Writing Exercises

Writers tend to be observant people, but I lack in this area. By nature, I’m attuned better to emotion and relationship dynamics (I wonder if my poor eyesight has anything to do with that).

So I set this challenge today: to consciously practice my powers of observation, to think about what is happening in the present and use all my senses in the most boring of situations.

Observation Exercise 1 – Lunch

I leave my desk at exactly 11:42. It’s too early for the kitchen to be busy with people and my favorite space will still be unoccupied. It’s not a secret space, but the counter is tucked into the corner of the kitchen, facing a small patio growing with mint and chives, and peas, and bok choy.

I’m drawn to the seat bathed in the most light, and I set myself down, glass lunch container in hand. 472 mL, it reads. 472 strikes me as a strange number. It does not hold the same whole satisfaction that 500 would provide.

The glass is chipped in one corner, due to carelessness with the dishwasher. It’s still warm to touch from the microwave. How many glasses and plates and mugs have I destroyed over the years? Too many days sweeping up glass. I break things. It’s nothing new. I was probably thinking of a story or rushing to get back to my computer.

I sit, without newspaper or the security of a book to read. There’s no one around. On Friday’s the kitchens are always emptier than normal. There are no awkward conversations to wade through. The quiet and the sunshine are enough to make me happy.

I set the glass bowl on its lid. A staircase shaped piece of steak sits on a bed of rice. A square was cut out of the middle. The husband’s doing. What I’m left with is an edge of meat ringed with ligament or fat. I can’t tell which it is. I press it with a fork, and a small amount of clear juice drips down onto the rice. So, it’s still edible. There’s no space in the bowl to maneuver a knife, and I tear off a bite with my teeth. And I chew, and I chew. I can’t remember the last time I cooked a steak. Fat, ligaments, meat and all, I keep chewing. There’s more rice than meat. I try to make it last.

Under the meat I discover three pieces of shriveled mushroom, token vegetables tossed in between the meat and carbohydrates. I treat these like candy. I scoop up one little bit of mushroom, and two big scoops of rice.

Three grains fall onto the laminated blue countertop. I gather them into the lid of my lunch container. The grains are yellow and flowery smelling. Again, not my doing. Paprika? Oregano? It’s shines with oily film in the sunlight. The grains are reluctant to stay together on my fork. It’s not jasmine, or milagrosa, or any product of Thailand, the plain white steaming stuff I grew up with.

Outside the plants are moving and pulsing. The bok choy sways its leaves like butterfly wings. It’s movement, it’s life. A tall screen hides away the adjacent condo towers. It’s easy to forget I’m in the middle of the city. I watch a while, and finish my lunch. I leave fourteen grains of rice in the bowl, too lazy to scoop them all together. It’s time to return to my dark cocoon.

My eyes are spackled with green spots as I turn my back to the bright window. Half blind I navigate past the corrugated temporary wall that separates the kitchen from cubicles. I walk silently up stiletto pocked steps to the dim space of my desk. The sun bounces in from a skylight a few meters away. It does not bathe me, but I know it’s there and that makes me happy.