a writing prompt for you to use
This week I’m noticing nouns.
It started with my spouse’s desire for a salad that a local restaurant no longer serves—Village Tavern’s now lost-in-time Kale and Quinoa Salad. In addition to the titular ingredients, it also featured ripe mango chunks, roasted cherry tomatoes, crispy shallots, and a house vinaigrette. We’ll attempt a home version this week. I added mango to my shopping list and menu plan which—if you’ve been paying attention and reading along—never really inspire me. But I love my spouse of 30 years, and the salad was pretty kickin’ too, so I will play along and plan ahead.
With mango on the brain, I recalled this snippet from Anne Lamott in her book on prayer:
Gorgeous, amazing things come into our lives when we are paying attention: mangoes, grandnieces, Bach, ponds … Astonishing material and revelation appear in our lives all the time. Let it be. Unto us, so much is given. We just have to be open for business.
—Anne Lamott, Help, Thanks, Wow
Mangoes, grandnieces, Bach, ponds. Paying attention to the nouns of our daily life grounds us, and opens us up for business. And for prayer, Anne and I would both say.
I started a list of nouns for my week. It began like this:
Mango. Palms. Tissue. Journal. Printer. Life Insurance
A start, but there is more to say about each item.
Natalie Goldberg has some writing advice about nouns and the things we notice and name. In Writing Down the Bones, she advises us to be specific.
Don’t say “fruit.” Tell what kind of fruit—“It is a pomegranate.” Give things the dignity of their names….It is much better to say “the geranium in the window” than the “flower in the window.” “Geranium”—that one word gives us a much more specific picture. It penetrates more deeply into the beingness of that flower. It immediately gives us the scene by the window—red petals, green circular leaves, all straining toward sunlight.
In Wild Mind she says:
Be specific. Not car, but Cadillac. Not fruit, but apple. Not bird, but wren. Not a codependent, neurotic man, but Harry, who runs to open the refrigerator for his wife, thinking she wants an apple, when she is headed for the gas stove to light her cigarette. Be careful of those pop-psychology labels. Get below the label and be specific to the person.
But don't chastise yourself as you are writing, "I'm an idiot; Natalie said to be specific and like a fool I wrote 'tree.' " Just gently note that you wrote "tree," drop to a deeper level, and next to "tree" write "sycamore." Be gentle with yourself. Don't give room for the hard grip of the editor.
Whatever your week involves—Holy Week and Easter planning, medical ordeals, family stress—you have nouns in front of you that will help you pay attention. Listing them provides opportunity for a deep breath and a mindful pause. They might not be nouns you would choose, but they are what is true today.
I went back to my short list of nouns and added more specifics:
Red Peruvian mango
Emerald palm—Chamaedorea elegans
Puffs Ultra-Soft facial tissue
Forest green blank journal from Peter Pauper Press
HP LaserJet Pro 400 Printer M401 that only prints in black and white
Level 20 Term Life Insurance with rate change addendum
There is still more to say, but this list of more specific nouns is beginning to capture my week, and give words to my scattered thoughts and fuel for my prayers.
a writing prompt
What are the nouns of your life today? What is right in front of you? Be specific.
This could be just a list; or it might prompt more writing—from a paragraph to a prayer.
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