• One Minnesota Writer

52 Ways to Shift Your Focus

Shift #16: Back to Basics

I often look things up when I’m reading poetry in the slush pile at Every Day Poets. I’ll look up classical references and review forms to make sure I remember a given form’s rhyme scheme or meter correctly. Most people are familiar with iambic pentameter (thank you, Shakespeare) but I have to remind myself about what other meters look like (can you remember what spondee or trochee is off the top of your head?).

But for my own work, how often do I revisit the basics of personal essay or the basics of freewriting? Since I’ve been working at this for a long time, I tend to let myself believe that I don’t have to return to the basics or remind myself of what my own chosen form is about.

Of course, there’s a big “but” coming. And that “but” is that we can always rediscover something when we return to the basics of whatever our art is. We get an, “oh, yeah, I remember that!” moment that sends us off on a different course of thought.

What reminded me of this is the simple act of babysitting. I’ve spent a lot of time in the past couple of weeks with my 14-month-old granddaughter Camille, a concept that never fails to amaze me. That my son now has a daughter is astonishing. What’s also astonishing is how much I’ve forgotten about what it’s like to have a baby in the house at the same time as certain things feel so familiar because I’ve parented two kids already.

What being with Camille does is slow me down. Her fascination with everything urges me to try to see things through her eyes. How do I explain the world around her in a way that she can understand? What is the essence of that which is right in front of her? When did I lose my own sense of awe at the tools I use every day? The elegance of a spoon, the simple utility of a cup, the oddity of liquids are all there to be enjoyed at breakfast. And the day only gets more interesting to Camille from there.

As an adult, I’ve gone beyond that initial sense of curiosity about the most basic things. I’ve gone beyond the basics in my chosen writing forms. And that’s as it should be. We practice, we develop, we move onto something deeper. But we still can tap into that excitement that filled our first time with any creative practice, that feeling that this particular form was ours to be wielded. And we can do that by going back to one of our old notebooks, sketchbooks, first book of creative exercises and simply opening up to a random page to see what’s there.

We need to let ourselves stumble across our own beginnings. We need to let ourselves be like kids and play a little.

I’m going to revisit the oldest journal of my own that I can find on my shelf and see what old ideas I can pull into a new life.

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