July 24, 2013 by Erin
Why I Like the Smell of Snot
I’m pumped today to introduce you all to Dut. This is his first appearance on Act IV, and I must say he’s outdone himself. Don’t be thrown by the title–when you’re finished reading this thought-provoking post, you’ll probably like the smell of snot, too. Be sure to follow Dut on his blog, Revelation in Reverie.
As you all know, Erin fills the virtual space of Act IV with many thoughtful meditations on intentional living. She refuses to allow the days to roll by without trying to wring the humor, awe, and spiritual satisfaction out of the mundane and marvelous moments alike. So, when she asked me to write a guest post for Blog Wars 2013, I wanted to write something worthy of that striving. I too am a firm believer that every moment, every scene is filled to bursting with meaning just waiting to be extracted and experienced.
I tend to process the world creatively through poetry. It’s not always something I want to do, but when I sit down to write, the elusive thing that I am trying to capture is often some impression from a moment of my day that has been lingering with me. These impressions usually spring from something I’ve paid attention to: the feeling of melancholy at the end of a movie, the sight of a demolished building, the crunch of autumn leaves underfoot. They hover in the back of my mind, fading slowly like the afterimage of a bright light, until what’s left is the core an idea. And the only sensible way to reshape this thing into something recognizable is to write it into a poem. With poems, the edges can be fuzzy, the features masked in ambiguity; but the impression still lives there. Fighting to find the right word or shape a line in just the right way can be cathartic, tattooing the way you feel to the page. I don’t always succeed, though. In fact, I probably succeed less often than not. But sometimes, gems sneak out.
Let me give you an example. I wrote a poem a few years ago about the power of memory and its ability to remove you from the now, that feeling of nostalgia which is almost palpable. The inspiration for that poem came from a moment and a smell. The moment came during a dull work day spent in front of a computer; the smell was snot. You know the smell I mean: when you’ve had a bad cold for days and you start to notice the impossible smell of your own mucus pervading each sniffle. That was it. I was sick at work and smelled my own snot, and whenever I smell snot, it takes me back to when I was sick as a kid and would get to stay home from school and fall asleep on the couch watching Star Wars. Well, that moment of nostalgia got me thinking about the nature of memory and the numerous ways it is triggered for me. It took several weeks of deciphering and playing with that impression, but I wound up with a not-half-bad poem about it.
The point is this: you can find inspiration in the most unlikely places. And I don’t think inspiration must always be translated into some kind of creative work in order to be appreciated. This isn’t easy, mind you. You must choose what is sacred each moment. I, for one, am far more likely to drift through my day and let all the beauty around me go unnoticed. But how much more vibrant our world is when we stop and soak it in. When that does happen, when I can capture just a snippet of this stunning creation and force it into words—well it’s just the best.
I heard a joke recently, told by writer David Foster Wallace in a commencement speech he gave years ago, that has stuck with me for a while. It goes like this:
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”
Wallace goes on in his speech to warn the graduating seniors not to be these fish, to realize that this—this world of routine and boredom, but also grandeur—is water. Don’t be fooled.
So I encourage you to seek out significance in the insignificant. There is wonder everywhere and there are so many ways of participating in creation. Poetry is one way that I personally interpret the impressions of meaning and beauty that sometimes penetrate my bubble and make my eyes unaccustomed to what I see around me.