It was Robert Frost in his essay “The Figure a Poem Makes” who wrote the indelible line which has now been overused in creative writing departments at many universities: “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.”
It’s a great line, because it highlights one of the important aspects of writing that they hardly ever teach at school. Unfortunately, for most students, they are taught that the thoughts come first, and then the writing second, when honestly the truth is reversed. It is in words almost spat out on the page that produces some kind of meaning, and then the resulting reciprocal act of looking at what you wrote produces yet more ideas.
And you go from there.
Philosopher Daniel Dennett has taken to calling this “competence before comprehension,” and the realization of this phrase in natural selection, as well as in developing and mastering skills, can totally upend the way we teach others and the way we teach ourselves.
“No surprise for the writer,” has certainly occurred here with the coronavirus, where all the press coverage and the feelings injected into our own lives has felt eerily like a movie, something we practiced in Hollywood for years, until it arrived for our comprehension. Much like any disaster we find ourselves close to, that is the reaction we give. “It’s like we’re in a movie.”
There are certain elements of combating the virus that we still have not comprehended. We still don’t quite know just how it damages so many different parts of the body in such a wide variety of patients.
But we do understand that we are in an economic downturn, which means austerity for consumers, printing money for the federal reserve, and so on.
Some of these truths can be quite painful. I haven’t eaten at a restaurant for over a month, but I have gotten food delivered or picked it up…twice.
In a month.
Which, if I understand the typical American culture of eating out, is far lower than expected.
The realized savings in all this has led me to rethink eating out in general. Do I need to go to a restaurant to eat food? What is it, exactly, that I am paying a premium amount for? Service, quality of the ingredients? Time?
Rest assured, if people have not gone through these steps in their head, they will. Because of the forced competence the world is asking them to perform, they will comprehend the world in a dramatically different way. After curbside pickup, I know that I will never set foot in this Central Market ever again. I will pay extra to not navigate their IKEA-like disaster of a layout.
I have learned how to make better coffee at home, so I will likely never buy coffee in a paper cup unless I go out with a friend.
Other painful truths is that at some points during social distancing I felt as if I had zero control over the way I felt. I send emails wildly and call people at random.
We do not get to choose what we learn. Only that it is happening right now, all the time.