With eyes wide open

June 18, 2010

Everyone says it. “A novelist’s eye for detail,” “keen observation,” “writes things how they really are.” It seems if you’re going to be a writer, you need to be pretty engaged with the world around you.

Admittedly, this is something I’m working on. I’m used to watching the people and events in my head. It’s a challenge -refreshing, but a challenge nonetheless- to take a step back from the fantasy world within me, and turn my gaze to the real world around me. You have to be a kid again, running around, looking at everything, and asking every child’s favorite question: “Why?”

Do something for me right now. Look up from your screen, and out the window. Or go find a window. It’s okay, I’ll wait. I’m going to do the same.


What did you see?

I saw the olive-coloured leaves of our decrepit cherry tree against a cloudless sky. The trail from a jet passing overhead, arching over the moon. It’s not even first quarter yet (which is why it’s up so early). It’s a hazy dove-gray, you can just make out the great lava “seas.”

Harsh sunlight today, impossible to look at anything too long.  Colours glare. Red roofs and chimneys, leaves playing in the breeze (thank God for that breeze). Diamonds of light on car roofs.

What do you see?

Go back. Listen this time. I’m going, too.


Hammers pounding at the construction site across the street. A bird singing, the pitch starting off fairly low, then soaring to explode in a triumphant CHIRP! Rumble of cars, laughter of kids. And beneath it all, the gentle whispering of wind in the trees.

And what can you feel, right where you are?

I feel the keyboard beneath my fingertips. Sweat and half-dissolved sunscreen on my legs. A twinge of pain in my shoulder blade, where the muscles are tight and just won’t release. Heat under my hair, on my scalp. Heavy air making me take shallow breaths. The glorious breeze on my hand.

A portrait of my street on a summer afternoon, and I still haven’t gotten it all down. It’s a rough sketch, when I want a full painting. Then again, words aren’t paint. You make the image, I just make suggestions.

Back to the window, look again. Now keep looking. Look all around, all the time. Even if you’re not a writer, or if you already write great description.

It’s a richer life, with eyes wide open.



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