Evening tiptoes around the mall like a thief. Hallways turn quiet as the thinning flow of workers and commuters mark the hours with the reliability of a Swiss watch. Nestled in the basement of an office tower, the shopping centre opens like an underground cave. Artificial lighting shining through crystal chandeliers belie the darkness descending on the city.
Against the off-white marble of the floors and walls, fluorescent light flickers with harsh loneliness. Each store floats like an island with its unique lexicon and culture. A diverse cast performs closing rituals in silence, counting bills and retrieving castaway clothes. Dreary, November brings a slump in the retail landscape. Numbers are down, sales are slow, eyes are red and hands are chapped.
The first days of November had been cold in the usual back-and-forth of Fall. Bait and switch, catch and release. Crisp and warm sunny days rolled into the bitter windy cold of winter without the calming effect of snow. Attacking a pile of sweaters, a young woman takes note of her 18th birthday as it disappears into a hazy day of classes and work. A fitting welcome into adulthood, she thinks with a smirk. A pang of longing for the simplicity of childhood and the smothering of family comes and goes. She glances at her watch. 5 more minutes.
Lifting her eyes from the clothes she is folding, she sees him hopping off the escalator. His step is bouncier than usual and he smiles in the manner of someone caught in the delight of his own joke. His eyes break into two crescent moons when he sees her. She catches her breath. Whenever she thinks she has this crush licked, he knocks her out with a smile.
Their friendship had been born in the most usual way, bound by the experience of unrequited love. She loved him and he loved a girl who didn’t even know his name, like Charlie Brown and the little red-haired girl. He needed someone to listen and she needed him. Their bond flourished in the imperfection of who they could be to each other, without pretense or artifice. A flawed version of love to a heart wired for romantic passion, yet something closer to the freedom and safety of unconditional love. They lived in a space of longing and dreams where grand romantic gestures were given and received without fear or expectations.
He couldn’t stand in place when she walked out of the store: “Come on, I have something to show you!” They started walking side-by-side in silence. “Thank you for picking me up,” she said, not expecting a reply. They turned a corner as the store shutters closed around them, dropped a quarter in a lonely merry-go-round and walked away as the music echoed in the empty corridor.
Up ahead, a wall of glass doors leading to the street appeared as a perfect dark rectangle. Looking at the darkness, he stopped saying: “Now I have to cover your eyes! It’s your birthday gift!” He took a handkerchief from his coat pocket, the one he usually wore on his forehead like Axl Rose, and tied it gently behind her head. The smell of his hair made her knees buckle but she was too curious to give this sudden intimacy more than a moment’s notice. She could hear the excitement in his voice as he led her to the door and stepped out into the crisp evening air. “You can look now!”
When she removed the blindfold, large snowflakes were falling on her face, lit by a single street lamp. A thick layer of snow laid untouched on the street and sidewalks, absorbing the sounds of the city, making everything cozy under the overcast sky. November had lost its sharp angles, replaced for an evening by the warmth of a Winter’s night.
“Happy Birthday!” he said. They walked away arm-in-arm like two giddy children, leaving four footsteps behind them.
In Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway wrote about his early struggle to identify the concrete actions or sensations that caused an emotion. The art of writing lies not only in describing external events but in noticing the emotions stirred by such events and identifying precisely what caused the emotion. Skilled writers can bring their readers to feel an emotion when it is accurately set-up in their story:
I was trying to write then and I found the greatest difficulty, aside from knowing truly what you really felt, rather than what you were supposed to feel, and had been taught to feel, was to put down what really happened in action; what the actual things were which produced the emotion that you experienced.
As a person who feels everything keenly, I appreciate the beauty of a novel based on how it transports me into the world of feelings and emotions. There’s only so much I care about the physical set-up of a novel as long as I can inhabit the emotional life of its characters. Hemingway’s advice to notice an emotion and work your way backwards to describe how it came about inspired me to start writing-up my own deeply felt emotions. It’s a writing practice that I find both soothing and enlightening.
The text below was born out of a moment of pure delight. A mere flash whereupon I felt the weightlessness one might feel at the top of a roller coaster. It came and went but it lives on in my mind as something I recall when I need relief from the oppression of everyday worries and blocked creativity.
The road strays through the highlands’ bedrock like a streamer unrolling, erratic. On the horizon, the yellow line dips, dives and disappears at the will of a curve, only to reappear farther and narrower. Cedar and Spruce line the granite cliffs, their roots gnarled around rocky crimps and crevasses. A turn reveals a clearing of rolling hills covered in the bright emerald of the windswept grass. In the car, the landscape runs like a movie to the sound of Castle on the Hill:
“Found my heart and broke it here
Made friends and lost them through the years
And I’ve not seen the roaring fields in so long, I know I’ve grown
But I can’t wait to go home”
Wooden fences and grazing cattle announce a homestead. Driving up a hill, the road takes another sharp turn as it descends along the soft roll of a field. The urgent guitar riff leads into the chorus as a teenager on a dirt bike bursts from beside a cedar cop, his hair dancing in the wind. For an instant, we drive side-by-side as the music beckons:
“I’m on my way
Driving at ninety down those country lanes
Singing to “Tiny Dancer”
And I miss the way you make me feel, and it’s real
We watched the sunset over the castle on the hill”
The music continues as we part ways but I keep the feeling of wind in my hair and the weightlessness of speed.
August stretches like a sleepy tomcat over early October days.
Encased in the emerald of an evergreen forest, the fields rest in the blush of the setting sun, exhaling the day’s heat like an aura. The earth glows in the evening light, returning to the sun its radiance.
~ Lanark Highlands, October 2017
In his book Writing Better Lyrics, songwriter Pat Pattison recommends the practice of “object writing” as a way to improve our writing technique. Strong writing skills liberate us to express our unique creative ideas, not only in songwriting but in every form of creative expression. Creation is a deep dive into our senses and memories to retrieve gems buried in the sediments lying at the bottom. The deeper the dive, the better our senses, memories and experiences have mixed and integrated each other. Object writing is a diving technique by which we focus our senses on a object and describe it using all our senses: sight, smell, sound, taste and touch, adding to it the organic feel of the whole and the kinesthetic sense, the sense of relation of the object with the world around us.
I took up the practice of object writing last year when I started reading Pat Pattison’s book and I got stalled at chapter 1. Today I added a new “Poetry & Photography” category to my blog to catalogue the writing exercises suggested in Writing Better Lyrics. The first-level end goal is, of course, to write lyrics I am not mortified to share, leading to the second-level end goal of finding a musician willing to put them to music. Writing Better Lyrics has helped me improve my creative writing in general and it’s my hope that more regular practice will help me speed up the process of putting ideas to paper.