Anyway, within the categories of brain activity I selected that I want to focus on (problem solving, flexibility, memory, acuity, etc.) is Attention, which is consistently THE hardest category for me.
I live in my head a lot, like many other writers. I've known all my life that when I walk down a city street, I'm totally aware of the ambiance, the energy, the colors and sounds, and the light or dark feeling that surrounds me in an aura-ish, or a gestalt-ish way, and I can reproduce that feeling in words. But if you ask me where a particular shop is that I walk past every day, I probably don't even know that it exists, much less where it is on the street.
I've considered asking the government if I can get disability payments for this inability (along with some $$ for the no-sense-of-direction problem that also just has to be a physical, neurotransmitter glitch in my brain), but have decided to just work on it to improve it instead.
One of the reasons I want to improve my Attention Capability is that it is so important to notice physical details and retain them for authentic writing. Not just for description of place, but for context in characters' reactions and feelings. Names of shops and their physical appearance, for example, can have power and meaning in the context of a character's experience.
Of course you can take pictures to help you remember later, but that doesn't have the emotional immediacy of noting the meaning to you in the moment, or the specific feeling that particular name or shopfront or outfit a person is wearing creates in you that is memorable. Real details can be SO powerful when it comes to conjuring experiences and feelings on the page.
This week, at the Brainpickings Weekly site, there's a wonderful article on Attention, called The Art of Looking: What 11 Experts Teach Us about Seeing Our Familiar City Block with New Eyes. Annie Dillard is quoted, beautifully lamenting how urban living can rob us of this key element in experiencing life and expressing in words how that feels, but the article also offers an endorsement of a book that can help us open our eyes to what learning to pay attention to details will do for us:
“The art of seeing has to be learned,” Marguerite Duras reverberates – and itcan be learned, as cognitive scientist Alexandra Horowitz invites us to believe in her breathlessly wonderful On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes (public library) – a record of her quest to walk around a city block with eleven different "experts," from an artist to a geologist to a dog, and emerge with fresh eyes mesmerized by the previously unseen fascinations of a familiar world. It is undoubtedly one of the most stimulating books of the year,
It does look like a beautiful book, on a subject that is important to any writer (especially if you live in an urban location and also mostly in your head!)
Do you notice all the details of your environment or no? Are you aware of how you use these kinds of details in your writing? What do they do for you??