Through high school and college, I spent a collective seven years studying French. Though I never became fluent, I appreciated how learning a new language helped me see my native language differently. For the first time, I understood what a preposition was. Sure, I had always passed my English grammar tests, but the structures of my own language didn’t sink in until I began learning another one.
But it wasn’t just structures of language that I began deconstructing. It was also turns of phrase. One of my favorite French terms became: lèche-vitrine. This means “window shopping.” But a literal translation is “window licking.”
What a thought. Kind of gross. Sort of odd. Really funny.
I find it interesting that this was a term we used at all. I mean, do the French partake of window shopping at such a high rate that this term should be taught in level one French? Is every American tourist expected to blend in by licking a few windows during their visit?
I don’t know the answer to those questions, but I have come to see how I tend to window shop as part of my creative process.
For me, a window has always been an office necessity, so much so, that when I spent a year working in a brown cubicle in an advertising agency, I would often stare at the reflection of sunlight on the ceiling tiles—the only hint of the outside world that I could observe from my desk. On several occasions, my manager found me away from my cube, staring out the window in our shared space. During a few brainstorming sessions, I escaped the buzz of overhead lights by taking a notepad (pre-laptop technology) and worked out back on a picnic table where the sun shone, the birds sang, and rainbows dotted the sky. Okay. That was a bit hyperbolic, but that’s how refreshing it felt to escape the cube farm.
I spent a year in that agency before I quit to become a freelance writer. Then, I made a spare bedroom into my home office and positioned my desk directly in front of the window. When my mind needed to drift, I could watch more than only reflections of sunlight.
While I’m now in a different home office, I still have my desk in front of a window. And as I’m trying to craft, I find myself window shopping—staring out into the green canopy of my Carolina home, searching for inspiration, wrestling down my muse to put words on computer screen (no longer notepad).
But what I’ve also had to wrestle with is acknowledging the importance of that blue sky time. While it may not look productive when my feet are propped up on my desk and my eyes are watching the birds flit along the tree branches, my brain is piecing together words, structuring sentences, drafting works in progress.
It took me a few decades, but now I do understand window licking. I may not participate in the exercise by drooling over the latest Paris fashion as I stroll along storefronts. Instead, my window shopping is searching for solutions and inspiration to what I’m writing, giving my mind time to process, edit, and craft. Perhaps it doesn’t always look or feel productive in the moment, but for a creative, c’est la vie.
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