∀ Photo of Mies Van Der Rohe, the architect who once exclaimed, “God is in the details.”
¶ Prompt from Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write.
(DISCLAIMER: “This tool is not intended to be high art or serious writing. It is simply an exercise in observation… writing of a rich timbre.”)
“Set aside one hour,” writes Cameron. “List and describe ten items in your immediate environment. What are your associations with them, however nonsensical.” That’s part one, to tune into the immediate moment, the things around you, and their resonance with you. (Step two follows below.) I happen to be seated currently in the office of my brother’s good friend and fellow entrepreneur, Harrison. His office, kindly-lent to me this mid-afternoon while my brother and he record what will be a new marketing video for their kick ass new charcuterie boards, is my home for the hour. These are the ten items:
1. My laptop, my life’s heart, holder of all my intimate secrets, whose backside is riddled in nine years of bumper stickers — “I voted,” “TAOS: four letter word for steep,” “Tuenti,” “Planet fitness” “Radio one” “NASA” “The New School, write your book,” “Talk About Doubt,” “Whole Earth Provisions,” “MFA Houston,” “Eterna Cadencia,” and one that says “I love to write!” with two cartoon pencils running up and down it — my laptop, black as onyx, a studio XPS Dell, which reminds me of Texas, of Austin where I went for college and the reason for getting this laptop, a high school graduation gift from my father, souped up by a no-longer-friend of mine with good taste for laptop mods; a laptop which has been with me to Mexico, to Houston, to Buenos Aires, to New York. It is my most valued tool, my crucifix, my love, and my connection to the larger world, the internet, and the home of my word processor. Lots of love. And it is in my immediate vicinity, under my palms, causing sweat.
2. Harrison’s round cactus, out the window, small, in a large pot the color of brick, moist soil covered in assorted pebbles that look like earthy jelly beans, in the shade, to my left, asleep, it seems, for it stands so still, and sharp, yellow spikes, the size of a racquet ball, which epitomizes Austin for me.
3. A chrome desk lamp, bowing down, turned off, but connected to the wall, with a spring in its abdomen, and a small switch in the part of the neck that the humans in the movie the Matrix used to connect to the master computer; and a foot, round base, that reflects the ceiling; it’s so clean.
4. A copy of a Dali painting, hung on the wall to my right, which is the spot of the room you first see walking in, with a figure hunched over his knee, not unlike the lamp, and a hand holding up a chicken egg from which a white flower emerges, amidst an orgy of an apocalypse transgressing across time and space, with clouds and seas to reflect those clouds, only they do not reflect the clouds, or fire, everywhere else lots of red and bits of fire, which at once reminds me of a gift the ex of my friend gave to my friend’s brother, my friend also, which makes me wonder: Did he ever brother to get that Dali picture framed?
5. A plastic green mate gourd that has been in our house for years and that my brother and I use on road trips; we were using it on the road trip to ATX, and now it’s on this desk on which I write, and the gourd is hand-size, with a metal straw coming out, and hot water, not too hot, inside, steeping the over-steeped yerba inside, tasty, all of it green; and getting me high.
6. My green and beige ball point pen, a gift from a secret santa at the school I was working at just this past winter, which is the pen I carry around with me to work and which I packed because it matches my backpack and writes really well, and isn’t too crazy expensive, I assume, just right, from Kikkerland (the pen reads), which sounds Dutch; and is the shape of the pens my university uses for marketing, and which I like, am accustomed to.
7. A book mark, blue with a red exclamation mark running down it and text (in black) that reads “the future of fiction is here”; the book mark is from the Center for Fiction in New York and I must have gotten it when I bought a book from their used book library in the back of their old building, and has since been in various books I am reading; I’m using it now for this Right to Write book, and it’s next to my wallet.
8. My wallet, brown leather, hecho en Uruguay, which my mother gifted me for my birthday, or actually it might have just been a travel gift she gave me, but it would have been years and years ago. I don’t remember the last wallet I had, that’s how long I’ve had this one; it was stolen once, at Lollapalooza, but it found its way back to me the next day. We go way back.
9. This wooden desk under all of this stuff. Modern, but brand new, it feels, clean edges, nubs pointing at me, asking me to open the central drawer, but I won’t because it isn’t mine to open, and off to the side similar bronze looking handles for its symmetrical side drawers over conical table feet, sturdy, and placed right before the window in front of me. This desk is ample, spacious, sturdy, being very kind to me right now, I have all my things neatly laid out on it, and it still looks organized, papers casually turned to the side, my wallet closed and on its side, the mate elegantly pointing somewhere between me and the laptop; everything, has been tossed onto this desk, and yet it all looks organized. A brilliant table, as it reflects the afternoon light.
10. A handful of crochet needles, all Harrison’s, on a grey sofa chair. They are mostly wood brown, looking like someone had them all in their hand and were placed there for later, all of them waiting for something to happen, maybe they are new models of a line Harrison wants to sell; they look clean, and they want to be used, I can feel it, the yarn next to them asleep, but they, the needles are awake and alert, like well trained pups in a box, but not really, a chair.
“Now,” writes Cameron, “step two: List and describe ten personal objects that have for you personal emotional weight.” The whole goal of this exercises is to tune in with surroundings, and then with objects in the mind. Writing, in large part, is about describing, yes, but also resonating with the details in what you are describing. This is similar to an idea I read in my professor’s latest book, where she comments on the old chestnut: “Write what you know.” Only she recommends you “Write what you see,” which is way more in tune with what detailing experience really is. At least I think. So, here is part two, not including the laptop and the wallet, which for me have emotional weight, but other objects in my life with emotional weight:
1. The two tiny pocket sized editions of my two favorite books: El principito and Kama Sutra. I bought them at the big book fair in Buenos Aires. I was alone, at the fair, when I stumbled upon this booth by the publisher who specialized in miniature copies of books. I bought those two among the many I would have liked to have purchased. They sit now in my library shrine at home, with a bunch of other vibey things important to my life.
2. My great grandfather’s notebook, in my library, next to all my notebooks. I didn’t know but apparently there had been another writer in my family, who had written plays. My grand-uncle gave me this notebook before he passed away. It’s a small sort of literary (personal) treasure, and it’s written in an impeccable cursive. The notes inside are all thoughts on love and beauty and wit and other things that concern the early 20th century playwright, I suppose, or all artists always. It is jet black and wrinkled on the outside; and on the inside are bible thing lined pages, yellow and flat, and again with that impeccable handwriting.
3. The gift from my student I worked with almost a year, improving her English, discussing poetry, and raising confidence. It sits on my desk. It’s a clear plastic … card holder? pencil cup? It has my name — Mr. Brave — engraved on it over an apple. It means a lot to me, because the student was incredible and our time very well spent. Plus, Mr. Brave is how I see myself asking others to address me as in the future. Formality, transparency, education. Those are the things this object symbolizes for me. Things I like and respect. Thank you to the student.
4. My green Timbuk2 backpack, which has traveled with me everywhere since Senior year of college, when it was gifted to me in Denver. It doubles as my laptop case, so whenever I travel somewhere it comes with me. It has a line of pins from different trips on the left strap; while on the right are a ton of trinket bracelets from around the world. From a trip to Patagonia, I tied a long orange string, which wraps around the bracelet strap. There are secret pockets. I love this thing. I’ve had to sow it up, wash it, but it takes care of me too. It’s synonymous with my “traveler” persona, this backpack and I.
5. A cowhide bound copy of El Martin Fierro. Great poem. Great edition. I took it from my parents’ library. It also sits in the library shrine.
6. My Montblanc pen, gifted. I use it for letters. Where that pen is, I’ve said before, is where my desk is.
7. I’m noticing a lot of the things I most value are things that were given to me, but another is my sandal wood Mala beads with the tiger eye guru bead. I wear it often, especially when I need inspiration or need to feel protected, helps in wandering, also for coming home.
8. My El Cosmico t-shirt. Purchased on a road trip with good friends, camping trip. From Marfa, Texas, home of the Marfa lights, where I somehow imagine myself spending a good part of my life for some calm and distant reason. There are some oil stains and holes, but it has lasted a bit and I am oft to wear it.
9. My Texas drivers license. I like the photo. I like the city skyscrapers up top. I like the way it glimmers, the feel in my hand, the almost flimsy yet life-proof texture of it, with the raised water mark, and punch-holed outline of the state of Texas on the right you can only see when you hold the ID in the light. To get a NY drivers license you have to give up your old license. Never.
10. A one dollar bill my brother gave me for my birthday years, years ago, with two zeros written after each number 1 in the corner. He called it a hundred dollar bill. (Technically, the original was stolen when my wallet was lost; but he made me another one and for all intents and purposes, it’s the same, emotional weight wise.)