Lit Lesson #5 – Pure Observation Exercise

The initial observations are trickling in!  Thank you, so much, Chris and Allan from the Tuesday AM Studio. My goal was to urge you all to build up the muscle of pure presence in order to slow down that “action hungry,” aspect of our inner creator, and to see more fully.

Allan wrote this in his email:  This has been a major challenge for me.  It has opened so many questions for me about my observation skills.  I recognize how little I observe.  How do I describe the billion different ways people wear their hair?  Smiles?  What’s a smile?   How are they different?

And Chris wrote: Really liking the homework. It’s like doing finger exercises each day.

I’m so glad it’s a good exercise!  Now let’s take a closer look at the work.

Chris’ Contribution: 

Location: The Crooked River.  

The river ran blue through the canyon, cut down into basalt which, from the canyon floor, made the desert hills sloping up look like mesas. The hillsides were scattered with juniper and bitter brush with the grasses growing only by the river. The river itself ran not horribly fast nor still, but like a mill pond. It ran and you could walk thigh deep across. It was here the fly fishermen came.

We had farmer John waders and long fly poles each with a midge fly on the end.  I had a walking stick for balance the others did not need.  From our different spots in the current the guide pointed to the holes to cast into and when we did a fish would rise.

Jennifer’s comments:  Okay, this is great and also strays from the exercise. That action hungry aspect of storytelling is working to insert power here: It was here the fly fisherman came. I LOVE THAT LINE…but it’s not part of pure observation. Tell the story but not in your journals. Okay? Keep that for pure witnessing observations.

Now, how to make the witnessing observation more intense? Look more closely as the assumed words, like juniper, and bitter brush, and describe these in particularity.

<-Does the juniper look like the one on the right, or the left? Spikey, or flat? With berries or just on a stem. What of the smell.  What is bitter brush? -> Is it like the one on the right or left? See how different these plants look? The words alone don’t build images in the readers mind, that’s why you must push yourself to see past the labels, and write what is seen down.

Allan’s observations:  

Human:  Sitting cross-legged on a square brick tree well outside the Central Post Office on Broadway and Hoyt,  her scab dotted face glares at her cell phone engulfed in a giant left paw. Her right hand clenches a lighted cigarette and swings in circles as she speaks in uninterrupted ferocious staccato fragments.  Lips cover teeth and her mouth remind me of a tiny vacuum. Her brown beer colored hair, rubber band wrapping her pony tail hangs below her shoulders and over a blood red wrinkled blouse. Her black capris tightly pencil her large body revealing a tattoo on her flip flops just above a tattoo on her left ankle.

 Jennifer’s comments: Great! Bravo. But hold on!  Look at that action hungry muscle shoving story at us with the phrase: …dotted face glares… Can a face glare? How exactly does that happen? 

Can the pure observer in you see differences to each of these glares? Allan’s is a valiant effort but can he see the shape of the eyes, the way the forehead is shaped, the tuck of the chin? What comprises a glare, anyway?

Location: A right turn at the Bonneville Dam exit leads to Wahclella Falls. Within a quarter of a mile we come upon our first waterfall an arms length away from a 10 foot bridge. The water clings to a 30 foot slick rock cliff,  and the sunshine off the water provides rainbow prisms. The trail follows meandering Tanner Creek, ranging, perhaps, 20-30 feet wide.  The first day of summer and the last of the spring wildflowers – red, orange, pink, yellow, blue, purple – penstemons, shooting stars, wood violets, desert parsley, daisies, and so many more unnameable.  The path rises 300 feet through mud and dust  and towering firs and hemlocks and climaxes at a plunging 80 foot waterfall exploding into a large circular inky black pool.  A loop brings you back to the pebbled creek where the sun struck water turns a turquoise blue except where it meets boulders and becomes milky foam.

Jennifer’s comments:  The first sentence is told, as is the second. I’m going to go back into it and pull out the lines that are not part of the exercise. Yes. it’s choppy. But it’s what I’m after. Pure observation!

Location: A right turn at the Bonneville Dam exit leads to Wahclella Falls. Within a quarter of a mile we come upon our first waterfall an arms length away from a 10 foot bridge. The water clings to a 30 foot slick rock cliff,  and the sunshine off the water provides rainbow prisms. The trail follows meandering Tanner Creek, ranging, perhaps, 20-30 feet wide.  The first day of summer and the last of the spring wildflowers – red, orange, pink, yellow, blue, purple – penstemons, shooting stars, wood violets, desert parsley, daisies, and so many more unnameable.  The path rises 300 feet through mud and dust and towering firs and hemlocks and climaxes at a plunging 80 foot waterfall exploding into a large circular inky black pool.  A loop brings you back to the pebbled creek where the sun struck water turns a turquoise blue except where it meets boulders and becomes milky foam.

Another point is that Allan could apply the same lesson as Chris. Names of plants are not images of plants. See those flowers as if the world is brand new. IE: White and purple and yellow petals, thinner than paper, than tissue, pollen dust at the center, disks of gold.  

Dialogue: You know, David, you are – other than my mother – the most quarrelsome person I’ve ever met.”

“Really, Allan, why would you say that?”

“Well, you are the Super Hero of Conflict. You should wear a cape. I swear you never miss an opportunity to create stress with your children.”

“But, Allan, they take me for granted and take advantage of me.”

“That’s their job, David. They’re your children. And, by the way, they are great people.”

“Fuck it. Jane is 20 and Jack is 32. They’re not children, Allan. I am not paying for Jack’s wedding.  He’s an adult.”

“David, you remember you once complained to me that when you were 45  – married, successful, father – your Dad still treated you like you were a 13 year old putz. That’s the deal;  no matter what age you were still a child and he was the parent. Same goes for you and your children.”

“Easy for you to say,  Allan.  You don’t have children.”

“True, but I was a son. And I know the deal. And, besides, you know that you always give in and pay for what they need.  You can’t help yourself.   There is now way you won’t be paying for Jack’s wedding. No freakin’ way.   You always give in.”

“Well, at least I’m gonna give it a fight.”

“David, you’ve just proved my point.  You gotta ‘give it a fight’ because you are so damn quarrelsome.

“Well, what else should I do?

“Try being gracious, David.  As long as you are going to give them what they want, anyway you might as well offer it generously.  Instead, you fight, then you give, and everyone winds up angry. Damn, if you just were graceful about it you’d have to burn your cape and lose your Super Hero status.”

“You’re full of shit.”

Jennifer’s comments:  Perfect!  Well done!

This is another benefit of sharing your observations. A mini teaching over the summer to keep your mind sharp and on point. Send me those observations and I’ll post comments.  Thank you Allan and Chris for stepping into the light with your work. Brave men! Onward.

Comments 1

  1. Hi Everyone, I’d like to hear how others are able to record/write overheard conversations. I’ve tried three times to sit in a coffee shop to listen in on others talking. I have two challenges with this: people speak much faster than I can write. And in a shop with many conversations going on, I can’t discern words for the noise. Thank you!
    Cathryn

Leave a Reply to cathryn Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *