:: Ten Things :: {and Marie Howe}

One of my go-to writing practices is that of listing ten things that I notice in a particular moment, in a right now.  It’s a wonderful way to slow down and bring myself into the present.  It’s a way to get words from my heart onto the paper when streams of sentences feel too hard or too much.  Listmaking is a writing practice I’ve been using and exploring for years.  It does not fail me.  Ever.  If you’ve been with me for a while, you’re familiar with my lists of Ten Things.

Last spring, I was listening to On Being…in particular, this episode with poet Marie Howe.  Imagine my delight when she spoke about this writing exercise she does with her students:

I ask my students every week to write 10 observations of the actual world.  It’s very hard for them… Just tell me what you saw this morning like in two lines.  I saw a water glass on a brown tablecloth, 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.

I was, in a word, delighted.  It wasn’t affirmation that the writing exercise I’d discovered for myself years previous was valid in some way.  I already knew it was valid for me.  I already knew the way it grounded me, the way it invited me to get quiet and really look.  It was more a sense of connection to this woman; I felt the spark of a kindred.  While my version of this exercise focuses on observations of a particular moment as it’s being lived, it is much the same in feeling as the exercise Ms. Howe assigns her students.

And, okay, maybe I felt a tiny bit validated (I mean Ms. Howe was named poet laureate of New York in 2012!).  But after that initial excitement, I sank into a reflection on the power of this practice and how it feels for me.  It’s truly powerful.  And challenging.  And eye-opening.  And humbling.  And comforting.  And generally wonderful.

Here’s a list of ten I made the other day:

  1. the mums and the candles on the kitchen table.  their softness.  their invitation.
  2. the beginning smells of French toast in the oven, sausage on the stove.
  3. the kids curled up in armchairs.  this quiet before we sit at the table together.
  4. the rain outside.  the grey.  the cold that I know is there.  it makes the inside of our home that much cozier.
  5. the clean dishes stacked in the dishrack.  drying, waiting to be put away.  carefully.
  6. this oversized shirt that I borrowed (from my son).  now I understand maybe why he doesn’t wear it much.  itchy.  stiff.  though the heathered grey is lovely.
  7. the quiet hum of the oven.  it whispers.
  8. the raspberries I mashed to spoon over the French toast.  I think I could eat it spoonful by spoonful.  that little bit of added sugar – yum.
  9. the pup wandering through the kitchen, checking the floor.  just in case.  and now she’s lapping water from her bowl.  I find something so sweet in that sound of animals drinking water.
  10. thoughts of a hot shower. yes, after dinner is eaten and dishes washed – after the candles are blown out – or maybe left glowing – a shower is just the thing to round out this day.


Every time I write a list of ten, I feel held in a hug of my own making.  These lists are a balm to my soul.

Now I ask you:  What do you see and feel and hear right now?  Take a few minutes.  Look around you.  What do you see when you (really) look?  Write it down (below, or in your journal, or on a napkin if you’re sitting in the coffee shop).  Just get it down.  And have a listen to (or read) the conversation between Marie Howe and Krista Tippet.  It is, in a word, delightful.


 Sending a little love your way, m


P.S. Do you receive my Monthly Notes?  I’m sending out my April Notes on Sunday.  Sign up here if you’d like to be included. xo



13 thoughts on “:: Ten Things :: {and Marie Howe}

  1. Monday evening after a Holiday weekend. One day of celebrating and one day of nursing my husbands back to health. All is well now so let me see if I can come up with Ten Things.
    1. Early dinner and a full belly.
    2. Husband just left for an appointment. Now I’m *home alone*.
    3. Sipping my peppermint tea which has become a ritual after dinner (helps with digestion).
    4. I can see the green/brown lawn out my kitchen window where as this morning it was covered with snow.
    5. The birds devoured the suet today so all is quiet in the backyard.
    6. Sun is shining and it looks like the beginning of springtime.
    7. Vacuum cleaner still sitting in the middle of the living room. Never did quite finish…..some days are like that.
    8. Found a lightweight, 3/4 sleeve white sweater on clearance today. Love a bargain. It’s now hanging in my closet. And that’s probably why the vacuum is still in the living room :).
    9. My basil plant is flourishing on my kitchen counter. Now all I need is a juicy Jersey tomato. Oh yum!!
    10. Need to make a call to a friend to confirm plans for tomorrows outing.

    Thank you for this Michelle.

    1. I can feel the quiet and contentment of your evening, Betty.
      Yay for the white sweater…and in a few months, you’ll have some juicy Jersey tomatoes!!!

  2. Yes! Marie Howe is a gift! And I think I will turn my attention to this practice in the coming week–a perfect way to welcome in the 50 days of Easter. Though I may note *just five things.* It’s a long way to ten!

  3. It’s Saturday morning and probably a better time to sit and pause with my coffee over your words. How interesting to think there would have been a time when I would have had trouble with a list of 10 observations – that there was a time when I paid so much less attention to the things around me. Like you, I know now that this attention grounds me, keeps me aware and present more than anything I can think of. Thank you for the reminder! (And my beginning… 1. cardinals calling in the bushes next to the house 2. robins twittering from tree to tree 2. the comfort of the chair I’m sitting in, the arch just perfect for my back 3. the light streaming through the windows behind me making lovely shadows across the room 4. the feel of a warm coffee cup between my hands 5. the anticipation of today’s trip and meeting our new puppy…..) xoxo

    1. It’s kind of awesome how ease (and comfort) come with doing it more and more, yes?
      This list which marks the beginning of your day is beautiful…definitely a light, springlike feeling to it.

      …and a new puppy?!!!!!!!

  4. 1. collected desert dust on every surface around me
    2. refrigerator motor loud as a freight train
    3. howling winds whistling thru my windows
    4. morning light on my sewing machine
    5. needles waiting to be threaded
    6. crumpled quilt reminding me of our laughter last night as we streamed Netflix
    7. patchwork pillows, crochet throws, weavings and paintings. My home is filled with handmade art
    8. this tiny device that brings me so much pleasure, communication, friendships and inspiration
    9. stained fingernails make me smile because I am an artist
    10. coffee waiting to be pressed

  5. Good Morning ☀️ I just completed my list and then listened to the interview . I am smitten . Thank you for the light you bring into this World

    Love , Deb

    Sent from my iPhone



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