Field Notes, Looking Around, and a World of Possibility

Looking around can open up new vistas.  A new sense of what’s possible.

I mentioned the other day that paying attention creates a sense of possibility.  I’m not entirely sure how this works, and please do feel free to chip in with your own ideas and experience.

I think it has something to do with noticing what would otherwise go unobserved.

Perhaps with having an eye open for patterns, themes, and emerging meaning.

Maybe it’s being receptive to wonder and delight.

Or simply changing perspective, and shaking yourself out of a stuck frame of mind.

We can spend so much time looking backwards, or dreaming forwards, we forget to look around… and pay attention to what’s already here.

I’ve been picking up this message in various places on the internet recently.  It was Christine Kane saying don’t look back, look around:

Take a second today to look around and recognize the beauty, the challenge, the glory that is there, right now, right this instant.

A random line on Twitter one day, stopping me in my tracks:

Proust showed us how the art of paying attention can be medicine for things like dread

(I hadn’t realised that’s where I got the inspiration for the headline on my attention post!)

The message took me to an article on Proust and remembrance:

The obsessive description for which Proust is famous is a kind of dedicated mindfulness, honoring humble things—like the insipid taste of a madeleine biscuit steeped in tea, which starts the whole Remembrance rolling—instead of the pipe dreams that betray us (and many of Proust’s characters) into half-lives of wishing and hoping.

It got me thinking: can writing help us do this?

It can, of course it can.  Help us notice, pay attention, honour and remember.  Help us look around.

Writing is one of the ways we can take field notes from life.

I stumbled across the concept of taking field notes in a post by Wonderwebby: Exploring My World.

It was inspired by a book by Keri Smith: How to Be An Explorer of the World (now happily by my side too :-) )

The back cover states:

At any given moment, no matter where you are, there are hundreds of things around you that are interesting and worth documenting

Now that sounds to me like a mindset that would open up a new world of possibilities.

I’m still dipping into the book - it requires practice and play as well as reading after all.  And I’m still working how to apply what I’m learning to writing as well as to life.  But I think it has something to do with the taking of field notes.

This is what Keri says about how to take field notes: how to be an explorer of the world.

I know I want to write this way, taking field notes from life.

I believe that is part of the way in: to a world full of wonder, adventure, and possibility.

What do you think: can writing help us open up a world of new possibilities?  Does the idea of taking field notes fit with the way that you write… or would like to write?

Thanks to Jasmin Tragas aka Wonderwebby to pointing me in Keri’s direction, and thanks to Keri for permission to use the diagram from page 5 of the book.


    • August 12, 2009

    One of my favorite quotes is, “The real voyage of discovery consists of not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” - Marcel Proust. I think possibilities expand when our hearts and minds open and the veil (whatever form it has taken) is lifted. Writing, as an exercise and an exploration, can make that happen.
    .-= Lori Hoeck´s last blog ..What you can do about a shooter in the building, part 2 =-.

    • August 12, 2009

    Wow, a great how-to guide from Keri on how to take notes on life. That’s pretty much what I’ve been trying to do for the last couple of years - just to see what’s really there under my nose!

    Thanks for showing that list, Joanna; I’m going to keep it right here by my computer.
    .-= Robert Hruzek´s last blog ..Try a New Perspective =-.

    • August 12, 2009

    I love the field notes and the gentle reminders to be aware. One thing I would note is that stopping to smell the roses, metaphorically or otherwise, can not only lead to external expanded perception and inspiration but can be the guide to our internal labyrinth, ironing out our loops and whirls.
    Now these are instructions that I’m quite willing to read. ;)

    Sara @ iGoMogul

    • August 12, 2009

    Joanna, So funny you write on this topic today. I just last night started reading a collection of Ray Bradybury’s 100 best short stories. In the introduction, the author describes how he got the ideas for several of his stories. In every case, it was a small, random incident that set his imagination running in a particular direction - a slight at a restaurant, the attitude of a man caught in traffic, an offhand comment over dinner, etc. Here is a man who pays attention to everything and sees stupendous stories in grains of sand. His example certainly bears out what you are saying!
    .-= Brad Shorr´s last blog ..The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Twenty-Sixth Annual Collection - Book Review =-.

    • August 12, 2009

    Hi Joanna, great advice. I’ve been fascinated at how trying to have a regular writing schedule forces me to be more observant of things around me. Hadn’t really been the point of it all, but certainly a nice side effect.
    .-= Fred H Schlegel´s last blog ..Creative Response To The Uncertainty Paradox =-.

    • August 13, 2009

    LOVE the field notes!

    And, we just watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off this weekend so I’ll quote him. “Life comes at you pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
    .-= -Deb´s last blog ..Where the Action Is =-.

    • August 13, 2009

    What a great post Joanna!

    Keri’s notes are so powerful too. The hand-written look adds to their immediacy, dynamism and sense of permanence. Whoever wrote that list really meant to stick to it!

    As you know, I have chosen the path of an explorer myself and can’t tell you how many positive parallels this has opened up. My biggest revelation so far: Explorer’s never feel lost! :)

    Thanks again for your explorer’s instincts to question, understand and share on your blog.

    All my best to you for now,

    .-= Paul´s last blog ..Drawing Conclusions =-.

    • August 13, 2009

    I agree, I think writing can open up a whole new world of possibilities, introducing you to things that you otherwise may not have noticed. I think life experiences can also dramatically improve your writing.

    I believe the best thing that a writer can do to improve is to open their eyes and ears.
    .-= Danielle Ingram´s last blog ..5 Free Search Engine Optimisation tools I’d be lost without! =-.

  1. Lori I love that quote too - it’s served me well at different times of my life, including those times when literal travel is not possible. There’s always something new and interesting to see if we open our eyes (and write it down!)

    Robert it kind of grabbed me too - I’ve got the list by me too, and the book is packed with ideas. The more I think about it the more I think this is what we’re doing with blogging… and why it’s such an important part of our lives

    Sara that is such an important addition - and I love the way you’ve put it: “ironing out our loops and whirls”!

  2. Brad sometimes I think our ideas are all interwoven…(notice patterns, make connections) I think great writers of ficton do that: pay attention to everything and see stupendous stories in grains of sand. There’s inspiration there for all of us

    Fred it is interesting isn’t it? I met someone earlier this year who had a similar experience - she wasn’t actually all that interested in writing but she did enjoy the way the practice of writing helped her to notice and pay attention. I think blogging makes us more observant, more receptive to patterns, more interested in stories, don’t you?

    -Deb that’s a perfect addition! Thanks :-) See how we’re weaving this stuff together into something big? :-)

  3. Paul glad you liked it, and yes, serendipitous indeed :-) I loved the hand-written look - it was what jumped out at me from Jasmin’s original post, and I really wanted to share it here with you all too.

    And as for this…

    Explorers never feel lost… I think you’re really onto something there

    Danielle I too think we can see, hear, feel more through writing and that paying attention will help to bring our writing to life. It’s a virtual circle :-)

    • August 13, 2009

    There’s been a lot of recent thought on this idea of being a “Watcher” in the world, of spending time to take in the here and now, instead of always having our minds on something else. I like your analysis of it. I too find a strange inspiration just thinking about being alive in a vast and complex world, about all the people who came before us, how they lived and what they lived for. Thinking about it at least makes me thankful for the gift of life, if nothing else. Thanks for another great thought provoking article :)

  4. Ben thanks for pointing me towards that train of thought - I’ll need to find out more. Standing still and thinking about those who walked before us can be very powerful too - I think that’s a way of looking around, and listening, even though we’re, at least in theory, looking backwards to events that happened in the past. It’s the sense we have of the mark that’s been left, the legacy, the forward promise

    • August 15, 2009

    Hi Joanna. I’m so glad you enjoyed Keri’s field notes too. I haven’t been able to take many field notes as yet - but will definitely be taking her book with me when we go for holidays.
    I really appreciate how you have applied Keri’s list to writing, as a way to enjoy and even create “a world full of wonder, adventure, and possibility.”
    I’m just working on my Mission Possible post. It’s a challenge I’m really enjoying! Thanks for the link, too!
    .-= Jasmin Tragas´s last blog ..Outside the Lines =-.

  5. Jasmin well I’m very grateful to you for pointing me to her work - it inspires in so many ways. And although I haven’t had the time I’d like to explore and apply either, the way of thinking about and looking at things is certainly running through my head.

    I’m glad you’re going to be taking part in the Mission… look forward to what you come up with :-)

    • August 18, 2009

    Oh Joanna this is a great one and I so love the diagram! I sometimes play a little game with myself where I fashion myself to be a forensic investigator. I try to see the world as though I’m looking for clues, noticing details I would often take for granted. It’s very silly but amazing how much you see when you really look!
    .-= Karen Swim´s last blog ..Stretching my Boundaries =-.

  6. Karen no that’s it, absolutely! Look for clues and notice details - not silly at all. It’s what sets the investigators and explorers apart :-)

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