One time I found a book left behind in a vacation house that changed the way I saw the world. So on a recent trip to southern Florida with our family, I only brought one book, knowing another one would be waiting for me.
The walls of the house we were renting were thick with books. There were stacks of books on art and architecture, famous artists and interior design. Rows of Spanish encyclopedias, storybooks, and travel guides. But nothing called to me.
Until one day when I was ready for something new to read. I let my eyes glide over the built-in shelves by the piano. Eventually they landed on the title English Literature, a former library book with a faded red fabric cover and Bible-thin pages.
I had loved old English Literature in college, but after graduating, the force of getting on in the world pushed Donne and Milton into the dusty corners of my consciousness.
I found myself opening a page to the Romantic Poets and feeling a part of me come alive again. I copied down a poem from Lord Byron that my dad had recited at my wedding, and a poem by Wordsworth about daffodils, and another by John Keats called “Ode to Melancholy.” I read about the anguish and messiness of their lives and found solace in the flawed humanity of these revered greats.
Soon I began writing about the lizards who stared at me upside-down from the laundry shed walls and the patterns that palm fronds made when they grew toward the sun. When we returned home, I wrote poems about spider webs glistening at dawn and ripening figs falling to the ground. I allowed a familiar old sensibility to help me revise my memoir, and it began to sound more like me and less like the popular authors I thought I should sound like.
And I saw how, by relinquishing a little control, by giving my decision-making mind a break, I allowed something more mysterious and wise to enter.