Into the Book


This is a new column by Grace Pennington entitled “Eyes of the Storyteller.” Look for new posts every other month!

Have you ever encountered a “just” guy? I know I’ve encountered several. They just wake up. Just go to work. Just do their jobs. Just come home. Just eat dinner. Just go to bed. They just live their lives, just laughing, just playing, just crying, just hugging, just talking.

A writer, however, never just does anything.

“I knew it. As soon as I saw that suit.”
“Knew what?”
“You’re a ‘just’ guy.”
“What’s a ‘just’ guy?”
“A guy just like you. Same hair. Same suit. Same shoes. Walks around, no matter what, you think ‘it’s just a store.’ ‘It’s just a bench.’ ‘It’s just a tree.’ It’s just what it is, it’s nothing more.”
“Alright, but this… is just a store.”
“I’m sure to you… it is.”
~ Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium

If you know a writer personally, or have known one at some point in the past (they’re elusive creatures) you have probable seen them forget the world around them and become entranced in some miniscule detail, some particularly bright color, some especially engrossing thought. The insect crossing their path isn’t just a bug–it becomes a character, the protagonist of its own little story, mentally anthropomorphized.. It has hopes and dreams. It probably has a significant other. It certainly has an archenemy.

I know when I was younger, I never just washed dishes. No, either I was slaving away in an orphanage scheming with my fellow inmates as we toiled through the night, or the dishwater became a roaring sea, with each plate and bowl a ship or ferry trying desperately to avoid oblivion by storm. No doll was just a doll. I believed with all my heart that somewhere inside, each toy was alive (credit Toy Story with a little bit of A Little Princess plus an overactive imagination). They had elaborate lives with enough drama and betrayal to outcheese a soap opera.

Growing older didn’t seem to cure me of this mindset. I once got sidetracked from my chores because I spent nearly twenty minutes staring at a drop of dew on a leaf and imagining what it would be like to be small enough to go inside it. The wind became the caress of God rather than just a breeze. A door is a brilliant and creative contraption that allows us to enter new places and exit old ones, not just a door.

Wonder can be cultivated. Wherever you are right now, stop and practice.

But to the non-storyteller? It’s just an ant. It’s just dishes. It’s just a toy. It’s just dew. It’s just the wind. It’s just a door.

It’s just life.

Escaping the just life, however, is not an inherent magical power granted only to writers and other creatives at birth. Wonder can be cultivated. Wherever you are right now, stop and practice. Are you outside? Look at the sky. Look at the clouds.. Find shapes in them. Notice each leaf. Surreptitiously watch each passerby and wonder where they came from and where they’re going. Are you at your desk? Notice the colors around you. See how they’re different from each other. Delight in the sharpness of a pencil. Feel the sound of the words you see on the bindings of books. Are you at the kitchen table? Take a sniff and experience the smells. Assign adjectives to them. Notice the rays of sunlight in the floating dust. See that smudge of orange juice and think about who drank it.

In no time at all, you’ll be free from just living.

And once you’ve moved away from it, you’ll find you never want to return.


Published on 21 November, 2015. Last updated on


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