Observation, it has been observed, is a key element in being a writer (just think any artist when I say writer). Indeed some say to live a fulfilling and joyful life a person must be able to live in the moment. It’s hard to escape the moment when you are savoring it no matter what it might be, sunrise, sunset, full moon shining, a kid’s laugh as she wrestles a cat down to paint his nails blue. The small unique details of those moments add joy to the day to day grind of work where you feel the ache in your joints as you creak home or day to day unemployment, dreading the ring of the phone or the idle of the mail truck and metal creak of the mailbox opening and closing like a crypt with one more collection notice that can’t be paid. At least take joy in the clouds scudding pink and orange over the cityscape like some industrial accident flaming up behind the hospital as you walk along feeling vaguely like the Omega Man. But take care! Sometimes living in the present moment means observing the stubbed toe suffered while gawking at the sunset. Enjoy.
It is the distillation of small observations to create a larger world on the page and bring it to life. Make it living for others to observe. In the unique details of these moments emotion can rise up without a lot of exposition.
And don’t take my word for it. These writers agree and got a lot more street cred than me.
“I think that my job is to observe people and the world, and not to judge them. I always hope to position myself away from so-called conclusions. I would like to leave everything wide open to all the possibilities in the world.” Haruki Murakami
“A writer, I think, is someone who pays attention to the world.” Susan Sontag
“Never trust to general impressions, my boy, but concentrate yourself upon details.” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
But that’s not all. How could it be? What is it that one does with said details? I’ve looked at and read crap that had observed details. Maybe too, the repeated world. The world meagerly drawn? So well observed, but offering us nothing that could be said to be transformational or unified. Is it in the perception and interpretation of those observations from which art arises? Putting it under pressure and forcing it to recombine and take new shape by some alchemy of the mind? Maybe so.
It’s like anybody can tell you what a villanelle is, but quite another to write a good one. So I think we as writers and artists would do well to observe and note the unique details of our world, but to do more than catalogue. Take them into you and turn them over in your head and find out what they mean to you. What do they mean in the story of your life? How do they strike a harmonic resonance in you? How do they ring between you and others in the world? They maybe unique, but how are they universal? Mythic? Fantastical? And be sure to look down when the sun ripples the sky like a bad acid trip. Not only are there things to be observed there, like fire ants getting ready to light you up, but stubbing your toe smarts.