On observing the ordinary

2018-09-05 cel-lisboa-73969-unsplash.jpg

On the drive to pick up O. from his last day of summer preschool, I drop into that state of mind where an essay idea wants to present itself. The sudden sense of flow is gentle but insistent. I notice I’m more aware, that I’m observing my inner and outer world with deeper intensity. In the moment, though, I don’t hear an essay in the currents of my inner voice. You’re about to make a memory, it says instead.

Remembering is often the first step in my writing process. Not just remembering moments already in my past but consciously creating a memory of the present. I write in order to observe — or commemorate.

Bigger happenings naturally invite us to make record of them. Births, graduations, weddings, deaths — all the events that can be looked up in the archives of a newspaper. But I’m drawn to the ordinary moments, the ones that risk being forgotten, like the details in a dream. They have a tendency to blur, to fade, to merge or fuse with other memories, leaving faint impressions at best if I don’t note them with intention. Maybe it’s because they are so easily lost that they cause a certain sort of anxiety, a creative tension that wants to be unwound on the page. I’m afraid of waking up one morning with a deep sense of ordinary time spent — but no way to make meaning from my fuzzy recall of how I spent it.

In this moment, I’m thinking about O.’s first day of preschool almost four years ago. Of trying to take a picture of him in his car seat with the school building in the background (because there was no way he would have stood still if I’d turned him loose in the parking lot) and how we forgot his jacket in his cubby at pick-up time.

Today, I will pull into the same parking space I've used since then, right across from the window of the front office, where the staff and I will exchange our usual waves — but the kid I’m coming for will be miles from the toddler I first left there.

What do I want to remember? I wonder, that anxiety creeping in. The pick-up process takes a matter of minutes, exactly the sort of ordinary moment that easily slips by. I’m not sure what to focus on, what will have meaning to me in the future. I only know now, four years later, what still stands out from O.’s first day.

But that is the memory-in-the-making: the photo, the jacket, the parking lot — together framing whatever happens this afternoon. These small anchoring details offer a lens or overlay to gather and concentrate my impressions, inviting me to take notice of these items again in the present. What they’ve become, what they’ve been replaced by, what I hadn’t noticed until today, because of today — this is the story, or memory, waiting to emerge.

That’s it, the voice within me says. That’s all you need to guide you.

When do you find yourself dropping into creative flow and how does it feel? What drives you to write what you write? When have you noticed creative tension in your process and how have you worked with it (or in spite of it)? Share your thoughts with me by clicking the button below.