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U is for unadulterated awe

November 20, 2012

One of the best memories of Christmas isn’t a gift, or a sight, or a meal, or the special Christmas coffee cake I’ve had every Christmas morning since at least the Carter administration. It’s a sound. A short, simple sound.

It’s the short, shallow, high-pitched sound a young child makes on walking out to the living room in the morning and seeing what Santa left this year. That little inhale that’s limited only by your child or grandchild’s ability to take in air.

For you, it’s something you bought and stayed up to put together when he really wanted to be sleeping. It’s the dog that you’ll have to walk and pick up after all the way until your princess or prince starts looking at colleges. It’s the swing set they’ll use for about six months until they figure out the front yard is more fun than the back yard.

Christmas List? The Stand was shorter.

For them, it’s the biggest, best surprise they could imagine–something so grand and amazing, they didn’t even consider it when making their Michener-length Christmas list that particular year. (Centennial was about 1200 pages long. If you count the verbal entries, all the pages in all the books of the world wouldn’t fit a kid’s Christmas list. Stephen King’s childhood Christmas list was probably longer than The Stand.)

As adults, beaten into submission by mortgages and performance appraisals, annoyed spouses, cranky children, and assorted soul-sucking realities of life, we lose the ability sometimes to produce that amazed, almost-involuntary inhale when a surprise overwhelms the things we thought were possible. Modern life requires a certain level of cynicism.

Unless you’re a writer. If you’re a writer, you have to find a way to keep that sense of wonder. The things that seem common-place to others have to wow us. We have to see the possibilities in what everyone else sees as the mundane. It’s the only way to make stories, to see the possibilities in the mundane.

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