I took exactly one creative writing class when I was in school. At the time, I was noodling in the world of music composition and songwriting. It seemed like a good idea to learn some things about writing words. That was how I wound up in Creative Writing my sophomore year of college.
The desks were arranged in a circle, all facing inward. On the first day of class, I walked in and chose my seat. I glanced around, not seeing any familiar faces. Maybe that was for the best. As far as creative writing went, my experience level was minimal. There was an occasion when I was six. My mom’s friend was working on a degree in something computer-related and/or teaching-related. She asked if I could help her with a project. What the project was, I have no recollection, but the result was an illustrated story. I wrote it and used a 1995-era computer program to draw the illustrations.
Mary B. Looses a Tooth (spelling has never been my forte, also, I was six) was printed and bound in a teal folder and sits in a cabinet in my room at my parents’ house. It was based on the true story of losing my first tooth right before winter break and then forgetting to bring the tooth home. I had to wait two weeks for the tooth fairy to come and do her thing.
Apart from this prodigious piece of compelling narrative, my creative writing experience was negligible. Being in a class full of strangers seemed like it would have its perks. One of which being I wouldn’t have to face any of them in my usual social spheres should I prove to be disastrously bad. I took a deep breath and waited for class to begin.
That first day, I listened to the professor describe how the semester would go. I squirmed in my seat when he explained there would be a schedule that would give us all multiple opportunities to read our work for the class and receive feedback. He firmly believed that every piece of writing had something that was working and encouraged us to look for it while also looking for what wasn’t working. Even so, I dreaded the idea of having to read my faltering attempts at poetry, where we’d focus for the first half of the semester, for twenty peers and a published author.
It was a humbling semester in many ways. Each Tuesday and Thursday, I’d walk in, find my seat, and wait for the question that started every class. He’d walk in, close the door, and make his way to the front of the desk circle. He would sit down and ask, “So, what did you notice?”
At the start of every class, this question was followed by silence. We all knew it was coming. Yet there was always silence. I cannot speak for my classmates, but for me, it was one of those moments where every thought vanished from my head. In that moment, I couldn’t recall a single significant thing that had happened in my lifetime, much less in the past few days. I’ve never been one for class participation. I did want to have something to share. Funny or compelling or interesting or something. However, I either forgot to pay attention between classes or I forgot the things I wanted to remember.
He asked us this question because he wanted us to pay attention to the odd details all around us. These details were things we could use in our writing. They could be little moments of humor or absurdity. It could be two things that didn’t seem like they should go together, yet there they were. These kinds of details could make our writing more interesting or they could root our stories in a particular time or location.
At the time, it was an uncomfortable exercise. But the question has stuck with me and served me well. Not just now that I am a writer, but also as a human person.
Mayhaps, like me, you tend to live life a quarter-mile at a time. Not necessarily in the same way as Vin Diesel in the Fast & Furious movies, but more so the tendency to find ourselves in situations where things are moving faster than we can process or appreciate. As we barrel through our days, the details blur past and the days meld together. The pressure to achieve or keep it all together or get through the next few things on our endless to-do list press down on the accelerator.
The interesting thing about being in a creative field is that we have to make time to pay attention. Our work depends on it. If we don’t give our brains space to breathe, it’s very hard to do what we do. But, honestly, I think our souls work the same way, whether we’re creatives or not. The spiritual practice of slowing down and noticing can take our theoretical ideas about faith and God and ground them in the reality of our everyday lives. Something as small as taking a walk or taking five minutes to journal during the day can bring us out of an inhuman rate of being.
For those of us who are about that Jesus life, we can invite God into those little moments. We can ask God what God wants us to notice, or we can talk to God about what we notice. Either way, we aren’t just brains on a stick, and we definitely aren’t machines.
What did you notice this week? What small details are beckoning you to pay attention? How might you experience God in the detailed moments of your life? Leave a comment and let me know!