Season 2 Week 6

Finding Wonder in the World and the Words while Outside and in Motion
Finding Wonder in the World and the Words while Outside and in Motion
Season 2 Week 6

Welcome to Week Six of the class! For this last lecture, I’ll do 2 things. First, I’ll highlight some ways that I use my blog as part of my practice. Then, I’ll offer a few suggestions on what to do next with your practice of moving outside, noticing, and writing about it. 

Part One: Using a Blog

In this class, I’ve talked a lot about the practice of going outside to move, notice, then write about it, but I haven’t given that much attention to one of the key aspects of it for me: I write about it online, in a blog. Today I’ll give you a brief overview and introduction to some ways I’m using my blog as part of my practice. 

I’ve been regularly writing in a blog for almost 15 years. From 2009-2013, I wrote about the ethical and political possibilities of making trouble on a blog I titled TROUBLE. From 2013-2018, I explored storytelling on STORY. Now, for the past six+ years I’ve been writing on RUN! I use my online space to write, then post entries about my runs (or walks or swims or shovels). I also use it to collect resources related to what I’ve wondered about, to gather poems related to what I noticed, and to try out new experiments in paying attention and being in wonder and then translating that wonder into words. And, I use it as an easy-to-search archive for my ongoing conversation with my body, poetry, and the Mississippi River Gorge. 

This archive has been extremely helpful for my writing and for my life. I am constantly returning to past entries for inspiration, motivation, direction, and even correction — when my memories of an experience are fuzzy or wrong. Almost all of the images and ideas for my poems or lyric essays started in these entries. So did this class. And there’s so much more in the entries still to explore and engage with. 

Before focusing on a few specific examples from RUN!, here are four reasons why I find writing in a blog valuable: it holds you accountable, it is accessible, it fosters connections, and it encourages experimentation.

It holds you accountable: First, because my blog is public and anyone can read my entries, I think more about my words and what I’d like to communicate to an audience — both real and imagined. I don’t write for a specific audience, or to build an audience, but there’s something about knowing others are reading what I write that compels me to do more than post notes or write a report about what I noticed. 

Second, on my sidebar I have a monthly calendar widget. The date boxes are white but turn green when I’ve posted an entry for that day. It is satisfying to see so many green boxes and disheartening when there are too many white ones. Usually I’m motivated to write, but occasionally I need a nudge. This helps.

screen shot of calendar with green boxes

Screen shot from RUN! of my calendar.

It is accessible: A public blog is available to others to read, to access your entries and ideas. Additionally, the blog has several helpful features that make it possible for you to easily access past entries, and to find past memories or images or experiences. You can tag your entries with a keyword to make this easier — I’ll talk more about that in a minute. You can also search through past entries. For example, when I was writing a poem about the color yellow this fall, I was able to search for “yellow” and find lots of great images from past entries to play with in my poem.  

It fosters connections with others as you share your entries with new audiences. And, because of how the blog platform works, it’s easy for me to connect my words and ideas with others’ words and ideas by posting or linking to them in my entry. It’s also easy for me to gather together a wide variety of materials — voice memos, images, videos — to put into conversation with each other and to post all in one place. And, it’s easy to find and reference my past entries, to track common themes and build connections between what past Sara noticed or was thinking about, with what present Sara is doing.

Finally, it encourages experimentation: Maybe it’s because blogs seem less serious, or they make it possible to post all sorts of things, or they push at what can count as writing, or they give you access to a wider range of ideas, approaches, and tools. Writing on my blog makes me more playful and open to trying new experiments for how to notice and wonder, then write about it.

So, how do I do this? Here are a few examples:

Tags: As part of each entry, I include a few keywords at the bottom. This enables me to group similar entries together and to notice even more things about my practice. For example, I tag each entry with the time of day I moved (morning, afternoon, evening), the type of movement I did (running, swimming, walking), and whether or not I listened to the gorge or music (no headphones, playlist). Doing this, I can track patterns — I move mostly in the morning, I usually don’t wear headphones. These patterns have been the subject of poems I’ve written. 

Other examples:

I tag all entries with other people’s poems in them, “poem”

I create tags for frequent topics, or topics I often wonder or write about, like: “vision,” “birds,” “crunching snow,” “green”

I tag entries in which I describe/practice experiments, like: “10 Things I Noticed,” “a moment of sound,” and “before/during/after”

I’ve already mentioned the ability to search through past entries. Another way I like to explore my archive is with a plugin on my sidebar called “On this Day.” It posts all of your entries, through the years, written on that date. Because I’ve been writing almost daily on my blog for more than 6 years, I have a lot of entries (as of February 27, 2023: 1743 entries). It’s fun and useful to look back on what I’ve written in the past. And, it’s fascinating to witness many different versions of Sara next to each other.

Here are some ways I use the plugin:

  • to track changes in the weather from year to year
  • to see how my volume of running has changed
  • to rediscover poems I’ve posted in the past
  • to be reminded of what I was doing, and to double-check my memories with the “facts” as they were recorded when they happened
  • to remember how I felt in the early days of training for a marathon or studying poetry or living through COVID, and to witness how my feelings have changed (or not) as I’ve become used to these things
  • to find inspiration/ideas for new experiments/poems/essays in my old words
  • to rediscover the words of others that I had posted and forgotten
  • to hang out with past Saras

Note: The “On this Day” plugin was developed by my husband, Scott Anderson/Room34.

I have many more examples, but I’ll offer just two more in this lecture: monthly challenges and experimental writing, like erasure poems. 

First, monthly challenges. Starting in 2020, as part of my practice, I began creating monthly challenges for myself that I would work on as I moved, then write about in my entries. Here’s how it works: early in the month, I come up with the challenge. Then, throughout the month, I wonder about it as I move, research it, experiment with it in some of my entries. I tag those entries with the challenge topic and post a summary of the challenge at the end of the month on that year’s page. My challenges have been inspired by something I’m wondering about, something I want to spend more time with, even something from a call for submissions for a literary journal. I’ve wondered about dirt, water, the color gray. Spent time with birds, Emily Dickinson, Mary Oliver. And worked on a poem about ghosts for a journal. These challenges have enabled me to go deeper with my noticing and to build on my wonder.

Second, erasure poems. In their online glossary of poetic terms, Poetry Foundation describes erasures:

Erasure poetry, also known as blackout poetry, is a form of found poetry wherein a poet takes an existing text and erases, blacks out, or otherwise obscures a large portion of the text, creating a wholly new work from what remains.

In April of 2017, I began turning some of my log entries into erasure poems. With a little help from my web developer husband (Room 34) and my own knowledge of code, I created these erasures online. Instead of blacked out text, the erased words disappear when you hover over the entry. These online erasures are a fun way to revisit past entries and discover new meanings. 

Here are a few examples:

Part Two: what to do next

Go outside, move. 

Pay attention while moving. 

Be open to wonder. 

Write about it in a movement log.

Each week you’ve had the opportunity to practice this structure. And each week, I offered ideas, a few poems, some possible activities, a brief reading or two, and some examples from my movement log to supplement the building of your practice. Even as I hoped some of these supplemental materials would be inspiring as you tried to establish a new practice, I also envisioned them as being resources for the future, as you build on your practice. To that end, when the class is over, all of the lessons, including lectures, activities, resources, readings, and everything else will be available for you to download and read and refer to whenever you need it. 

To add to those resources, I’ll offer a few more ideas here, specifically about what you might do now to build on your practice. 

First, a simple answer: keep practicing, using a method that you’ve established in these 6 weeks. Keep making lists of 10 Things You Noticed. This might be enough to help you find wonder in the world. 

Second, keep experimenting. As your practice becomes more established, experiment with new ways of paying attention. Try some of the activities I’ve suggested throughout the weeks, or something from the list, An Abridged List of Activities/Prompts/Experiments, that I’ve added to this lesson, like:

When out running or walking, listen to the “Look!” you are offered by another kind walker wanting to point out a soaring eagle or a drumming downy woodpecker. Later, offer your own “Look!” to someone else (see may 3, 2021).

or: Write about something that happened during the middle of your run–not at the beginning or the end, but the middle (see nov 27, 2019).

or: Make a list of the strangest, most memorable, people you have encountered while you’re out moving, or make a list of the people you most often see, the “Regulars.” Bonus: name them

And third, keep finding new ways into the words. Instead of making of list of 10 Things You Noticed, try another one my six examples from “Translating Wonder into Words,” or something new, like an erasure poem (online or on paper) or:

Take a sentence from your entry that you want to work on. Keep writing it over and over again until you like how it sounds. Write as many versions as you need to.  I think I’ve averaged around 7 or 8. 

or: Instead of typing your thoughts about your run or walk, speak them into your phone. Try using an app that transcribes your speech. Also try transcribing your thoughts as you move.

or: Record yourself reading a draft of a poem/essay you are working on. Listen to it before heading out for your walk, or during your walk. Think about it as you walk. Write a different version of it when you’re done walking.

Question: How will you build on your practice?