Last Saturday, I noticed a familiar face on the round table in the library where they display new books. It was of Helen Garner. Her new book had come out. I grabbed it before anyone else could. It is titled Yellow Notebook Diaries Volume I 1978 – 87. I was in my teens since she started those diaries.
Like almost every Australian, I am an admirer of Helen Garner. She is like an unassuming, gentle aunt who is mostly quiet and observing. But when she opens her mouth, what comes out is so profound that you kick yourself for not taking her seriously in the first instance.
I opened it and flicked through the book. It is in the form of little snippets from her diary. After lightly reading a few, my eyes settled on one snippet.
I must disabuse myself of the illusion that I once sat down and wrote a novel. I am not good at constructing major pieces of work. I have a short concentration span. I can work only in small, intense bursts. I don’t seem to work consciously. I write to unburden myself, to amuse myself, to arrange in order the things that bulge in my head, to make myself notice things.
Incidentally, I was pondering the art of noticing ever since I stumbled upon Rob Walker’s newsletter where he urges people to notice things. Things that we otherwise won’t. His newsletter is full of ideas about how to notice things.
He suggests taking snapshots around your neighbourhood with an eye for a particular detail. One of the noticing exercises he gives his students is counting with numbers you find in different settings.
One of his readers, Judy, looked for numbers corresponding to the date for an entire month and took photos of them. She did several other projects of noticing. One was walking the entire length of her street and sketching and painting anything of interest. Thirteen miles, 14 neighbourhoods, +/- 120 blocks, and 53 pages of drawings.
Phyllis, another of Rob’s readers notices lone shoes.
“For decades, I’ve walked and hiked trails and sidewalks. And driven country roads. Sometimes … more often than seems plausible … I come across a shoe. One shoe. Never a pair of shoes. I make up a story about how each one must have ended up this way. Or about the person who has the other shoe. I don’t remember all the shoes or all the stories. But I always remember to take the time to ponder.”The Art of Noticing
I borrowed Helen Garner’s book with the hope that I might learn to notice and write like she does.
That afternoon I drove to the hardware store to pickup some tapware for the bathroom renovations we are doing. I decided to notice something to practice my newly found knowledge. It had to be some I otherwise would have taken for granted. It has been raining in Canberra for a few days now. Everything is green. I decided to notice the shades of green. This is what I found.
Right in front of me is a tree with big leaves. Its green is different than the green of the grass. It is very vibrant, with a tinge of yellow, almost luminescent. The grass, on the other hand, has several shades of green. There is deep green, pastel green, and green with a tinge of purple in it. The leaves on the eucalyptus trees on Redhill have a different shade of green altogether. They are not light green and not even pastel green. I suppose I can call them eucalyptus green, but then there are so many eucalyptus varieties, and each one has a different shade.
I will be doing more of noticing exercises.
This week I wrote the article Mental Models For Writers, I promised last week. Sit with a cup of tea and read it. I am sure it will help you and inspire you.
NaNoWriMo is starting from Sunday. I have figured out the story and run it past a few writing buddies. They like it. So I am invested in it now. I will talk more about it in the coming weeks.
That is it from me this week.
Talk to you next week.