Friday, October 29, 2010

Pay Attention

The essence of intelligence is skill in extracting meaning from everyday experience.

I was never a perfect actor. Who is? But I was very good. Some people even thought I was excellent. One critic wrote "His versatility is awe inspiring." But one of my flaws was missing the scenery along the way as I charged down the road to learning the role. I believed, and still do, that I needed to know the speeches perfectly before I did anything else. An actor can't accurately play a role if he has to exert the effort to remember what he is supposed to say once the performances begin.

Some actors I knew would take their time and not worry so much about memorizing. Thus they were able to know things about the play and articulate them even with the script still in their hands. I eventually caught up with them and they with me. If the playwright sets the scene in 1942 it's important for the actor to know what was going on in his character's life in 1942. It creates a background of reality that wouldn't be there if it was ignored.

I soon learned the value of that kind of awareness in my everyday life. I began to learn how many things impacted my daily experiences. Here are two examples.

I once worked for a chef. One day during a slow period we all sat down to have lunch. The chef ladled out a bowl of soup for himself. Then he took a slice of bread out of a package in the refrigerator. He normally baked bread in the morning but for lunch he would use store bought bread. I watched him as he carefully studied that slice, turning it over in his hands a few times. Finally he broke it and put it in the bowl.

I asked him if he thought there was something wrong with the bread. He said there was nothing wrong with it, and then he talked about American farmers, wheat fields, the big machinery that harvested the wheat and left it in windrows to be picked up, put into a truck and taken to where it was processed into flour. He told about how the flour would be poured into large cloth or hardy paper sacks, loaded onto trucks and delivered to consumers. He reminded us that one of those trucks delivered the slice he was about to enjoy. That really make me think. I imagined all those people, all that equipment and all that skilled labor from the farmer to the truck driver. I remembered that example because I just made myself a sandwich. I haven't forgotten.

I used to own a manual can opener that was plainly labeled "MADE IN ENGLAND." One day, as it was skillfully exposing the contents of a can of beans, I remembered reading about how English people were hard pressed for food when the Germans were bombing their farms and factories during the war, and that they survived partly on the convoys from North America which managed to elude the Wolf Pack of German U-boats sent to destroy them. Food was brought to Britain in reprocessed tin cans and thus a can opener was an essential survival tool in an English household, and I, the American, owned one, straight from the British factory that made it, across the ocean on the ship that carried it and brought by truck into the shop where I bought it.

I confess I am one of those men who if you ask me what time it is will give you a history of the watch. Young folks have no patience with that sort of intellectual plodding. But that's only because they're young folks. As a wise person once said, youth is a condition that improves daily.

So many things in life have a deep well of meaning attached to them. And we have the right and the joy to discover them if we pay attention and not let them pass us by on our headlong rush into somewhere else.

DB - the Vagabond

(This is not a contest.)

At what event of the past do you wish you could be present? Why?

5 responses so far.

Thank you.


SALAMET said...

Appreciate that article, put things into perspective. sometimes I take things for grant without appreciating the hardwork that was involved in ensuring I enjoy things in comfort. Thanks for that DB.

Sue said...

You singlehandedly slowed down my day, in a good way. My brain flits and flys in all directions, especially when doing the mundane. This might make me more aware of the moment rather than brain drifting to the next one.


Liz said...

The tin opener that you describe still requires the touch in order to reveal the next act.
The curtain waits to be raised.

Anonymous said...

I'd done many things in my life with detached observation(which can be very beneficial at certain times)before I realized that often I should have been more fully engaged with it ALL. ~Mary

Rose said...

I certainly will think twice the next time I make myself a sandwich!

I truly enjoyed this post.

I difficult it must have been to memorize all those lines and the discipline it took to be prepared on the spot.

Kudos to you Darling!

Hugs, Rose

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

The small things in life often bring the most joy.