Monday, October 31, 2011

Snapshot moments

For one of the writing classes I'm teaching, I read a paper recently by Natalie Goldberg called "Pen, Paper, and the Mind." If you are able to get your hands on it, I highly recommend it. She writes about the physical nature of writing--how we use all of our senses to get the details right. She describes an event when she was in ninth grade. Her teacher turned the lights off and told the students to listen to the rain. She suddenly heard the pattering of the rain's rhythm, the scent of the soaked sidewalks, the gray of the haze outside the window. A quote I love from the piece is: "Writing gave me confidence, training in waking up."

As I'm reading my students' reflections on this essay, I am reminded of my own "snapshot moments"--those moments when time seems to slow down and the details of the day come into clear focus. All of them, by the way, have happened when I'm out of the house. So, for me, I need to be out, among people, watching and seeing what's happening.

The first was early this past summer, maybe in May or early June. I was on a bicycle ride, and passed a house where a mom and her toddler were on their driveway. She was just an average mom, and he was just an average little boy. But the moment was very poignant to me. The sunlight angled onto their driveway in late afternoon. The mom, with a bubble wand, began to slowly turn in a circle, letting the bubbles seep into the air. The boy hopped up to catch the bubbles. I could almost hear the plink of the popping bubbles, though I was not near enough. It was the essence of a perfect summer moment.

Then today, as I drove home, like a movie, I saw another scene that reminded me of my snapshot moments. This time, a boy with a black mask and a blue cape ran across the street, cape billowing behind him in the afternoon crispness. Behind him, his friend, a pirate in a maroon coat and triangle hat, hung on the stop sign, spinning in circles. The scent of fallen leaves gathering on the dewy lawn trickled in through my window. And again, the moment seemed like a perfect snapshot of the season.

Goldberg reminds us to turn off our "thinking minds" and wake up--watch the caterpillar scooting across the sidewalk. Listen to the clink and hiss of the espresso maker at the coffee shop. Breathe in the scents of the seasons. Enjoy!


  1. Anonymous10:23 PM

    My name is Ashley Archer, and I am a mother of 2 precious boys. I am writing because my son just loves your book "Gobble Gobble Crash." He specifically said something super sweet the other night. I always read to them, this night was no different. I also traditionally tell them the author's name hoping to help them gain that awareness and respect. My oldest son Eli (4) asked me again who wrote it. I told him Julie Stiegemeyer. He said in his sweet little voice, "I want to tell her thank you!" I thought that was so so precious. So......Thank you! Keep up the writing. My kids love you and your work does not go unrecognized.


  2. I just found your blog recently, and I am so glad for it! I love writing "snapshots!" At first I did it just for the joy of it, but it turns out, people actually like reading them too! Also I think it is a great way to capture bits of childhood for my own children, so they can read it (hear, smell, see, and remember it!) when they are older!