Self-consciousness is the curse of the city and all that sophistication implies. It is the glimpse of oneself in a storefront window, the unbidden awareness of reactions on the faces of other people—the novelist’s world, not the poet’s. I’ve lived there. I remember what the city has to offer: human companionship, major-league baseball, and a clatter of quickening stimulus like a rush from strong drugs that leaves you drained. I remember how you bide your time in the city, and think, if you stop to think, “next year… I’ll start living; next year…I’ll start my life.” Innocence is a better world.
Innocence sees that this is it, and finds it world enough, and time…It is not lost to us; the world is a better place than that. Like any other of the spirit’s good gifts, it is there if you want it, free for the asking, as has been stressed by stronger words than mine…What I call innocence is the spirit’s unself-conscious state at any moment of pure devotion to any object. It is at once a receptiveness and total concentration.
If you wish to tell me that the city offers galleries, I’ll pour you a drink and enjoy your company while it lasts; but I’ll bear with me to my grave those pure moments at the Tate (was it the Tate?) where I stood planted, open-mouthed, born, before that one particular canvas, that river, up to my neck, gasping, lost, receding into watercolor depth and depth to the vanishing point, buoyant, awed, and had to be literally hauled away. These are our few live seasons. Let us live them as purely as we can, in the present.
–Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, p. 82