Scrolling around on Instagram, lazily watching the Insta-Stories, I stumbled across Alisha Sommer taking note of the day. She had listened to an interview with the poet, Marie Howe by Krista Tippett on her podcast, On Being. In it, Marie Howe spoke of asking her students to observe, be present, record what they see without attaching meaning to it, without using metaphor.
... I ask my students every week to write 10 observations of the actual world. It’s very hard for them.
MS. TIPPETT: Really?
MS. HOWE: They really find it hard.
MS. TIPPETT: What do you mean? What is the assignment? 10 observations of their actual world?
MS. HOWE: 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.
MS. TIPPETT: It does.
MS. HOWE: It hurts us.
MS. TIPPETT: You naming something.
MS. HOWE: We want to say, “It was like this; it was like that.” We want to look away. And to be with a glass of water or to be with anything — and then they say, “Well, there’s nothing important enough.” And that’s whole thing. It’s the point.
MS. HOWE: It’s the this, right?
MS. HOWE: Right, the this, whatever. And then they say, “Oh, I saw a lot of people who really want” — and, “No, no, no. No abstractions, no interpretations.” But then this amazing thing happens, Krista. The fourth week or so, they come in and clinkety, clank, clank, clank, onto the table pours all this stuff. And it so thrilling. I mean, it is thrilling. Everybody can feel it. Everyone is just like, “Wow.” The slice of apple, and then that gleam of the knife, and the sound of the trashcan closing, and the maple tree outside, and the blue jay. I mean, it almost comes clanking into the room. And it’s just amazing.
Alisha has been posting observations on her blog. It is glorious. I am settling into the practice on a random Monday in February 2018 because there's no good reason to wait until a perfect starting point. It has to have my own spin, of course. So nine. I'll stick with nine observations simply because that's my number and I get to make the rules for myself.