I have stumbled across a sublime, exhilarating creative practice I must share with you.
It’s from Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg, which I bought recently on a whim. I think I really love this book, but I’m not sure yet except for this bit that I am on fire about:
The practice of noticing.
Allow me to quote Mr. Klinkenborg:
“So what is noticing?
A pinpoint of awareness,
The detail that stand out among all the details.
It’s catching your sleeve on the thorn of the thing you
And paying attention as you free yourself…
“What do you notice? Whatever you notice.
Behavior, thought, overheard words, light, resemblance,
Emotion, totality, particularity,
Whatever you find in the habitat of your perceptions,
Anything, no matter how minute,
Whether you’re working or reading or taking the
The pattern is particular to you,
An element in what gets construed as ‘style.'”
Okay, about now you might be thinking, “Noticing and perhaps keeping a writer’s notebook – girlfriend, that’s as basic as writing advice gets. So what’s getting you so excited, Jen?” Read this next part and then I can explain.
“What you notice has no meaning.
Be sure to assign it none.
It doesn’t represent or symbolize
Or belong to some world theory allegory of perception.
Don’t put words to it.
And don’t collect it. Let it slip away.
Be patience for the next thing you notice.
“There’s always an urge among writers
To turn fleeting observations and momentary glimpses
Into metaphors and “material” as quickly as possible,
As if every perception ended in a trope,
As if the writer were a dynamo
Turning the world into words.
The goal is the opposite:
To get your words, your phrases,
As close as you can to the solidity,
The materiality of the world you’re noticing.”
It’s these last two paragraphs that caused the top of my mind to flap open and let out a long exhale.
You see, I am a compulsive meaning maker. I’m also a compulsive maker. I’m either thinking about what something means – spiritually, philosophically, globally – or I am considering how I can “make” something out of whatever I am experiencing – a story, a painting, a self-understanding. It is beautiful that I do this and it can become a frustrating substitute for the direct experience of living. From which meaning and art naturally arise.
It also can char my creative heart from endeavoring to make all that meaning. Life doesn’t get to enter me, be absorbed, replenish me like the rain replenishes the aquifer.
“What you notice has no meaning.
Be sure to assign it none.”
“Don’t put words to it.
And don’t collect it. Let it slip away.”
So on Saturday, I was running out on the prairie. The Front Range to my left. Flying saucer clouds hovering across the bright sky. Running, I remembered this passage. I decided to notice.
It was so amazing. Just like that, I stopped assigning meaning or words or the need to make.
Instead of trying to name the clouds in some original way or even labeling them as “clouds,” I took in color, shape… no, that isn’t quite it. I noticed. The dogs ran past, a tumbleweed coming out of a fence post, horse poop. I kept dropping out of my naming word meaning making mind and… apprehending.
I would notice something and it was POW! that is that. Here and there, my mind would try to find the name of _____ or make up a story about it. I would drop that and take in something else.
I noticed a shiver. A faint nausea. Prairie dogs chirping. Dry mouth. The thud of my feet. A spray of cold mud on the back o my leg.
It was an uncomfortable run – I wasn’t feeling great – and it was completely creatively refreshing.
Of course, I’m continuing to notice. Buds on trees. Afternoon light on dust bunnies. Tangerines in a bowl. Full moon illuminating the frozen water bubbles on Dream Lake (that’s a real lake, not a metaphor).
I must stress this is not something you add to your to-do list. It’s the exact opposite. It’s a vacation for your writing-creating-meaning-making self. It fills you up without it being about filling you up. And yes, it is similar to some forms of meditation and yet different. Experiment to see what I mean.
A last bit from Several Short Sentences About Writing:
“What you get in return for this gathering and releasing,
Is habit, ease, trust, and a sense of abundance that sustains
And your mind never relinquishes what really matters.”
Try it. I hope you find it as luminous as I do.
P.S. We may have two spots opening up in Writing Personal Stories for Fun and Profit, March 31-April 3 at my new house here in Colorado! We will know in just over a week. We will do this practice as a group, then talk about what it was like. I love the writing prompts, readings, and thoughts on stories I’m gathering…and am delighted to share my house with 10 writers. The women who have gathered already are so welcoming so keep an eye out for an opening.