Quick notes – an acheivable exercise for the rushed.

Have you got five minutes, and a scrap of paper handy?

Anything will do, the back of an old envelope; the border of a newspaper; that blank page in your diary – you know, the one you leave all year because it’s bound to come in handy some time…well, now’s the day.

Why not start making notes for a Pillow Book?  It seems to me a perfect occupation for time spent waiting in queues.

Not sure what a Pillow Book is?  Well, the term is flexible.  In general, it seems to haveSei_Shonagon_artist_unknown 1700s been an early form of notebook.  But I’m aiming to be specific in my use of the term, and refer to the one kept by Sei Shonogan, a lady-in-waiting to the Japanese Empress Consort Teishi.  This was circa 1002 AD.

Sei Shonogan’s Pillow Book is predominantly made up of lists.  The topics and contents of these range widely, and include references to objects, people, events, her thoughts, observations, poetry and gossip.

Not sure?  Try this one:

Things that give a clean feeling

An earthen cup.  A new metal bowl.  A rush mat.  The play of the light on water as one pours it into a vessel.  A new wooden chest.

On one level it’s a simple collection of objects.

And yet, it’s much more, isn’t it?  I see a fragment of sensations from another society: another age, but some of them still echo in ours, don’t they?  I think there’s poetry in the way she groups the images, and I love the phrasing of the title.

Here’s another:

Things that are distant though near

Festivals celebrated near the palace.  Relations between brothers, sisters, and other members of a family who do not love each other.  The zigzag path leading up to the temple at Kurama.  The last day of the Twelfth month and the first day of the First.

So much of this is in what’s implied.  Is it just a list, or is it part of a picture?  I like the way this one ranges from the general to the particular.

Lists like this seem to me a style of writing that thrive on breaks for reflection.

The first challenge, is the title.  Will you make up one of your own, or borrow a ready made one?  What about, ‘Things that make your heart beat faster‘?

You could treat it like a brainstorm, and throw down images in a hurry.  But take a little time, and let some of them expand out, to include sentences, ‘On a night when you’re waiting for someone to come, there’s a sudden gust of rain and something rattles in the wind, making your heart beat faster.

After that, do you leave your items in their naturally occurring order, or do you rearrange them?  Perhaps you break the lines up…

2 thoughts on “Quick notes – an acheivable exercise for the rushed.

  1. There is the ‘Commonplace Book’ kept by British writers but it doesn’t seem half as psychologically and poetically necessary as the ‘Pillow Book’. I’ve never heard of the Pillow Book; how did you hear of it – through research? Sue Rushton


    • Hi Sue,
      I came across one of the poems through a writing exercise someone set for me, and shamefully, I can’t remember now who it was, it was so long ago. After that, I couldn’t resist reading more. I still find something fresh to admire every time I revisit them.
      Happy Easter, Cath


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