I got a ride at 9:30am with a poet in a Mini Cooper. We went to a school in South Portland, to get a bunch of middle schoolers to start writing their stories. It had been months since I saw this lady, and the drive down there was inspiring. Talking of writing. Talking of how the hell we are meant to get our own stories out. To focus on the scene. To not get lost in the big picture. To start from the tiny details.
An hour was then spent with about a dozen students. We all sat there with pencils and were asked to smell things (cinnamon), taste (cocoa powder), feel silky objects in bags, and use these as prompts to get writing. It was amazing to watch how one sensation could usher in a place, time, an entire scene.
It made me think of the huge landscapes we have within our minds, endless corridors leading to hidden rooms. In an instant we can time travel, feel emotions rise up. One boy remembered the sight of his father, and it was the last moment he ever saw him. One of the volunteers spoke of lying in a boat under the sun, with a friend who had just lost her mother. My moments took me to red sky sunsets, Portland cafe scenes. But I also saw how quickly I wanted to comment on the scene as I described it. How difficult I found it to strip myself back to the mere sights, mere smells...
Is the writer's job to time travel, to note down every aspect of that moment... Is it our job to just notice? To not comment or teach or explain, but to just clearly show these moments? I think about what Debra Spark says at the end of her trailer for her new book. She references Chekhov. It's been in my mind for weeks now... what does she mean by this? And how do we do it?
(Photo credit, an illumination of St John writing his Gospel from the Lorsch Gospels, Wikimedia Commons)