Observe More Than You Can

It is easy to get caught up in our chaotic lives and forget to look around. As Wordsworth so poetically put it, “The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.” As I scribbled down deadlines and due dates for this term, I was more than pleased when I learned what my Compositional Improvisation homework is. The entire course description consisted of three sentences:

Pay attention to more than you can pay attention to. Every day. Come to residency prepared to share some of what you learned.

As writers, this is perhaps the best advice we can follow and the best practice to get into. My residency is in June, and my goal is to fill an entire notebook with the details I pay attention to and the things I notice.

I take my writing like my cycling, and I work to regularly exercise my creativity. One of the things I plan to include in this notebook are these little pushes. Just like when I’m peddling away, I push myself to the cadence of a song until I am exhausted and can hardly keep upright.  These word sprints are important workouts for my creativity.

Today Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” came on my Pandora station and I grabbed my notebook and pushed the words as fast as I could. By the time I finished, my mind was empty. It is a rarity for me to find those moments of internal solitude.

I listen to music constantly. It helps slow my racing mind. When a song strikes me, I stop and complete a word sprint. Sometimes I do several a day. Sometimes I can barely manage one. The important thing here is to make a habit of writing and observing.

As I look back over what I have collected so far in my notebook, I am finding that my observations are like little obsessions. The things I notice, I obsess over. My mind works in fragments and strange associations, and by keeping this notebook, I have picked up on patterns and inspirations I might have otherwise missed. I tend to get lost in the moment. I blend fiction with my observations (I live so much in my head that there is often very little differentiating between the two).

Here’s a little sample of my notebook:

  • Sauce dangles from the tip of her nose. She eats face first, full of enthusiasm.
  • His crooked half smile and that one brown tendril of curly hair that falls forward, out of his hat.
  • This hole that yawns inside of me. I’m beginning to think it will never be filled–that I was born empty, and that I will die empty.
  • The way Skylar is both light and heavy in my arms.
  • The sound of his voice, of his accent when he talks dirty to me. It echoes deep inside of me. Alters me.
  • When I see him, Margaret Atwood’s words haunt me: “I would like to be the air that inhabits you for a moment only. I would like to be that unnoticed and that necessary.”

I challenge you to keep such a notebook. What do you find yourself recording? What do you learn about yourself, about your creativity?