Issue 11: Noticing what it is you notice
4 min read

Issue 11: Noticing what it is you notice

I’ve had a hard time writing lately. There are some things I know I want to write about but the subjects still feel like barely closed wounds. I’ve been stalling on my longer writing projects, feeling consumed once again by the creeping questions of self-doubt. Who cares what I have to say? Is this idea stale/uninteresting/unoriginal? I want to try writing something completely new, but I’m stuck and don’t know where to start.

I know there are no ideal conditions for making art, that a lot of writing is simply getting your butt into the chair. But focus is especially hard these days, even when the motivation is there.

Then, in one of Austin Kleon’s newsletters, I found some great writing exercises by cartoonist and author Lynda Barry. (Her comic about looking at art, which I’ve included below, is one of my favorites.) What drew me to these writing exercises? The fact that they were both under ten minutes. Even in my worst moments of procrastination, I could write for ten minutes.

One of them is seven and a half minutes of writing based on a random noun of your choice (the more mundane the better). The other is a four minute diary: two minutes to jot down what you remember and two minutes to jot down what you saw from the previous day. It was really fun to follow along with these videos and remember how refreshing it can be to write under constraints, to write with guidance and light instructions, to just go with the first thing that enters your head without second guessing yourself. It was also a reminder that I should write by hand more often. My thoughts keep a more comparable pace with my handwriting, and my ugly handwriting is too difficult to go back and reread, so all I can do is just keep writing.

I’ve kept up the four minute diary for over a week now and I’ve really liked it as a way of differentiating the days, particularly when all the days just seem to congeal into one indistinguishable mass.

Some things I remembered:
The COVID-19 PCR test felt like getting water up your nose. The Collaborative and Proactive Solutions (CPS) model of care. E saying I cut mangoes “like a TikTok” (I think this was a compliment).

Some things I saw:
Giant face masks on Patience and Fortitude, the NYPL lions. My mom in a striped shirt on Zoom that I’ve never seen before that made her look like a sailor. A framed picture of the rapper Pitbull at a sidewalk sale.

It also feels a bit like a personal spark file, a place to keep fragments, scenes, and images for later. Lynda Barry says this can help you “start to notice what it is you notice,” which reminded me of a similar question posed in the film Lady Bird: “Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?”

So right now, I’m giving myself the space to observe, think, and pay attention. That, too, is writing.

Don’t forget to register to vote and request an absentee ballot if you plan on voting by mail!

Lynda Barry's comic where two figures discuss how to look at art. They don't know what's supposed to happen, so the taller animal picks up the smaller one, mirroring the tender picture they see on the gallery wall.

Creative resources

  • “A bag of words” by Austin Kleon
  • Claudia Rankine on the importance of discomfort in her work: “We can understand that we can actually survive the discomfort, that to feel the discomfort is to feel, to take on reality, to recognize history, to see the connections. And if it didn’t feel uncomfortable, if it didn’t feel devastating, if it didn’t feel shameful, that might itself be a problem.”
  • R.O. Kwon is teaching a remote class on “Writing a Novel” next Saturday.
  • “I Miss Having Ideas” by Katie Heaney
  • I really love how Allie Brosh of Hyperbole and a Half talks about creativity and social media use: “There’s a type of sharing that’s fun and feels like it’s like advancing your identity in some way, and then there’s a type of sharing that’s a little bit more honest and scary. I’ve been trying to learn how to do the second type more.”

Recent reads & other media

I wasn’t expecting to read half of The Vanishing Half in one sitting but Brit Bennett’s new novel is so engrossing and propulsive I couldn’t put it down. A multigenerational narrative that follows light-skinned Black twins Stella and Desiree and their children, it examines passing, race, and the gulfs in intimacy that are subsequently created. I also read The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary which was a delight. Tiffy and Leon are London flatmates who share the same apartment at different times and fall in love via leftovers and Post-Its. It also has really great depictions of friendship, therapy, and healing.

I’ve been watching new episodes of The Great British Bake Off which filmed its latest season in a bubble. (Why yes, GBBO is my NBA.) The new half season of PEN15 continues to make me literally LOL and cringe in equal measure, exploring topics like mother/teen girl friction, witchcraft, middle school friend group drama (and that one sociopathic friend who just likes to stir the pot), sleepovers, and theater. The Limited Too t-shirts and pantry filled to the brim with Hi-C and Gushers remind me of simpler times, but the show never lets you forget that adolescence is a curse.

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~ meme myself and i ~

It is officially burrito season. Paper towel screams. “Mr. Brightside” but it’s just about sleeping. Mimicking sounds in a kitchen. The realization that no one has ever actually heard the Monster Mash. A fish singing opera.

A Tumblr post with the following text: uptown worm...into the oval office she will squirm...all her policies are fair but firm...i'd elect her to a second term.