Cultivating Wonder

It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.

Mark Twain

Seek great movies.

Great films, like other forms of art, have one dominant emotion: wonder. The most recent film I watched encapsulated this feeling perfectly: Licorice Pizza. If you haven’t watched it, I highly recommend it.

This movie has everything: love, curiosity, comedy, "entrepreneurship", and many interesting characters. It’s a mix of exuberance, motivation, curiosity, and a profound sense of longing. In one word: wonder.

I would characterize “wonder” as the primary feeling that drives all (of my own) creativity.

Most often, movies can induce this feeling. Books can too, but movies are quicker. Because movies are time constrained, they force intentionality - you can't have everything, only the important bits.

I think writing is a wonderful medium, but I think film can be even more powerful and relatable when done right. The thing to recognize here though is: film is dependent on writing. Writing can exist in isolation, but film cannot. Even silent films have screenplays.

Go to the theater.

Why do movies fascinate me? Because I want to feel things, and I want others to feel things. Things that for one reason or another, somebody hasn’t experienced. Things that for one reason or another, people want to experience again.

It’s nostalgia for something that I haven’t experienced. I fall in love with the characters, the setting, it’s almost as if I live on the other side of the cameras. I can extrapolate the experience to my own, but more than anything, I feel like a weight has been lifted.

For some two hours, I relinquish my chest-held beliefs and self-absorption to vest my attention in the (fictional) lives of others. In this paradoxically selfless and selfish act of watching a film, I get attached to people that don’t exist, and that I will never meet. I won’t gain anything material out of these people, and they certainly won’t acknowledge me through the screen.

I think movies evoke something that other mediums take longer to achieve. We observe the characters and try to make sense of them, more so when we see them on screen.

Given this intimate perspective into a character’s life, we might eventually merge with the character and take on their perspective. I notice this in books too, wherein you might “think like” a character for many days after finishing a novel. We see elements of ourselves in them, and elements of them in ourselves.

Children emulate the heroes they see in movies. No matter how serious you become, you’re probably doing some form of this as an adult too. The models for behavior change, but the concept is the same.

You are ultimately just a grown child looking for cues on how to behave from those that surround you. The only difference is, some adults have lost their sense of wonder.

Look in the mirror.

When the credits roll, the mirror is suddenly pointed back at me. Suddenly, I question myself: where am I and what am I doing?

Through watching others, I gain a better understanding of myself. Genuine interest in others, absorption in learning, and external focus cause you to flourish internally. This is wonder.

Something else inspires me. Fear. This fear transcends fight-or-flight; time ends all great beings. I’m afraid that tomorrow I could wake up in a nursing home, surrounded by other poor souls who made the same mistake, wondering how the past seventy years slipped away.

I want to feel happily consumed, bone-weary from all the living I’ve done; and I will. At the very least, I can confirm that I will die trying. And every day, I will look up from the footpath to appreciate my surroundings.

Get out of the house.

I wish I could remember to seek out inspiration more often: a great movie, a stirring book, or an enjoyable experience all achieve this for me. With lockdown, I think many have lost touch with this, turning inward never to come back out and see the light.

I’m optimistic and I think people will slowly poke their heads out, seeking more than a return to normalcy: they will seek a better, more intentional way of living life.

An Attempt At Poetry