a creative invitation

What good are powerful and intimate interviews (or books, movies, and other works of art) if we can’t take something away from them and infuse them into ourselves to make our lives richer?

I shared last week about Marie Howe and her On Being interview. (If you didn’t have a chance to listen to that, scroll down just a tad to that post and enjoy!) Since Monday’s have kind of unintentionally become about me sharing something that encourages mindful living and inspires me, I wanted to tell you what I took away most from this interview.

there is a point when Marie recites her poem “the gate.” Instead of transcribing, here it is in its full body for you to hear her voice and her tones:

What gets me every time is not only the potent way she describes death as a portal for her – something I know well at the loss of my father- but her literal observations.
The sheet.
The glass.
The cold water.
The cheese and mustard sandwich.

In her interview she talks a bit about cultivating this creative space of literal and normalcy.

“I ask my students every week to write ten observations of the actual world. It’s very hard for them. They really find it hard… just tell me what you saw this morning, like in two lines. you know, ‘I saw a water glass on a brown table cloth and the light came through it in three places.’
No metaphor and to resist metaphor is very difficult because you have to actually endure the thing itself, which hurts us for some reason. We want to say ‘and it was like this, it was like that.’ we wanna look away and to be.. to be with a glass of water or to be with anything… and then they say ‘well, there’s nothing important enough.’ well that’s the whole thing, it’s the point… but then this amazing thing happens.. the fourth week or so, they come in, and clinkety clank clank clank, onto the table pours all this stuff and it is so thrilling, I mean, it is thrilling. Everybody can feel it, everyone’s just [gasp] ‘wow!’ .. the slice of an apple and the knuckling of a knife and that sound of the trash can closing and the maple tree outside and the blue jay .. and it all just comes clanking into the room and it just … it’s just.. amazing.”

So I ask again, what good are powerful and intimate encounters if we can’t take something away from them and infuse them into ourselves? The danger these days lies in stealing a line or a poem, pinning it to some virtual wall, and never letting it touch our hearts or redirect our course.

So I began a practice of embracing the literal.
I’ve always been drawn to it, and my raw photographs reflect that.
But I start to get flowery and frilly and overzealous when playing with words, and I don’t like that.
So here is the practice I have integrated into my daily life to be more like a student of Marie Howe’s:

ten lines a day.

I write ten lines from my day, by memory, at the end of it.

These are short, succinct, literal observations of moments and things that stick with me at the end.
Sometimes it’s a fight I got into with my husband, a hot cup of coffee, a picture someone drew me, a feeling I had in the late afternoon, or a glass of wine I drank with dinner. No metaphors, no frilly dressing up, just words – literal, real, and out there.
My dear friend Nicole told me of a similar practice she took on where she would recall ten literal things she remembered seeing that day.
For me, I am choosing to broaden it to ten lines, and to include feelings, thoughts, or events that happened.

Some days there have been more than ten lines, but I never allow myself to have less. Even if it takes awhile the most wonderful and mundane things come back.

I have a notoriously bad memory. My closest friends and loved ones are always having to remind me of times when we made a memory or something went terribly wrong. I don’t hold onto things and the things I do hold onto often make no sense. For example, I was in choir in the sixth grade. We went to a competition and sang an Australian children’s song called “kookaburra laugh” in a round. I remember that song. Somehow that song has decided to permanently own real estate in my brain that could have better been used for a high school breakup or long division. Instead, kookaburra laugh rounds its way inside my head with no explanation.

This is why I love the ten lines a day.
As a composer of words on a page and photographs, this observation can only help make my making better.
As someone who no longer has social media to fall back on as a diary of my day, knowing we don’t typically record most of the real stuff on there anyways, I am thrilled to have a workable, sustainable way to observe, participate, and remember.

Feel free to adopt it for a month with me and see what happens. and if you have your own version of ten lines a day, I hope this encourages you to introduce the literal into it just a bit more.

show hide 3 comments

shanna mallon yes! inspired. going to try this.April 24, 2016 – 9:25 am

Stephanie P Wonderful! I must start this!April 18, 2016 – 12:45 pm

the welcome tangibility of minimalist granola | Food Loves Writing […] told myself to remember a few, I’d thought ten, uncomplicated sights from the day, like this blogger does, in an effort to practice description, to discipline my mind to see. What surprised me was how […]May 30, 2016 – 2:28 pm

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