ago, my siblings and mom ganged up on my dad and me for April Fool’s Day by setting all the clocks in our house an hour ahead.

They pulled it off brilliantly, even changing the alarm clocks in our rooms without our noticing. The only things they couldn’t change were the phone and the stereo in my room and so they thought we’d figure it out in a couple of hours.

We went the entire day.

We probably could have gone an entire week if they hadn’t told us at supper (they had to because I needed to get somewhere on time that evening -aren’t they nice?).

It’s probably one of the best pranks that’s ever been pulled on me, and it always makes me laugh to think of it. I or one of my siblings would always tell this story to prove just how unobservant I am.

For example, whenever my mom rearranges the furniture in a room, she will take me into the room and ask me if I can tell what’s different. Fifty percent of the time, my sister will walk in five minutes later (while I’m still trying very hard to figure it out) and say:

“Oh, hey! You moved the chair into the corner.”

To some people, the changes in time or physical space are important. They pay attention to it and can tell when it changes without breaking a sweat.

Others like to people watch, paying attention to appearance, emotion, and communication. They seem to have this uncanny ability to see the ebbs and flows of the social interaction happening around them.

I’m not those people, and it made me feel like I was deficient. Like there was something wrong with me.

About a year ago, I decided that I didn’t want to think of myself as unobservant anymore. Instead, I told myself and others that we notice what we’re interested in, and the information that we glean and our desire to use it gives us an advantage and sense of familiarity in those areas. It sounded reasonable (not to mention pretty), everyone would agree, and I’d feel like a normal human being.

The only problem was that I could never figure out what it was that I noticed which meant that my self-perception in this area was stuck in a sort of uncomfortable limbo, where I never knew for sure if I was telling people the truth when I talked to them about this.

Today, I went to an art festival with my mom and my sister.

It’s been a couple of months since I wasn’t the one driving, so I got a chance to relax and watch the things around me as we went past.

Usually, that would be it, but today was a meta day. I started thinking about what I was thinking about and I was noticing commonalities between the things that caught not only my attention but my emotions.

I notice forgotten things.

Like the one woman standing at the intersection while everyone else walks away.

Or the white stain on the roof of the archway that leads into Chinatown.

The rust at the base of the metal struts on the suspension bridge that looks like it’s been frozen midmotion as it climbs over the light green paint.

The one canvas leaning against the corner of the tent, facing away from me.

A young woman waiting at the bus stop, with what appears to be all of her possessions sitting next to her contained within various bits of luggage.

The hollow side of the head of a statue of a man. And then the cavern running through the rest of his body.

I wonder what their story is.

Why have they been forgotten and/or left out? What could they tell us, if we listened? If they faded from existence, what would happen?

And I realized that these kinds of images and questions are exactly what excite me about the what I create, whether it’s books, music, art, poetry, or anything else that catches my interest.

All of this made me think about others who are like me; people who don’t see the things that they’re supposed to be able to see. Are you one of them?

If you are, I want to tell you that you are not deficient. The fact that you have a weakness only means that you also have a strength to go with it. So what if you don’t see what others do? You see things that they have never considered, and that is valuable beyond measure.

Embrace what you see, for it is beautiful.

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