What Do You See?

As a writer, how do you PRACTICE describing what you see?

Following is one of my favorite poems that illustrates deeply seeing and then portraying what the poet observes.

Nude Descending a Staircase
© 1961 by X. J. Kennedy

Toe upon toe, a snowing flesh,
a gold of lemon, root and rind,
she sifts in sunlight down the stairs
with nothing on. Nor on her mind.
We spy beneath the banister
a constant thresh of thigh on thigh;
her lips imprint the swinging air
that parts to let her parts go by.
One-woman waterfall, she wears
her slow descent like a long cape
and pausing on the final stair,
collects her motions into shape.
I appreciate this poem because it not only succinctly describes a nude woman walking down the stairs, it creates an imagery whereby I, as the reader, also see her.  And, in her descent of the staircase, I note the action of her walking, the movement.  This is a great feat in poetry.
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We’ve seen artists with their pencils and art journals sketching what they see.  As a writer, do you practice writing word sketches?  These word sketches can be used later on in other writing that you do or to simply facilitate your ability to observe.  Either way, it’s not time wasted.
Writing Prompt:
Here’s  fun exercise.  Take yourself outdoors to a park bench and sit with your pen, a  journal and notice people, your surroundings, the array of dogs?  Find the precise words to describe the flowers, trees, any movement.  What adjectives or metaphors come to mind as you allow yourself to really see someone or something?  Jot them down.  Practice doing a word sketch…or several.
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Thank you to X.J. Kennedy for permission to print his poem.
“From In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus: New and Selected Poems (Johns Hopkins University Press), copyright 2007 by X. J. Kennedy.  By permission of the author.”

The Story of Pandora’s Box

I’m guessing you’ve read this Greek myth.

For the writer, writing has a quality of opening Pandora’s Box. When I write, I’m opening up more than my journal or notebook, I’m opening the unknown.  In the unknown, everything, all possibilities, exist.  What is going to be roused in me or you remains to be seen.  That which has remained hidden to yourself is given an opportunity to emerge. This can feel scary. Feelings can be tweaked, excavated trauma (I’ve referred to this in an earlier blog).  You decide if it’s worth bringing up again in this unearthing.

With writing (especially fiction and poetry) and art-making, there is nothing straightforward.  You don’t just sit down and write and remain unruffled.  You are taken places.  You volunteer for this journey a bit unwittingly.  “Yes, I’m a writer therefore, I write!” What you soon come to realize is that you have gone down a rabbit hole and you are being compelled as much as you have chosen the journey.

Who or what are you going to meet along the way?  White rabbits, card soldiers, tin men,  fairy queens, purple people eaters.  You don’t know.  It’s yet to be discovered.  Which Pandora’s lid is going to be opened in you?  What is going to leap out from your own inner underworlds and scare the heck out of you?  How did that get in there?  You can turn tail and run; slap your journal shut and find another interest.

Or you can continue the venture of discovery and inner sorting through the writing process.

Writing Prompt:
Consider how you manage your own writing journey.  If you are writing Non-fiction, are you less likely to encounter the unknown?  Or, in your research, do you uncover something that sends you there–into the unknown–regardless?  If you are writing fiction, do you get thrown off course when you are diverted down the rabbit hole?  What does getting back on track look like for you?  Or is the diversion where your writing really wants to go?  Is there a best way to sort the chaff from the gold and carry on?  Scan_0004

 

 

 

 

 

Opening my journal…
opening to the unknown.

Making Waffles

web22I light a candle and play soft mood music as I prepare cornmeal waffles from scratch.  With a wire whisk, I  blend the eggs and buttermilk in my favorite bowl.   I add the dry ingredients–cornmeal, flour and baking powder–to this mixture.  I stir in melted butter.  I’ve done this for countless years.  When I am present with this alchemical process, I am truly in my life.  My presence is one of the ingredients.  It is a ceremony.

Preparing an occasional gourmet meal, making a fancy dessert or mixing up a batch of waffles are some of the ways that I stay grounded.  As a writer, it is easy to float away into a world of the mind, ethereal imagination and fluid wordy inspiration.  However, hands-on, food preparation is of proportionate value to me. Isn’t it a balancing act at times?

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I love good films about humans and food.  Babette’s Feast, Chocolat, Mostly Martha, The Big Night, Julie and Julia, Eat Drink Man Woman, Chef, even Ratatouille!  Only a few of  the many wonderful films with this theme.

I am curious as to why I find these films so uplifting, satisfying and inspiring.  Possibly because they elevate something that I have valued throughout my life.  They take food preparation to a sensual and even “glamourous” height.  Food that is so basic to our survival also provides endless enjoyment.  To participate in the alchemical process of the creation of a meal and then to share the outcome with others is sublime.

Writing Prompt:
For your journal, what is something (other than writing) which you enjoy that takes you out of your head and into the moment and/or process? Do you tend to this daily?

 

 

 

Collecting Quotes

quotes2.jpgI seek, at times, (often, daily, always?) insight, clarity, truth.  I quietly quest as I go through the day.  I gather experiences, encounter others, learn lessons (sometimes reluctantly) and discover myself.

Over the years, I’ve collected quotes, though not stashed them in any orderly file. (I should, right?) I sometimes post one or two on my bulletin board. Mostly, I jot them down on a piece of notepaper. Typically, they get sandwiched between piles of papers–ideas that stand alone or that I might develop at some elusive future date. Regardless, when I happen across them as I sort, I am often touched, again, by the words of another.

Looking online, it is obvious that I’m not the only one who appreciates other people’s wise words.  These gems float on the internet, are sprinkled throughout books and magazines, graffitied on walls, in literary articles, etc. We read them in store windows or on hand-crafted signs.  Hallelujah to the immortal quotes that remind us of higher human values or that help us broaden our awareness or that become a lifeline in a moment of need.

As a writer, a quote can inspire me or find its way into something I’m writing. It can be food for thought that expands my view of the world.

Following is a quote from Frederick Buechner from his book entitled Now and Then, 1983.  

“Listen to your life.  See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness; touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis, all moments are key moments and life itself is grace.”

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I came across this quote many years ago, yet today, I find value in it.  My understanding of it is that the body, on it’s amazing sensory path, is a worthy vehicle and when I’m intimately connected to it, I can be transported to the very center of my being over this life of great variety.  How do you interpret this quote?

WRITING PROMPT:
Have you been collecting quotes to support, influence, enliven, expand, enhance and inform what you’re writing? Are they easily accessible? Have you contained and organized them or are they scattered? Do you plan to use any of them in your writing?

WRITING TIP:
To discover the correct formatting of quotes within the body of your work, you can Google the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL). This is a great resource (there are others). You can also find out how to properly document your resources. And so much more!

Depending on the genre in which you are writing, there are various style guides–MLA (Modern Language Association), the Chicago Manual of Style, CSE (the Council of Science Editors) and the APA (American Psychological Association).

More Practice with Noticing the Details

When I meet someone new, it is not unusual for my mind to form “judgments” or “conclusions” about him or her.  Before I can count to three, I’ve made up my mind in some way.  Once I have this inner judgment, I log it as “true” unless or until I learn otherwise.  First impressions are powerful and I wonder how many times they are correct?  I’m guessing there are a few studies.

How certain can you be about what you actually see?  What filters do you wear as you view something?  I know there have been tales of five individuals witnessing an event and, afterwards, each one relates it differently. Interesting.

Years ago, I was hiking in a designated wilderness area.  I don’t wear my glasses while hiking.  As I passed this grassy meadow, I was certain I spied two white horses, grazing in the relative distance.  What a lovely sight! Returning along the same path hours later, I realized that it wasn’t two white horses grazing, it was two large white immobile boulders! If you’d have asked me, I would have sworn that I’d seen these two beautiful white horses.

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As an observer and writer, I have an active imagination and can fill in the details around someone or something without having facts to substantiate what I conclude! 

Writing Prompt:
Here’s an opportunity for you to practice constructing a story based solely on what you see. Select a photo of a person in a magazine–National Geographic?–any magazine with great photos of people is desirable.

Tear out the photo or copy it so there are no distracting elements aside from the picture you are studying.  Using image detail, describe every aspect of the person in the photo. Clothing, expression, age, coloring, a “dissonant detail”, etc.  What are you assuming about this person based on the photo? Write that down also.  Make up a story based entirely on what you see.

Whimsy

Writing about serious topics can “weigh” on a writer after awhile. Yes, even when you are passionate about your subject.  Sometimes, you need nonsense. You need to break the spell of the seriousness of life.  Perhaps you need to go whimsical.

Why whimsy?  I started painting in 2014 because words weren’t working for me. The down-trodden, restrictive cycle of my thinking was binding me to false beliefs. I was stuck within a “circle of wagons” (an archaic phrase insinuating protection, but feeling like entrapment to me).   I wasn’t happy.

Registering for the online painting class, Brave Intuitive Painting, taught by Flora Bowley, I purchased a few canvases, paints and brushes and played. However, there was a seriousness even to this play. I wanted to do it “right”. Flora’s initiation into painting was a doorway into experimenting with color craving, abstraction, layering, personal symbols, intuition, freedom and more. While I wanted my outcome to be “like hers”, my own process and style overtook. What I needed, apparently, were images…though not realism, whimsical images. In fact, to my dismay, that was all that I could paint. Each painting began with no particular intention (other than following my intuition & Flora’s loose recommendations) and before too long, turned into an exercise in whimsy!

I was slightly embarrassed to post my art on the class Facebook page.  I wanted to produce beautiful, masterful art.  Animals that looked like real animals.  Or a bird that looked like a bird, at least.  Instead, something inside of me had to paint animals that looked like they were off the pages of a children’s book and perhaps rendered by a child.

Finally, I accepted this fact of my artistic life and began to appreciate what I was creating. Whimsical art. In retrospect, this was exactly what I needed at a time when my life was feeling too serious and restrictive.

PROMPT:
So do you have some whimsy in your otherwise serious life?  How does this side of you get to express?  Through silly poetry, made-up words, scribbling, doodling, dabbling in something that you have little experience with for the sole purpose of play?  Consider how you might bring whimsy as relief into your life.

ALLOW WHIMSY.

grouse1

Poetry–Purveyor of Universal Themes–is it?

Initially, I wrote poetry for myself.  It was often cathartic.  Ultimately, I believe, poetry is meant to be for a larger audience.  Poetry is intimate and reflects an individual’s perceptions, experiences and feelings. However, inherent within poetry is that oft-stated truth that “the personal is political.” Poetry marks the human journey. While it relates the poet’s personal journey, poetry often reflects the climate sustained by a larger cultural belief or practice.

As a woman writing about not feeling safe, for example…I look across the landscapes of time and place on the planet and I witness how women have not felt safe for generations over many different cultures.  (I mean within their very homes and communities.) As a poet, I capture my unique experience of feeling unsafe and like a hall of mirrors, the image is reflected ad infinitum.

Therefore, poetry joins us to one another.  The poet is, in this way, a herald of the times.

stitchingtheworld

Writing Prompt:
In your journal, write your own reflections on how the personal is political for you.  In what way is your poetry (or writing or art) a herald of the times?  Does your writing, in some way, reflect a larger, universal theme?  Do you believe that your poetry or writing is “meant to be for a larger audience?”