Modern life seems to remove us fro using our senses; for many of us they have become dull and one-sided. What do we really see around us? A good meditation for writers at the beginning of a new year is to think about the sharpness or dullness of your own sensory awareness.
- Are you sensitive to the form or structure of objects?
- Do you notice quickly varying shades of color?
- Do you have a vocabulary that can express those differences?
- Do you observe the “attitudes” of people, animals, birds?
- Do you notice the play of light and shade on objects?
- Do you notice the expressions on the faces you see around you?
“They walked back through the miserable muddy streets and among the porr mean shops, and were jostled by the crowds of dirty hucksters.” Charles Dickens, Little Dorritt
- Do you take the time to get pleasure from music?
- Can you distinguish the tones of several musical instruments?
- Can you locate a note in a musical scale?
- Do you notice people’s voices?
- Can you distinguish bird calls?
- Do the footsteps of a person you cannot see suggest some of his or her physical characteristics?
- When you listen to the jumble of city noise, can you separate them and name most of them?
“The soft complaining flute
In dying notes discovers
the Woes of hopeless lovers.”
John Dryden, ” A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day”
- Are you able to identify strong odors, both pleasant and unpleasant?
- If you were blindfolded, could you name various flowers from their smell alone?
- Does you sense of smell add anything to your appreciation of food?
“with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
nothing, forever?” Mary Oliver, “Peonies”
Responsive Taste Sense:
- Do you enjoy the food you eat for its flavor and texture, or do you eat mechanically to satisfy hunger?
- Can you recall sharply at this moment the taste of several kinds of meat, fish, vegetables and fruits?
Responsive Tactile Sense:
- Do you have finger ends that are sensitive to the feel of textiles, silks, wools, cottons, linens?
- Are you sensitive to the positive qualities of the sensations of heat and cold?
- Do you remember how your muscles feel when engaging in various physical activities: playing sports, dancing, washing dishes, standing up riding a bus or subway train?
“Kindles the gummy bark of fir or pine,
And sends a comfortable heat from afar.”
Milton, Paradise Lost, Boox XL 1,076
If your sense are not finely trained, it is difficult to feel what others have felt, or at least to express that feeling so others can understand it. If you had never really listened to someone playing the flute, could you understand the metaphor Dryden was using? If you have heard a flute before and been moved by it, reading Dryden’s poem awakens that feeling inside you again. The quickest way to larn to enjoy good description, and more to the point ot write good description, is to enlarge the boundaries of your sensory experiences.
Do not go on continually reading the same kinds of books, playing the same games, listening to the same music, walking or driving down the same streets, seeing the same people, the same scenery. GFiving yourself a change will help you to see your own life with more awareness.
A very old story about William Shakespeare says that when he was young he used to take walks with his mother, and she was in the habit of pointing out to him all the beautiful details of the scenery around them. Whether this story is true about how Shakespeare developed his visualizing power, we could adapt this strategy. When you go somewhere new, try to go with someone else and point out all the unfamiliar things you notice to one one another.