Observing the world

In her book Leaving a Trace: On Keeping a Journal, Alexandra Johnson says, “An observing notebook is ideal for anyone numbed by work, repetition, meetings, schedules. It’s a catalyst that will reconnect us to the very living we’re too busy earning to notice.”


Two recent observations of mine…

As I was turning off lights last night in my living room, I paused to look out the window. Steam plumes rose from every building, puffing and coiling like living things. The plumes have a certain look about them when it’s below freezing. It is as if the entire city is a factory or an oil refinery, expelling energy into the atmosphere. I’ve often written about those plumes, but I have yet to capture them fully on paper.

led_open_sign1As I was eating dinner in a local restaurant recently, I kept seeing a rosy red color out of the corner of my eye. I turned and saw that the restaurant’s neon OPEN sign was blinking onto the snow-covered bushes outside. Bare brown branches topped with tufts of white snow and aglow in red; they looked like flowers if you glanced at them quickly. I pointed this out to my dinner companion, who twisted round, looked, and said, “winter roses.” I clapped my hands with delight and told him I would use that in a poem.


Back to Leaving a Trace: “Journals astonish when we let the world astonish us. Let it in. Then, as Proust said, ‘The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.'”

Here’s one of Alexandra’s journal prompts:

Think about the dead spaces in your day. What are the times when you could jump-start a journal? Waiting on the subway? Waiting in the car to pick up the kids? Waiting for dinner to cook? While the baby naps?

To this list I can add my own wasted spaces: waiting for the laundry, eating lunch at my desk, eating dinner in a restaurant. I’ll be honest, I’m not very excited about cooking for one, so I often eat in restaurants alone. I know this would not be comfortable for all, but I find it to be valuable writing and reading time. I carry a book of poetry and my journal at all times, but especially to restaurants. (One young waiter at a local eatery greets me with, “What are you reading today?”)

It’s hard. It’s darn hard. To spend the day editing and writing for a living, and then to come home and do one’s own personal writing. I look for inspiration wherever I can find it. I’ll leave you with another quote:

“All serious daring starts within.”
Eudora Welty

Dare to do the thing that scares you. Dare to do the thing that is most difficult. Me, I write.

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