Awareness. Is awareness one of the ten values I will name preparing for my Bat Mitzvah? The word feels strange on my tongue. Aware meaning cognizant, conscious, alert. Ness, a suffix attached to an adjective or a participle to form an abstract noun that denotes a quality or a state. Such as: goodness, kindness, darkness. A synonym of awareness is mindful; an antonym, oblivious.
Last Friday, before the snow that fell over the weekend, I drove home, pulled into the garage, and as I stepped into the kitchen, Dick said, “How do you like your fields?”
He’s like that. No hello. A quick question. After all these years, I still can’t take a breath. I blurt. “What fields?”
“Out by the driveway. Didn’t you notice them?”
I’d asked to have those fields cut down at the end of summer, but neither Paul nor Matt, the two men who run the lawn crew had managed to get the job done. Then, Matt had a stroke, and the fields became unimportant. I figured someone on the crew would cut them down in the spring. But Paul arrived. Probably, he’d listened to the weather report. I hooked the dogs to their leashes and walked outside. Tall stalks of dried grass lay on the ground like pick up sticks, small birds foraging.
To be aware. To notice. To take in. That’s my job as a writer. So why, when I’m not in my writing space—space being both a state of mind and a place—do I check out? Because awareness is hard. To be present, cognizant, conscious, alert. That is one edge of the knife blade for a writer. The other is a kind of drifting inside that space, what I call space around the space.
But back to my drive along the driveway. What had I been doing inside my car? Listening to a C D of George Eliot’s Middlemarch, a book I’ve wanted to reread for years, and knew I never would, so I borrowed the tapes from the library. My attention was focused on listening and on watching where I was going. Perhaps, awareness is inward as well as outward, a sifting of stimuli. And what of complete inattention, a moment last summer, sitting on a weathered wooden bench at the edge of the sea, dogs at my feet, the scent of salt, the squawk of gulls, my mind as open as the sky? Perhaps, that, too, is awareness.
Still that word, awareness, chafes. Is sentience my word? An online dictionary defines sentience: feeling or sensation as distinguished from perception or thought. No, that doesn’t work either. Perhaps what I value is sentient awareness, a place where unknowing and knowing intertwine.