Amy Ludwig Vanderwater wrote this weekend about how there are moments we experience that “stick like peanut butter” to the roof of our mouths. These moments and the feelings they spark want to “live on”, and she suggested that writing helps us “hold such scenes close.” One of the things I treasure most about writing is how, when I’m writing regularly, I become more tuned in to those “sticky” moments.
Each day holds so many moments like this–small scenes, experiences, thoughts or conversations that play over and over in my head. They’re easy to overlook or discard, but they are rich with potential. Once you’ve noticed them, to mine them requires time and patience. Time to sit and ponder, to write, to revise. Patience as you live within that moment and struggle to determine its essence, to determine what moved you and how you convey that in your writing. What is it really about?
I experience many such moments when running. Running gives me space for thinking and also gets me outside where there are all sorts of things to notice. Thoughts and ideas whirl through my head. Some are random while others generate new ideas. What’s the origin of the word autumn? Why do we also call it fall? Why is it the only season with two names?
Some ideas are sparked by things I see around me. When I ran a few days ago, I came across a small sparrow, lying dead on the edge of the road. Its small feet were curled tight as if still clinging to some branch. How had it died? Had it flown into a car or was it diseased? What flight path brought it to this final destination? I keep seeing the image of that sparrow in my mind. Watching turkeys cross the road, I wonder… which turkey decides when to cross the road and is the same one always first? Or last? Where would I be in the line if I were a turkey?
This fall I’ve been intrigued by the bountiful crop of buckeyes along one of my running routes. Often I bend down and pick one up as I run by. Are these seeds or nuts? Do animals eat them? Can I eat them? I find their glossy mahogany sheen irresistible and I smooth my fingers over it as I run. I’m stunned by the beauty hidden within their prickly exterior capsules. This feels like a metaphor to explore. Beauty hidden within an ugly exterior…how often we miss the hidden side of things… the rewards of time, aging, maturity. What I see or discover or think leads me to new thoughts or questions, which often leads me to research, which helps me to form connections, to see patterns. I may write something about it. I may not. But jotting about it preserves the moment so that I can revisit it whenever I choose.
Yesterday when I was running, this spider web, drenched in morning dew, caught my eye. After my run, I drove back to try to capture it in a photograph. This is no easy proposition as the camera wants to focus on the background, not the small blot of spider or its silken strands. I did my best, but overall was uninspired by the resulting photos. Then, getting ready to leave, I glanced down next to the web and saw a small cluster of weeds. Some were bejeweled with dew drops. Others had lost their petals and seeds and blazed like stars. Unexpected beauty in the weeds.
Noticing one thing often leads to noticing another. This is true in photography and in writing. Take time to ponder one of those “sticky peanut butter moments”, follow a meandering trail through the forest of words and thoughts. You never know where you’ll end up, but you’re almost always richer for the journey.