In the car yesterday, I was listening to the CD that came with The Writer’s Notebook. On it are two recordings. One was a discussion on character. On the panel were Ron Carlson, Dorothy Allison, and Dennis Johnson. There was no introduction; it just started. Some of it sounded familiar.
When I got home, I looked up my notes from the two summers I went to the Tin House Summer Writers’ Workshop. This recording was from the summer of 2005. I had actually been there.
What was sticking in my brain this time, though, was largely different from what I had taken notes on then. Ah, I thought, I’m in a different place now with my writing–hopefully a further-along place.
Which is an argument for rereading everything. Who knows what you will notice the next time.
Which brings me to my point…This time, the main thing that stood out was Dorothy Allison saying, “I’m a watcher.”
Until I started writing, I was not a watcher or a noticer. Now I am. And that’s a good thing. Being a watcher helps me catch days. It helps make things stick. And character, as well as life, is all there in the details.
“She bought throw pillows, for example, and buying throw pillows is in my experience the single best indicator that a female human being is feeling pretty good.” from Sight Hound by Pam Houston
“A pot simmering on the stove helps my father to believe we are still a family.” from Fugitive Blue by Dani Shapiro
I think watching is everything, or at least almost everything.
Which makes me think about listening…
What you’ve noted here is true of my own writing too. When I read it I am often shocked by what is on the page. Glad I found your website.
Thanks for reading, Brenda. And thanks for adding to the discussion.
What a terrific post and blog! I agree that the personal value of writing (and art) comes from watching. It is good to slow down to observe, to think and to reread. I’m so happy we connected.
Thanks for stopping in and thanks for your comments. I enjoy your blog and share your love of Nantucket, as well as of reading and writing. I hope we can stay in touch.
How right indeed. It is not so much practicing a craft that makes one a ‘watcher’ but the effort one brings to bear on enjoying the craft one practices that makes us ‘watchers’.
Good point, Anil. Just because a person writes, it doesn’t make him or her a watcher. It’s trying to be a better writer that causes a person to watch. However, some people are by nature “watchers”–like Dorothy Allison apparently, who said she’s always watched other people, trying to figure them out. I wonder if writing comes more easily to them…
Thanks for adding to the conversation.