The Act of Noticing

For years I had been in the habit of carrying a notebook. A catch-all where I collected bits and pieces of things that interested me — quotes, observations, facts — all notations that begged me to return to them.

Then I read The Memoir Project, A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life, written by Marion Roach Smith. In her book, she shares with the reader something that is so important for people, writer or not. I think of it as the act of noticing.

No — not art. Act.

Because what she advises requires action. Here let me share with you in Marion’s words:

I am no more Zen, enlightened, or realized than the next person, stumbling into and through little moments of realization. But I do catch some of these moments in my notebook or on my handy index cards. What frequently happens to me is that some odd aspect of an encounter amuses or disturbs me, and when I’m in my car or walking home, I’ll jot down one image, or a piece of conversation, which I’ll start to think about and worry like a set of prayer beads. What was that I saw? I’ll ask myself. What just happened there? Like those after-bubbles from a camera flash, they’ll stick around only so long, so I write them down, having learned that what at first might seem tangential frequently expands upon consideration.”

Of course, she has far more to say about it and includes a marvelous example, but you’ll need to buy her book for that. If you write, even if you don’t, her book is a jewel in the crown of books written about life and writing.

Marion’s description of the “little moments of realization” blew open a whole new level of noticing for me. I think of that revelation often, it was such a gift.

Although I have had moments that would more than likely stack up to days, if not months, where I simply wasn’t ready to write about something, it is never lack of content that prevents me from sitting with the page.

No, my lack of showing up in an immediate sense, more times than not, houses an emotion that is too close to the bone. The act of noticing, then recording, provides me a path back.

Last fall we brought our son to school, the middle of our three kids. Once there we unpacked the truck, set up his room, ran errands, ate lunch, checked in with him, all things a parent does until they are satisfied their child is settled.

Later, after we said our goodbyes, Jimmy and I watched as our son-turned-man strode off toward his new life and rather than the contraction I expected, my heart swelled with joy for him.

My own grief over his departure hit me days before we pulled out of the driveway for school.

It was early in the evening, Kodiak and I stood next to the large armoire in the master bedroom, we were talking about his imminent departure for college. Although I hadn’t seen it coming, the emotion I had been stuffing down over his leaving burst from inside. Hugging him I said…

I feel as if I am finishing the last pages of the most amazing book in a series, I am so attached to the main character I can’t let him go. Of course I know there is the next book to look forward too, but I can’t think of it, not yet. Instead I am lingering over each page, savoring every last word, as if doing so will mean the story — as I have come to know it — will never end.”

All these months later my son is well into living his second volume — the one where his father and I are more on the periphery.

In my notebook, I have written: Kodiak and me, armoire.

Now, in the stillness of this room, I see us once again.KJW and me It is as if we are tucked inside a wrinkle in time, one where the heart rests between beats. And there we stand permanently anchored next to that armoire — a mother and her son.

We harbor love, joy, sorrow, grief, light, dark; a veritable reservoir brimmed with all our life experiences.

All of it is there wedged in the split-seconds that make up all the little moments in our lives. Each a droplet in the pool of realization, they remind us, upon closer examination, just how precious life really is.


  1. Brian Berry says

    Elin, this is awesome. I have started to write recently. I have kept a journal on and off throughout my life and I have started to go back and read those entries and my goal is to take my learnings and somehow bring them to light in an effort to help others, You have been a big inspiration for me and I love what you are doing here!
    Love you, Brian

    • says

      Brian, It is so wonderful to hear from you ad learn that you are working toward sharing your writing, I look forward to learning more about your journey! Thank you so much for your kind words, it is always so humbling to learn that my expressed thoughts offer inspiration. Love you too.

  2. says

    Elin, I can’t believe you made me cry first thing in the morning. “I feel as if I am finishing the last pages of the most amazing book in a series, I am so attached to the main character I can’t let him go.” That is such a perfect description of getting ready to send your children off to college and their own lives. It brought me right back to the emotion of saying goodbye to both of my kids and leaving them in new places and stories that had little to do with me. Such a beautiful post and a great reminder to notice – and make note of – what’s important.
    Lois Alter Mark recently posted…currentlyMy Profile

    • says

      Thank you, Lois. Isn’t it amazing how the smallest of things can bring one back to a specific moment? As much as I celebrate all the steps that follow the initial parting is so tough. Thanks again for your nice comment and sorry about the tears first thing in the morning. xo

  3. says

    Ha, what Lois said. Exquisite quote and description. I am on my way out the door and I refuse to cry! LOL. But I feel the tears lurking behind my eyes. Frankly, I’ve been stuffing those tears back for a long time….my only son is grown and living in another state and it is very painful for me.
    Lisa Froman recently posted…I Have A Dream, MartinMy Profile

    • says

      It is hard when distance prevents regular visits, Lisa. We know about that with our oldest, although he has remained in California the miles between us might as well be two states wide! Thank you for being here today and for your sweet comment.

  4. says

    What a wonderful heart-filled post. I love it and how wonderful that you recognized your grief over his departure before you took him to school and how that recognition made room for joy! And I love that you see your son’s life as a set of consecutive volumes as all our lives are. Thanks. I really enjoyed your post and the way you write.
    Toni McCloe recently posted…Write On!My Profile

  5. says

    So much love woven through this post. Beautiful, Elin.

    I used to use index cards and mini notepads for my snippets of thought, similar to your “Kodiak and me, armoire.” I now use the backs of old business cards and various notepads received from conferences and such, all stored in various boxes and books on my desk. Twenty+ years of thought that I go through now and again, seeking a post or article idea. It’s funny: Many scribbles I thought I’d surely recall the gist of the meaning years later now just make me chuckle — because I haven’t the slightest idea what the heck I was thinking then!
    Lisa at GrandmasBriefs recently posted…Saturday movie review: Two to avoidMy Profile

  6. Janet Norton says

    Elin, how is it you always write what is in my heart and head? Ever since I became pregnant with Tristan (and you know how long ago that was) I have felt like I was in the last chapter of a long and wonderful book. I knew he would be my last child and I wanted to savor and appreciate everything. Thank you for reminding me that there will be a sequel 🙂

    • says

      I’m so glad this resonated with you, Janet. Someone I know once told me we have our kids for the first 18 years. During that time our role is parent, guide, muse, mentor etc… Then, once they are older we have the rest of our lives to be friends. I have always loved that and the best part it has been so true. Thanks for reading and for your comment…your support here always means so much to me. <3

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge