March 26, 2017


The previous owners of our house left a face” on the big tree in the backyard; when I stare out the window in the morning, just before sunrise, I see the shadows of the face on the bark of the tree, overlooking the yard with purpose. The look on the face is not menacing, but instead omnipotent: I can see everything in my sight, I notice everything in front of me, I never close my eyes.”

When the weather warms up, I will take the face off the tree. Until then, I glance at it every morning; it reminds me to notice, to see everything else that I often overlook. It reminds me to pay attention.

From this year’s acceptance speech for the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, by Michelle Dean:

What a writer is supposed to do is pay attention. A good novelist pays attention to his characters. A good biographer pays attention to the documents before her. A good critic pays close attention to the thing she’s brought to evaluate.

Paying attention is the only thing that guarantees insight. It is the only real weapon we have against power, too. You can’t fight things you can’t actually see. The power a writer has is the power to make things visible, and they are the things that we don’t typically look at or think about. Telling a story about someone has enormous power. People forget a headline. They remember a story.