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Everyone is born with a superpower. Mine manifests in knowing when someone has had a haircut. Useful? No. World-saving? Not really. But “have you just had your hair cut?” and “Oh yes, how did you know?” are my little moments to bask in the feeling of being super-human.
We’ve all had this experience, a sense that our instinct aligns with our observation. One of my good friends believes that every time she walks by a lamppost, it flickers. My barista in LA claims that often, before a customer orders, she already knows what they'll choose.
Now I am not someone who believes in pseudo-science-magic (although entangled protons are quite intriguing); conjuring and telepathy are to me as dusty as the Victorian tables upon which they were once practiced.
But I do believe in the Sherlock Holmes principal: we are far more inventive, complex and aware than we assume. Each of us – even with the lack of any alien origin, radioactive spider, bat cave or carbonite armor – is born with the power of paying close attention.
Five years ago, I was too busy to pay attention. I was an aspiring filmmaker, a workaholic, and living in an IKEA-outfitted studio in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake hills. Silver Lake was the hipster haven of Hollywood, where musicians, artists, and families were as plentiful as the many flowering citrus and avocado trees. Down from my studio, past the house dotted rolling hills of Silver Lake, West Sunset Boulevard stretched across the length of the neighborhood.
In a quick bicycle ride, I could attend a yoga class, haunt my local coffee shop, lunch on a vegan setain burrito, and make it home before noon. In a city known for its billboards, freeways and fakery, Silver Lake had an earthy, close-knit feel that I loved. It was also ideally located: a quick drive (in LA terms) to my work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
I worked as a media consultant and storyteller for NASA, where I collaborated with their knowledge management department to find innovative ways to capture stories and the knowledge they transmit.
By day I worked with innovators, scientists and space explorers, and by night I ran my own production company, writing scripts and making films.
Every morning I took an hour or two as my personal “studio time,” or more precisely, my meditation time: time to write, play, and dream up new films and scripts.
For about a year, the same image had been appearing over and over again in my mind: a woman hidden under layers of sweaters tucked behind a wooden counter in a bookshop by the sea in Scotland.
I assumed it was the beginning to a wonderful film, until one morning the girl behind the counter suddenly looked up and she wasn’t a character or a heroine for my new film. She looked exactly like me.
Days passed and I couldn’t shake the eerie feeling of the image. Had my voracious film-watching finally gone to my head? Or perhaps this was burnout from work and the hot LA sun, resulting in hallucinations of a simpler, colder life? Or perhaps, just perhaps, this was my subconscious showing me something meaningful, important, and above all, mysterious.
Typing “used bookshop” into Google, Wigtown appeared. Feeling a bit like an explorer happening upon treasure in a jungle, the link lead me to Scotland’s National Book Town, filled with bookshops located right by the sea, just as in my vision.
I contacted “The Bookshop,” the largest second hand bookshop in Scotland and described myself as an American looking for a work/life holiday. After a couple of emails back and forth, I booked my ticket. Five years later, with many an adventure, discoveries of love, and book writing in between, I am still there.
What we choose to devote our attention to, and what we choose to let pass us by, is one of the most powerful tools within our human arsenal. The trick is to always be aware. Psychologists will say that once someone is awake and aware, it allows for the possibility for growth; simply because “if you can see it, you can change it.”
Quantum physics would argue that just by observing, we are changing and collaborating with the fabric of reality. But this tool – this power – can be applied on an even simpler scale. (Just consider what you’ve taken away from this article, for example.) For the true super power lies not in grand concepts or Scottish visions, but in what we take away from our everyday existence.