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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Reawakening the Senses

Even though it’s officially spring, my area looks dull, drab and dreary. The grass is brown. Leafless brown trees line my neighborhood like wooden pitchforks standing sentinel over brown, wooden fences. Occasionally the brownness is broken up by a splash of color from a freshly washed car.
During this endless winter of sensory deprivation, my senses froze. Ice cubes. They are now beginning to melt, but haven’t fully thawed. This has affected my writing. I feel that my descriptions of characters and settings have become as interesting as, well, a pile of grimy snow.

Time to take charge and kick all my senses into high gear!

I began with hearing. I had become so used to everyday winter background noises (snow plows and shovels) that I tuned everything out. To counteract this, I sat in a quiet place, closed my eyes, and just listened. I heard the rumble of a truck, the neighbor’s Sheltie bark while on his morning constitutional, and a cardinal sing. Then I covered my ears and listened to my heart swish as I breathed slowly in and out.

Next, I worked with my sight. I take it for granted and should know better since I lost sight in one eye and went color blind for a year due to an illness. To renew this sense, I spent time watching my husband's colorful fish and corals in their salt water aquariums. Blue, magenta, green, orange--a rainbow of living colors.

Because the heat in the house is constantly running, my nose is stuffy and my sense of smell is off. I sniffed a tangy orange then graduated to stronger scents of cinnamon and clove. I finished with pepper which made me sneeze.
This winter I wore gloves inside the house since my hands were cold and sometimes numb. To stimulate touch, I took off my gloves, warmed my hands using a jasmine scented heat pack, and touched. The carpet felt nubby, a silk skirt slick, and a blanket soft.

My taste has decreased, too. Even chocolate doesn’t taste as luscious. (Gasp) With a big box by my side, I continue to eat one at a time being mindful of the taste. (It's for the greater good. Really.)

What about the sixth sense of intuition? Mine was strong, but has weakened over this endless winter. I’m not sure how to reinvigorate it. Perhaps by being mindful and paying attention, that sense will expand as well.

Hopefully, when my senses finally reawaken, my written description of characters’ worlds will be reenergized. I want to transport a reader to a character’s world using descriptions that stimulate all the senses--to immerse themselves in a warm sauna of words that flow from the page.

Don’t all writers want that? To create living, breathing worlds that are as real and sensual as our own (at least in any season but winter)?

Do the seasons, or lack of them depending on where you live, affect your writing?


Jim Jackson said...

Kara, I am impressed by the mindfulness of your re-sensitizing. I guess I implicitly knew my surroundings affected my writing, but had not analyzed it.

When I write a scene, I will often close my eyes and try to put myself there – readers can determine if I am effective.

~ Jim

E. B. Davis said...

In the winter, I usually write a lot. It's a quiet season. This year was a bit different. The weather was oppressive. It was so cold it seemed like an adversary. I went to Florida--it was cold there. The last few days the weather improved. We flew home. Florida was but a tease. It has snowed three times since I returned. It's more than a decline in senses. The numbness felt like a suspension. Even though it is officially spring, our highs were only in the upper thirties yesterday. We will be moving to a milder climate in a few years. I can't wait. There will still be snow, but winter is shorter and the daily temperature disparity is much less, dropping only by five degrees at night. I'm sick of feeling numb!

Kara Cerise said...

Jim, I admire that you have the ability to close your eyes and transport yourself to another world. I think the mindfulness part of my re-sensitizing comes from my daily meditation.

E.B., it was a horrible winter! The ice was just miserable and covered everything--cars, sidewalks, and people if they stayed outside too long. It was like we were living in the movie, Frozen.

Shari Randall said...

This winter was the pits. I have stayed in this state because it is well south of my native New England, but winter got us this year.
Loved how you went through each sense to reawaken your writer's powers. I'm going to try to slow down and be more mindful.
I wish I had thought to write a short story set in winter -

Warren Bull said...

A good idea to reawaken your senses. Where I live, spring and fall are the seasons where all the senses get most stimulated.

Kara Cerise said...

Shari, the New England area received so much snow this season...I don't know where they put it.
One of my favorite stories set in winter is Stephen King's, The Shining. I imagine a number of people muttered "redrum" this year.

Warren, spring and fall are wonderful transitional seasons between the heat of summer and cold of winter. I love spring!

Gloria Alden said...

Kara, a beautiful way to awaken your senses. It was a brutal winter where I live and was starting to get me down, however, I get more writing done in the winter because there is no yard work or gardening and even my walks in the woods had to be curtailed for several months. Now that I'm back to walking in the woods, I've started plotting my next book and even came up with a poem yesterday that I wrote as soon as I got back and on to my computer.

Kara Cerise said...

You must have missed walking in the woods, Gloria. It sounds like it inspires you. As Friedrich Nietzsche said, "All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking."

I hope we get to read your poem!

Kait said...

Hi Kara - what a wonderful way to celebrate the rebirth of spring! I live in Florida so we have year round spring/summer, but there are huge differences in the seasons if you know how to look. I used to live in Maine and I loved the long winter nights for crafting mysteries - sometimes I frightened myself. Imagination runs wild when you are in basement office (I totally understand about gloves) and the windows are buried under snow. Little sounds take on a life of their own! To reawaken your intuition, pick a face in a mall or grocery store. Develop an image of that person, who they are, their triumphs and tragedies. What would they eat, are they restricted by costs, extravagant. Then tag along and see what they buy and figure out how that fits with your image and how your image changes by what you learn. Eventually, you'll know all about a person in a glance - or at least their grocery habits!

KM Rockwood said...

Spring is a wonderful time to re-awaken our senses. And to remind ourselves how important it is to be able to use a few sensual details to set the scene for our readers.

I'm annoyed with myself right now. In my current work-in-progress, I wanted to include a scene at a maple sugaring site. I carefully wrote down the dates when two local places would have sugaring demonstrations, so I could immerse myself in the situation and get the details right.

When my publisher went out of business, I turned most of my attention to getting my books back up. And managed to miss both opportunities. It's a little late now. I think I'll just pull that scene & use it in a later book.

I also recently wrote a short story for an anthology that had a call out for mysteries set in tourist destinations. Since I live close to Gettysburg, I decided to submit a story. Usually my scenes are based on real places, but with a lot of poetic license. This, however, was to be a definite, fact-based place. Even though I was familiar with area, I had to visit the exact scene four times, at different times of the day and in different weather, to make sure I got it accurate.

Sarah Henning said...

I definitely think they affect my writing! I tend to do a lot of writing in the winter months when it's cold but I've set nearly every one of my novels during a heat wave. Hmmmmmm....

Kara Cerise said...

Kait, I can just picture you bundled up and writing in the basement, pausing to look around when you hear a strange noise. I hope your electricity didn't go out and leave you in the dark.
Thank you for the terrific method to reawaken my intuition. I will definitely try that.

KM, what a wonderful way to research your story. I know that some artists return to an area each season or at different times of day to study the light, but I never thought about doing something similar when writing a story. It makes perfect sense.
I look forward to reading your story about Gettysburg. My father's grandfather fought there. I hope to visit one day.

Kara Cerise said...

How funny, Sarah. I wonder what would happen if you wrote in the summer? Would your stories take place during blizzards?