On slowing down and appreciating the little things

By Chelene Knight

appreciate the little things

With so much going on in the world and in our own individual lives, it’s easy enough to let small pieces of happiness slip through our fingers. As a writer wearing so many hats, I won’t lie, sometimes I feel like life passes me by, or that the speed at which I move (or am expected to move) causes me to miss out on all the intricate moments I remember looking forward to. Taking drawing lessons from my son, going for walks along my neighbourhood trails, and simply paying attention to the things around me. Like many, I worry that the call to slow down continues to shrink to a whisper, and even though there will always be remnants of “good” within earshot, I still strain to hear them.

Just the other week I wrote and recorded a video poem for a project and my theme was “the power of connection.” Allowing myself to fall back into poetry was a relief. As the words fell from my mouth in a tangle, I was reminded of how much time I used to spend crafting lines and stanzas and how I’d do the bulk of my revision through paying close attention to the way my tongue stumbled over certain words. I miss this intimate relationship with poetry and the moments that I spent rediscovering and unravelling it. Poetry is the connective tissue I use to build relationships and call people in to share their own stories through this epic contortion of language and page play. This act was replenishing. I realize now that I need more of this. I want to get it back.

After a one-hour Zoom call where I discussed ways to prevent and predict burnout and how to best prioritize saying no to projects that don’t align with core values or immediate priorities, I took a moment to reflect on and explore the response from the session. I pressed the pause button on the rest of my work day and decided to take the time to sit and ruminate in ideas and to outline new projects. I sat in the thickest part of creation—conceptualization. The decision to do this became an act of reclaiming space. Reclaiming time. If we know we need to listen to the body when it requires food, water, and rest, why don’t our ears perk up when we need to do something for ourselves in this way?

Perhaps like most, the pressure to move faster than we are capable of can be dense and opaque. We can’t see it, but we feel it. In our bones, in our stomachs. We don’t want to fall behind even though we know that moving too fast causes us to skip steps, ignore the gut instincts we trust so much, and ultimately fall hard into mistake after mistake. What was I losing by moving in this way? What would everyone around me think if I decided to change this and slow down?

The other day I spent an incredible hour speaking with a mentee about her ideas for new stories and her dreams for her writing. We didn’t have a formal agenda, we just listened to each other’s thoughts and questions. As soon as her face appeared on my screen, I felt my cup fill up. An exchange of energy vs one person taking all of it. This was my lightbulb moment. Any time I slow down and evaluate the work I do, it’s not difficult to see that I give so much of myself to others no matter which hat I’m wearing. If I were to put myself in a poem and describe what I saw, I’d be a tall sturdy tree with a hundred thin branches outstretched in every direction. My roots, deeply planted, bark warmed from the sun, but no water or rain in sight. But seeing this was a good thing. It told me to make sure the people whom I allow into my life give something back to me, that they contribute to refilling my cup. There is no other way to operate. I’m the only one who has control over this.

The past few months have been incredibly eventful and challenging, but at the same time I’ve been lovingly led to the decision to be more mindful about how I spend my time. It’s OK
to sit in the murky area where gratitude meets sadness, and to allow my experiences and shifts in mindset to help steer my desire to support others while still putting myself and my own needs first. These are the kinds of intentional movements that cannot happen without this common denominator of slowing down.

I went back to my notebook where I’d scribbled down my initial notes for the poem on “the power of connection.” I had a good five pages of notes, drawings, questions, doodles, images, lists, and ideas. Each moment led me to a different discovery. In revisiting these notes, I could see how the process of creation unfolded for me. I saw my stumbling blocks too.

Life is obviously made up of small moments. Single drops of water weeping into a large cup that will likely never be completely full, but I challenged myself to peer over the edge and noticed how high the water has risen. How many more drops will I need? At least taking the time to ask has got to count for something.

We are all in the midst of this never-ending pandemic, and my heart hurts from all the pain and violence that feels so close to home. And although I can admit that it’s especially difficult to find reasons to even consider and prioritize happiness, as I’m learning now, these drops of water will only increase in value.

The views expressed by Open Book columnists are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Chelene Knight is the author of the poetry collection Braided Skin and the memoir Dear Current Occupant, winner of the 2018 Vancouver Book Award. Her essays have appeared in multiple Canadian and American literary journals, plus the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. Her work is anthologized in Making RoomLove Me TrueSustenanceThe Summer Book, and Black Writers Matter.

The Toronto Star called Knight, “one of the storytellers we need most right now.” In addition to her work as a writer, Knight is managing editor at Room, programming director for the Growing Room Festival, and CEO of #LearnWritingEssentials. She often gives talks about home, belonging and belief, inclusivity, and community building through authentic storytelling. 

Knight is currently working on Junie, a novel set in Vancouver’s Hogan’s Alley, forthcoming in 2020.