I’ve been writing a lot lately in my guise of “person who writes for other people,” and my brain is packed with details from their projects. Once, not that long ago, I might’ve made that my reason for not working on writing of my own. No brain space. That expression often feels literal, as though the mundane has displaced the mythic—or anything vaguely interesting—from the imaginal realm. Daily, though, I’ve been rescued by the seemingly rote, even mechanical, practice of choosing one thing in my environment to study closely, pore to pore, then writing down what I see. It can be a 10-minute practice, done anywhere, and I suggest it to you repeatedly because it’s such a simple way to restock your well of images, and connect your inner and outer worlds.
You’re standing at the back door, gazing into the twilight after the kids have gone to bed. Pick one shape out of the gathering darkness—the swing set, the hose coiled against the cement base of a wall—and start there, with the colors draining away, imagination pulling you to the messy wet spirals pressed onto the concrete, the sculptured brass curves of the nozzle that's dripping onto the grass.
Stored in a touch or a scent, doorways to endless stories
In such moments, you might be memorizing the world, its scents and shapes, what breezes across the skin. The moment is full enough, immediate enough, rich enough to bring you back to your body, to the page.
Being present to what moves through you might pull you to another set of sensory images, a scene from the past, perhaps. That’s what happened to me today. I was—mechanically—choosing something to write about. How about that potted plant! It sounds unpromising, I know, but I lost myself in the unfurling corolla of leaves and in the loose soil I rolled between my fingertips.
My feet and fingers suddenly remembered the powdery dirt beneath the tall, scraggly pines of a canyon where my father took us once for a picnic. How smooth, almost slick that dirt was, even with its tiny pebbles. We dug our toes in, the way other kids might play in mud. I looked up from my feet and could see my father’s friend, in his now dusty black leather shoes and rumpled “office clothes,” curled on a blanket on the hillside above us, sleeping. An exhausted greyhound. He’d been up for days with my father—nowhere in the picture—trying to squeeze a few dollars out of a losing gambling streak.
All of that was there for me in the dirt. What might sense memory hold for you?
A vehicle for conjuring & exploring the universe of a story
A client of mine began using her writing practice to travel through her mother’s kitchen, taking her own as a starting point. Pulling open a cupboard, she remembered her mother’s appliances, lined up like mechanical soldiers, a simple image that could be a doorway into character and a cascade of memories.
Ten minutes of writing, of seeing, of letting the body experience this moment and the mind connect it with the sense memory of other moments—ten minutes can be vast.
Even on the busiest, craziest, full-to-the-gills day, you have ten minutes, beautiful writer person. Today, open a cupboard, lift a cup, trace the edge of a leaf, run your hand over the carpet. The moment, this moment, is full of details, starting points, entryways. From “nothing,” a universe can bloom. Observe just one thing. Experience it with all your senses. Write.
(Doorway image by runran, via Flickr.)