Lydia M. McDermott

Lydia M. McDermott is a rhetoric and composition scholar and professor at Whitman College. She is also the Director of the Center for Writing and Speaking.

On the Value of Wonder

Recently our family increased by the size of two kittens. Sunny fell into our lives when a friend of my son found him on the side of a highway.

Sunny sniffs the iphone.

Sunny sniffs the iphone.

Sunny is a curious little kitty with a seemingly endless amount of jingling energy (literally: he wears a bell collar). He needed a fellow wonderer. Enter his polar opposite, Luna.

Luna cuddles atop Fionn's Dr. Meow shirt. Yes, we love kitties and Dr. Who!

Luna cuddles atop Fionn's Dr. Meow shirt. Yes, we love kitties and Dr. Who!

Luna is curious in a relaxed cuddly sort of way. Together, Sunny and Luna explore the house, wrestle, cuddle, get in trouble, eat our dog's food, and nap.

Our kittens remind me of two important interlocking principles in writing and creating.

1. When I watch Sunny and Luna tilt their heads in rapt attention to a beam of sunlight, I remember the value of wonder. I cannot continually produce, teach, write, administer, parent, volunteer without first pausing to wonder at life. I wonder at my children and their simple insights. Fionn, at maybe 9, once said, "I bet to aliens we look green!" What an insight into the rootedness of perspective, privilege, and power. I must always remember to see things anew, to wonder at those things I've taken for granted, like a beam of sunlight.

2. Companionship fosters wonder. Wondering in seclusion is a romantic notion I fantasize about, but to be honest, I'd rather share my wonderment with others. A couple years ago, my two littlest sons, Sawyer and Thatcher, were in their "secret lab" under a sleeping bag mixing imaginary potions. Sawyer popped his head out to proclaim that they had created Franken-piglet (he now corrects people who call the monster Frankenstein, but that is a different issue). I asked how they had accomplished this feat, to which he replied, "We took a lot of corn syrup and threw in some bacon to mold the body, and then used a giant battery to animate him!" Wonderful, literally.

So, I leave you to wonder at whatever you normally take for granted. Share your wonderment with friends and colleagues. Later, write.