The Fuel of Life

Photo credit: Quino Al 

Photo credit: Quino Al 

About nine years ago I made a decision to stop writing nonfiction columns and focus entirely on fiction. Specifically, novels.

Which is like switching from sprinting to running marathons.

Practice sessions which used to be, oh, two-hour, 400-word stints, stretched to four-month lengths and a hundred thousand words. Over and over again.

To sustain this kind of work, it takes fuel. And that fuel comes from a place that sounds surprising, even as I type it right now.

It comes from wondering.

One of the most important things I do every day at my desk is keep the wonder going. Every kind of wonder. From the simple, what is that? To the more complex: how is that? Or why is that? Or what if this?

Wonder ranges from quirky fun, to curiosity, to complex mental questions, to knee-bending, transcendent awe.

Wonder isn't just writer-fuel. It's brain fuel. Life fuel.

In 1997, journalist Florence Shinkle of the St. Louis Post Dispatch wrote an article on neurosurgeon Leopold Hofstatter, then 92 years old. Hofstatter's mind was as sharp and insightful as ever, which made Shinkle marvel.

After spending time studying the man's work and life, she concluded this. "One thing his life demonstrates is that the quest for knowledge is not only noble, it's healthful, stimulating dendrite growth the way hard physical training builds muscles. We are designed in such a way that our biology is rewarded for our deepest question-asking."

Wondering is very, very good for human beings. Not only does it develop brain strength and ability, it also develops soul muscle. Wondering takes us out of ourselves by expanding the reach of our thoughts. An expanded reach is good for story-writing. For problem-solving. For enriching lives--mine and yours.

Here is an unedited random sample of a few of the things I've been wondering about, past and present.

1.  What if the brain announced dreams like movie theaters do? "Tonight showing..." Would that help you get to sleep or not?

2.  What if people responded to heat the way popcorn does? And popped off their beach towels at Santa Monica or Gulf Shores? What would happen to them then?

3.  Is there a deeper meaning behind Spider Solitaire? Really.

4.  Consider that every human being is an art-maker. Everything we do is a daily work of art--in our work, our home, our family relationships, friendships, the shape of our lives--it's all art. How would seeing it like that change what we do each day?

5.  How does the geography of the area in which I live shape my life?

6.  How is the selection of conversational topics a family trait?

7.  If you type the word "replied" too fast, it sometimes comes out "pre-lied" instead. How does one "pre-lie?" Is that the lie's set-up? Or is it like when something is not a lie now, but will be in the future? Can that happen?

8.  When are "givens" not always true?

9.  A famous quote begins, "Hell hath no fury like..." We talk about the fury of hell; what about the fury of heaven? Which should we fear more?

10.  This after seeing a newsstand headline--what exactly is a natural cause of death for a two-headed snake?

11.  Why is it easier to be bold and confident when you've got someone to be bold and confident for?

12.  Why does knowing the heart of God render any jealousy obsolete?

What are you wondering about today?

Photo credit: Joshua Sortino 

Photo credit: Joshua Sortino