it is really astounding how quick you become blind to normal things in your neighborhood. This city is so surprising. Today I saw a minibus with a sticker of a sultan’s signature on the back window. In between the minibus traffic, an old man with a grey stovepipe hat was pushing a luggage cart stacked with all his belongings. Up the street from the docks, two black cats were gnawing on a dead bone. There’s a guy selling potatoes out of a van–I can hear this even while typing–because he’s driving around and on loudspeaker announcing, "potatoes potatoes onions onions." Dead vines hang down in root sheets from facades normally green and overgrown in summer. Everyone seems to be out in the neighborhood, enjoying the rare winter sun.
When I was alone and taking the train across America like, oh, three years ago now, I found this dollar notebook, hardcover, with a picture described as "Hungarian Love Letter theme" by the company. It was a drawing of a table strew with letters and roses and I think a clock in a bell jar. It kept me sane. On the train, on multi-day trips across the country, there was nothing to do except stare out the window and write down what I saw. I followed VS Naipaul’s rules for beginning writers:
1. Do not write long sentences. A sentence should not have more than ten or twelve words.
2. Each sentence should make a clear statement. It should add to the statement that went before. A good paragraph is a series of clear, linked statements.
3. Do not use big words. If your computer tells you that your average word is more than five letters long, there is something wrong. The use of small words compels you to think about what you are writing. Even difficult ideas can be broken down into small words.
4. Never use words whose meaning you are not sure of.If you break this rule you should look for other work.
5. The beginner should avoid using adjectives, except those of colour, size and number. Use as few adverbs as possible.
6. Avoid the abstract. Always go for the concrete.
7. Every day, for six months at least, practice writing in this way. Small words; short, clear, concrete sentences. It may be awkward, but it’s training you in the use of language. It may even be getting rid of the bad language habits you picked up at the university. You may go beyond these rules after you have thoroughly understood and mastered them.
It made me a better writer, but more importantly I think, it helped me chill out. Focus on the details, stay conscious of what’s happening to you. It helped me pay attention to my experiences, because otherwise I’d have nothing to write about.
If you are also feeling like you day could use some extra consciousness, go ahead and notice three small details about your day. Then either write them down somewhere very secret and show it to nobody, or go ahead and write a comment and put it on this post.