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:
- the mums and the candles on the kitchen table. their softness. their invitation.
- the beginning smells of French toast in the oven, sausage on the stove.
- the kids curled up in armchairs. this quiet before we sit at the table together.
- the rain outside. the grey. the cold that I know is there. it makes the inside of our home that much cozier.
- the clean dishes stacked in the dishrack. drying, waiting to be put away. carefully.
- 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.
- the quiet hum of the oven. it whispers.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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