Recently I did a scribble--an ink sketch-- in my sketchbook from an old family photo of my grandmother fishing.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, creating this piece brought back a lot of memories of my grandmother, my grandfather, that boat, our adventures in it. It also helped me appreciate again the love of the wilderness which they share with me when I was little.
A day or so after I completed the sketch, I found myself still enjoying the memories--seeing connections between my life now and what I saw and admired in their lives then.
That inspired me to sit down and scribble some more: this time verbally with three ten-minute free-writing exercises.
If you want to learn more about this kind of short scribbling sketching (with words) exercise check out the wonderful books by Natalie Goldberg (who is also a painter, by the way). Also check out Tom Romano, Lynda Barry, and of course, Anne Lamott's amazing book Bird by Bird. These folks inspire a lot of the exercises I develop for myself and my students.
Anyhow, the exercise, as I set it up for myself, was this.
- Looking at the picture, choose one concrete, tangible object. Write that at the top of a page, as if it is the title. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Go! Write like the wind. Do not stop. Let the words take you wherever they will. If you get stuck, write the object down again and go! When the timer goes off, finish your sentence and stop.
- Second, select a concrete image (this does not have to be a tangible object--it can be a sound or a smell or an object) that came up in the first writing. On a new piece of paper, write that image as the title. If no concrete images came up in your first writing, select something either in the drawing or inspired by the drawing. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Go! Write like the wind....etc....
- Third, same as the second step. New piece of paper... set the timer... write like the wind!
So, for example, mine might look like this:
The metal seats on the blue boat got so hot in the sun. Fishing in the summer time smelled like fish and worms and dirt and pond water and cigarette smoke and hot sun on hot metal and skin on hot metal and sunburn and suntan lotion in all of its coconutty goodness. Sweaty thighs stuck on hot metal seats and squirming until the metal cooled beneath us. Worms squirming in the dirt, in my grandfather's thick fingers, around and around the hook. Poor things. Bobbers red and white on the brownish greenish pondish water. Mountains behind the trees, the mountains where my people came from, where I was born, but which we left when I was only two or so, seeking jobs elsewhere, where there were no mountains. Though still ponds. Only, really, I never fished anywhere but here.
Okay-- so that is my completely unedited scribbling for part one above.
For the second part, then, I have a ton of concrete images to choose from: metal seats, hot, fish smell, worm smell, dirt smell, cigarette smoke, sunburn, suntan lotion, sweat... and so on. It doesn't matter which of these I choose for part two. Pick anything that seems interesting in the moment. Then go.
(You do not have to do this in one 30-minute sitting, by the way. It is perfectly okay to do it in 10 minute chunks across the course of a day or even several days. Write it right in your drawing sketchbook--your scribblebook!--if you like. Keep it with you all the time. You can spend all kinds of time in waiting rooms catching up on sketching and writing.)
What do you do with it when you're done? Well, same thing you do with your draw scribbles and sketches. Examine them. Appreciate what is wonderful about them. Keep them. Share them or don't share them. It almost doesn't matter.
It is really all about the paying attention and then articulating--scribbling--our thoughts and observations about what we've paid attention to. That is how we make meaning of the building blocks of our lives.