Click the player below (or this link) to listen to an audio recording of this post. Sorry about the slight rustle behind the title of this post—I didn’t catch it until now and I’m about to head out the door, so I’m just leaving it as is. The rest of the audio is better quality!
Because I’m queen of overcomplicating plans for myself, I enjoyed the “An Ordered List” episode of Amy Cowan’s Creativity Matters podcast, in which Amy examines a simple “tell me three things” practice:
Back in Episode 353, I talked about the “3 things” idea after reading Tell Me Three Things, a YA book by Julie Buxbaum. I have come to really appreciate the practice of “3 things” and the way it can be used to bridge the distance, break through a silence, invite someone to share, or open a door. I notice this approach has become increasingly common as a formulaic approach used by marketers, thought leaders, and writers, in newsletters, at Instagram, and on podcasts. The number may vary (e.g., 3, 5, 10), but this idea of an ordered and finite list sets the parameters for the sharing and the receiving (listening, reading, seeing). More and more I see “a list of things” come into my inbox as newsletters, the list format providing the structure and scaffolding for the sharing of sometimes random details. It isn’t a new wheel, but it is a wheel that works, and I enjoy the order of it. There is such beauty in a simple list.
For a long while I’ve been trying to keep Lynda Barry’s daily diary format (with intermittent success), which in my case is boiled down to lists of Things I Did Today and Things I Saw Today, plus notes on what I read, watched, or listened to, and an ‘overheard’ section for any funny or intriguing bits of conversation I’ve picked up, including kid quips, which are my favorite part. Sometimes I’ve aimed for a specific seven or ten items in each list, but mostly I just do bullet points and list as much as I can remember from the day.
For me, this practice is more about recording the bits and pieces I’m likely to lose if I don’t write them down—a yellow-rumped warbler at the feeder, our first!; a new leaf on my hoya plant (it’s a very slow grower, you see); hearing my friend Jennie say, “I’ve only ever once held a dolphin skull in my hand.” That line is enough to call back up the whole conversation—Jennie and her sister Julie, and my friend Ben’s mom Carolyn, whom I’m enjoying getting to know; the four of us sitting in a booth in the OMSI cafe with seats sliding gently from side to side on caster wheels; conversations about art and photography and the sisters scuba diving into a cave full of dolphin bones—and afterward picking up ramen with Rilla to take home, and Rilla looking around at the small tables, the window full of plants, people leaning over giant bowls of broth and noodles, the neat trays of paper-wrapped chopsticks and jars of spice—watching her take it all in, her hair in little twists behind each ear, her purple-glitter nail polish, her sparkling eyes—oh! all of it from one Jennie quote in my notebook!
It’s a good practice, but I had to write “I’ve been trying to keep” rather than “I’ve been keeping” because I’ll sometimes let it lapse for days at a time, a whole week even, and I may try to go back and fill in, but you can’t really—the entire point (for me) is capturing the things I’m not likely to remember a week, a month, a year later.
I’ll remember having lunch at the brick-oven pizzeria with my friend Lisa yesterday and even the main drift of our conversation—words seem to file themselves in a more accessible part of my memory—but will I remember the prosciutto and arugula piled high on our pizza, drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette? The glow of the oven behind Lisa’s shoulder? We talked about our radiation tattoos and our creative practices. We arrived on opposite corners outside the pizza place at the exact same moment, and since the light was against me we stood smiling at each other across the wide boulevard for long minutes as the cars rushed by. Now that I’ve written that moment, I’ll have it for keeps.
Tell Me Three Things would make a terrific format for blog posts, and I may keep it in my pocket for times when I’m not sure what to write about. I didn’t think I knew what to write about today, but just mentioning the Three Things gave me 700 words’ worth of things to say.
I would love to hear your Three Things for today, if you’d like to share them.
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