Lit Lesson #7: Pure Observation III

A Pure Observation Journal

By now you’ve had several weeks to practice this hinky little exercise that shows you just how invasive your mind is when it comes to seeing people and places, and hearing what other people have to say. I know it’s hard not to interpret, judge, evaluate, interject, explain, and basically impose your thoughts on the experience but remember, the job is to be a pure witness. Writing without metaphor or simile isn’t the goal, but having a sense of how you are seeing in order to build in metaphor or simile that is actually growing the image is the goal.  We’ll be working on this next year.

My huge thanks to Tad, Glenda, and Chris. Now let me get to work taking out (or changing), what isn’t a pure observation.

Tad – Thurs. AM Studio

This is a section of Laurelhurst Park. Can you see it in this observation?

Place mixed with people mixed with an overheard conversation: I was on a run through Laurelhurst park when I stopped to pause The End of the Affair and record some notes on the last few chapters. Because now I was walking slowly I found myself in step with a couple [describe. Tall? Short? Thin? Thick?in front of me that were having a pretty intense conversation. They each had a dog on leash [describe dogs, breed, size etc] and their conversation (or at least one side of it) was loud and clear. I slowed down as to not pass them but to hang just behind. It was the mans voice that got my attention and it was clear that he wanted to be heard as he felt both inspired and on one of the “waxing” rolls that I often find myself on.[Sound, pitch, rise, fall, inflection? What is actually heard in the voice to come to the conclusion?] The kind where you become aware that you might have an audience and you project and annunciate, throwing your voice as if you are on stage and speaking to the nosebleeds but at the same time your scene partner is held in a perceived

This is a couple, holding hands, walking two dogs in Laurelhurst park. Can you see these people/dogs in this observation?

bubble of intimacy and privacy. He kept his volume up so as to be heard and to hear himself as well. She on the other hand, when she did get a word in, was quick and so quiet that I couldn’t make out what she had to say or even what her mood/tone wasI could deduce that their relationship was fresh and although they held hands, maybe only a few days old. The kind that may have started only on Friday night at a bar and now it was Sunday morning and I love you’s had already been exchanged. This speech was him informing her of his former self or even the future self and the pitfalls of habit and ritual.  Of taking one for granted. Of temptation and externalization. Pitched in a fashion that if in six months from now she is unhappy with who he is turning out to be he will refer to said conversation on day three and thus his disclaimer. “ I told you who I was. I didn’t lie. I didn’t hold back. I told you my weaknesses and tendencies. You knew what you were getting yourself into.”

“Weather we end up just friends, if I stay here or go, I feel like depending on how it goes will really impact the way you think about men…the way you think about life. That’s the reality.” she says something I can’t make out. He continues: “ I appreciate you saying that, really, because thats not the way I used to think. It’s the same thing, like the emotional work I do, that you do.”

 I take one ear bud out to get all of the words I might be missing. The ones that she’s about to say but I missed last time. I’m writing as fast as I can and as far as anyone is concerned I am writing text as I keep my eyes to my phone, resisting the urge to look up at them. To see their faces and maybe even read their lips. Now I have to drop back for fear that they are on to me so I stop dead in my tracks in order to give them a chance to get ahead. When I catch up he has moved on to a less interesting topic: His influence over others. It’s as if he changed the topic in order to move onto his favorite subject: himself 

 “I concern myself with the influence I can have over others. That if I get caught up in something negative or self destructive, it’s not just me. There are others. The same goes for the other direction. Hey guys. Let’s meditate! Most people will jump in. I was thinking that, yesterday, that if I’m going to get excited about something, even if it’s negative or destructive, I have to be careful not to pull others into it.”

they continue walking side by side, holding hands, a dog a piece on a leash. She stares into the sidewalk while he talks into it. 

I decided to give up on the eaves dropping and continue running and as I doubled back and passed them again (this time head on) he was still talking and she remained listening. As if he feared the silence or better yet what she might have to say…

Glenda – Tuesday Studio

I googled “raucous blue jay,” and got this. Now, how to describe what is seen here?

Location: Raucous [what does raucous look like? Can you be more specific? Is raucous a word you can see? ] jays maraud [same questions] through the campground [the whole camp ground? On the actual dirt? A path? Around a trash can? Can you be more specific?] at dawn [what part of dawn? Pre light? What color is light? What is the texture of that light?] Whack-whack-whack! I open my eyes to see the silhouettes of towering [has the term towering ever been used with a tree before? Is there a fresh way to see tall trees?] Doug Fir [what makes it a Doug fir? What is unique about this type of tree?] trees standing still and quiet [do trees ever do anything but remain still and quiet? They are trees. Can you see them more clearly].  A halo opening through the fringe of branches reveals a patch of steel blue sky. One star glistens through the canopy. A three-quarter moon hangs above, as if caught on a branch. I catch the smell [what is in that smell? Ash? Bitter?] of a burned out camp fire. My camping buddy stirs in her tent. 

Person: Bennie is small but looks strong, with well defined muscles outlining her lean arms and legs. Her green zip pullover falls flat against her chest. The skin on her face, arms and legs is freckled and mottled with white blotches from hours, days, years spent outdoors. Her shoulder length gray-brown silky [what makes it silky? Have the words silky and hair ever been paired together before? Can there be a different word or a closer observation? Look at this example of describing hair from Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, “…the brown, indeterminate-colored hair like a pool of liquor on the parquet…” Now that’s seeing in a new way!]  hair falls along the contour of her round head. Deep lines run down the corners of her mouth. Her right eyelid sags a quarter of the way over her eye. She sits on the ground looking straight ahead, knees bent and upright, arms folded with one elbow resting on each knee. 

Chris – Tuesday Studio

I googled “White haired man with an easy confident smile,” and this is what popped up! I’m sure this is not the guy.

Person: He was instantaneously the same as when I met him 30 years before.  He was just older.  His wide inviting smile unassuming yet confident [these are judgement, how can you see, and actually describe smile based on what you see?].  His eyes which engaged you in a non-threatening way [Same point/question]. His posture was as before in an easy “Everything will work out” manner.[Same point/question]

His hair was now white.  His eyes and his smile now had wrinkles surrounding. He was now thinner. I lost touch when he retired young.  Maybe he worked out more.  Behind his familiar smile was this faint hint of regret.  He was still easy and confident, but behind this was still the hint of regret.  It was not bitter or remorseful as he could speak easily of where the regret came from, but the regret was on his mind and his words and actions sounded like he thought about it often. 

Teacher notes: I like all of these, I do, but they are straying out of observation and into story telling!  I know it’s hard, that’s why I gave you the exercise. You guys can do it! Keep going, keep seeing, keep separating your judgements and your desire to tell a story from the world you witness.

See you in Sept.


Comments 2

  1. Thank you, Jennifer!

    I’m cracking up at how much of my “observation” got crossed out although I knew better when I submitted. My ego wanted to leave all of the judgement & story telling in. Ha! Eavesdropping is my strength although often I am so busy discretely listening that I miss the physical description. For fear that if I look up my cover will be blown!

    One of the things I know for certain is that this assignment/exercise challenges me most in my weakest area: physical description of people. I’m always so impressed and even envious at times of a persons ability to sum a person up in a quirk or gesture, noticing a detail that is unique or representational to that person. Forensic artists have always blown my mind with their ability to take an individuals recollections and translate them into an image. I have always been certain that I would be the one eye witness that would stump even the most experienced of FA’s!

    1. Post

      You know I love you, honey! You handed me a perfect teaching present!!! I know you knew it at the time, so chill and try again. Save all that exposit for laaaattter, gator!


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