On Wonder's Clear-Eyed Vision
By Christine Carron
A child's world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.
- Rachel Carson, Help Your Child to Wonder
In my early thirties, I took a sabbatical between corporate jobs and went to live in the south of France for eighteen months. I took French lessons at a school with a bunch of American undergrads.
The school organized a bus trip to Monaco, and I signed up. One of the outings on the itinerary was an evening at Le Casino de Monte Carlo. Yes, the very same casino where James Bond, more than once, got up to secret agent shenanigans.
From Hostel to Holy Cow!
The contrast was divine: going from our austere youth hostel to swanking around in one of the most famous casinos in the world. I wandered off on my own, and though I was not a complete bumpkin, I was not exactly chill about the casino’s beauty and opulence.
Holy cow, so not chill!
I walked around with my eyes wide, gaze skimming over gilded statues, ornate carvings, massive chandeliers, and endless murals – not one inch of space spared from the decadence. I admit my jaw dropped once. Or twice. (Okay, actually, I lost track of the total jaw dropped count.)
Into the Swank Deep End
Perhaps it was that wide-eyed wonder that contributed to what happened next. I totally missed the sign that indicated I was entering an area of the casino meant only for select guests, the Salon Privée. And the guy guarding the door didn’t stop me. So there I was in one of the most exclusive rooms in one of the most exclusive gambling meccas in the world, and . . . there I stayed. (I mean, why not?)
I spent the evening watching very rich folk bet (and often lose) tens of thousands of euros (or more) in games of chance. Part of me was impressed. Such sophistication. Such elegant ennui. To the games. To their losses. To their surroundings.
But a bigger part of me felt sad. All my Salon Privée compatriots seemed, at least that evening, to have lost their capacity for wonder, i.e., their ability to experience that delicious mix of surprise and admiration for something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.
In Search of Wonder
Since that evening, I’ve often thought about wonder versus its array of possible opposites: ennui, boredom, dulled, cynical, jaded. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to pick wonder every time.
As a human being, I want to live a wonder-filled life. As a writer, I want to create wonder-filled moments on the page. Moments that result in surprise. Moments that take the reader’s breath away. To pull that off, I need access to wonder. That clear-eyed vision that Carson so eloquently exhorts in the quote opening this post.
And lately, my intention, my desire, to trigger wonder through my stories, also makes me think of one of Brené Brown’s statements about love, that “we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.”
Perhaps it is the same for wonder? That our capacity to create wonder-filled moments in our stories depends on our capacity to experience wonder ourselves?
The Soft Spell of Wonder
In my experience, there is an inherent vulnerability to wonder. It requires that we soften. Open our hearts. Allow the thing of wonder, big or small, to touch us. To impact us.
There is a magic to wonder, too. As if it is a spell. One that brings us into perfect rhythm with the present moment. In that aspect, it seems to me that wonder is mindfulness dancing.
Maybe you're a sensitive soul and are thinking, No worries. Heart wide open. Got this one covered. Bring on the wonder!
But perhaps some of you, sensitive souls or otherwise, are also thinking, Wonder is fine and good, but we also have to be tough, right? Develop a thick skin? Because let me tell you, Christine, my heart has been touched before on the writing adventure. By harsh critiques. And rejections. And don’t even get me started on those weird critique group power plays in college. None of that stuff felt so good. So I went and did what everyone said to do. I got me a thick skin. Like pachyderm-with-full-body-callouses-level thick skin!
Phew. There is truth in that last paragraph, right? The writing journey can be so tough, gutting even. Who wouldn’t want (and deserve) protection?
Toughen Up Versus Wonder Up
But therein lies one of the trickiest bits of the writing journey. One of those wily paradoxes.
Of course we must be tough. Build our capacity to set healthy boundaries, hold those boundaries, metabolize rejections, build resilience, grit, etc. But if we attempt to do those things by muzzling our connection to wonder—our ability to experience wonder—then we will hamstring the potential and power of our writing and our storytelling. We will also create a much less joy-filled writing adventure.
Think I’m exaggerating? Let’s dial-in Einstein on the matter. Here’s what he had to say about wonder: He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.
So I stand firm in my position: on the writerly adventure it is important to both toughen up and wonder up. And if you’re buying what I’m sharing today, then it’s time to get our wonder on . . . .
The Goodjelly Wonder Up Protocol
First let’s be real and acknowledge that I have a deep capacity for wonder. Once I got gobsmacked in the middle of a Kinko’s because they had pink polka dot packing tape. Pink polka dot wrapping tape! Can you imagine? Will the wonders never cease?
No. They will not.
Not for us. Even if you are thinking you are nowhere near a wonder set point that would result in paroxysms of pleasure over packing tape, do not despair. It’s not about the tape. It’s simply about moving your set point in a more wonder-filled direction. And that is totally doable.
STEP 1: Decide It’s Possible to Wonder Up
This is about taking a growth mindset position. In order to expand wonder, you have to start from the position that it is an expandable quality. I may have an (un)naturally high wonder set point, but I’m not interested in resting on my wonder laurels. I believe with attention, time, and playfulness, I (and you) can increase our wonder ability. What say you?
STEP 2: Expand Your Wonder Range
When we expand our wonder range, we have more opportunities to experience wonder. The two most basic ways to expand your wonder range are to pay attention and to lower your wonder bar.
I proposed earlier that wonder is mindfulness dancing. That idea embodies the paying attention aspect of expanding our wonder range. Sometimes wonder can grab hold of us fast, but often it comes up on us slowly. When it trusts that we are ready for its magic. That we are paying attention.
The second way, lowering our wonder bar, is where wonder building can get seriously fun. If you are willing to play. Those sophisticates I hobnobbed with in Monaco likely were used to experiences like Le Casino Monte Carlo. I suspect they had stopped paying attention to their surroundings even though they were dripping in wonder possibilities. I also suspect they had a precipitously high wonder bar.
Perhaps you can relate. If we’ve lived long enough, most of us have a little “been there, done that, seen it all” energy inside of us. That is the part of us we have to gently manage if we want to open more to wonder. If I maintained a high wonder bar, that pink polka dot packing tape would never have delighted me to such a degree, and possibly not at all.
So lower the bar, and make it easy to wonder up.
Step 3: Protect Your Wonderer
We are back to that toughen up/wonder up paradox. To wonder well, we must feel safe, and to feel safe, we require some good protective energy flowing within us. We need a Wonder Protector.
Maybe you already have a sense of how your Wonder Protector rolls. Mine is no nonsense. Firmly believes wonder is good for the soul. Will ignore and deflect any wonder dissing or ridicule. Pretty much tunes it out, and directs me to wonder appreciators.
If you don’t have a sense of how your Wonder Protector rolls, take some time to think on it. What would make it feel safe for you to open to more wonder? Listen to what comes up. You will get a sense of what kind of protection your inner Wonderer wants, and needs, to do its wondrous thing.
STEP 4: Commit to a Daily Wonder Practice
Wonder is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. A simple way to practice wonder is to go through your day playing a version of I spy, where you are on the lookout for that special something that will evoke wonder.
Another possibility: at the beginning of the pandemic, I decided to write haiku daily. Writing haiku, as it turns out, is a great wonder-building practice. You are actively on the lookout for an image. One that will allow the haiku to turn from the mundane to the profound. Which is pretty much wonder in action.
Once you’ve built your wonder foundation with the first three steps in the protocol, it does not matter if you start your daily practice with the wonder version of I spy, or haiku, or a wonder game you create, just start. Play daily. And then watch your wonder capacity flourish. No good fairies required.
Just you and the true instinct of your clear-eyed vision. Sweet!
The Goodjelly Prompts of the Week
- Post-in-Action Prompt: For the next week, follow the The Goodjelly Wonder Up Protocol. Then assess. If it expands your wonder capacity, keep going, and keep the protocol in your writerly adventure toolbox. If not, see if you can figure out what didn’t work for you and come up with your own custom Wonder up protocol. You are worth it! Your wonder is worth it!
- Scene Prompt: Write a scene where your main character is struck by wonder. What brings it on? How does it feel in the character’s body? If possible, make it a moment of revelation for the character.
- Journaling Prompt: How wonder prone are you? Do you have a high wonder bar or a low one? Do you agree that wonder is an important quality to cultivate as a writer?
- Connection Prompt: Share this post with your writerly peeps and use it to start a conversation about wonder's usefulness in writing and on the writerly adventure.