Tell me three things

February 19, 2020 @ 9:33 am | Filed under:
photo of a female northern flicker

Northern flicker in our backyard

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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6 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Tabatha says:

    Love this, and how one memory opens a door for a whole scene!
    1) The Japanese garden at Hillwood and how every angle was beautiful
    2) Using the “Picture this” app to identify “Lenten rose,” “Christmas rose,” and “Rose of Winter” (among others!)
    3) Leek on a grilled cheese sandwich (unexpectedly good!)

  2. Helen McLaughlin says:

    This is genius! I love it! What a way to keep track of a life! I’m especially smitten with the image of you and Lisa on opposite corners, smiling at each other as you waited for the light.

  3. Susanne Barrett says:

    Yes, I’m going to have to use these “three things” with journaling and blogging and yes, just talking.

    This day (which is still Thursday for me since I’m up late), taking a quick peek at e-mails before I go to bed.

    Thursday’s Three Things:

    1. B got his driver’s license today! An accomplishment like this is huger than it was for our middle son (our older two adult “kids” don’t have licenses due to health issues) because B is on the spectrum and doesn’t handle stressful situations well.

    2. I spent the afternoon, evening, and until 1:00 AM proofing a novella that combines Jane Austen’s Persuasion with dragons!! It’s brilliant, but I knew it would be because this author’s Pride and Prejudice and Dragons series of four books (a prequel novella and three novels) was absolute genius. The novella I proofed today, The Dragons of Kellynch will be out in a couple of weeks on Kindle, and it’s the prequel to what will be at least one chunky novel or a series of novels set within Persuasion. Austen’s next work to be dragonized will be Northanger Abbey when she finishes the Persuasion series. The whoooooole series is called Jane Austen’s Dragons by Maria Grace. This is the ninth of her books I’ve proofed thus far.

    3. I am addicted to writing with my new italic fountain pen (with houndstooth-style strip around the middle of the pen–so retro!) and a lovely teal ink. Of course, by the end of the game, somehow I ended up with a rather large teal ink BLOT on my right middle finger. But I just looooooove writing with my fountain pen and lovely ink, even doing the Groovy Grammar activities along with my class.

    There are my three things!! Thanks, Melissa!!!

    Susanne 🙂

  4. Carla says:

    I’m late to the party as I saved this some time back, but my 3 things today:
    1. The warmth of the sun on my face as Michael and I soaked up some rays like two old turtles basking in the quiet.
    2. Ladybugs showing up in our sunroom—a gentle reminder of our Creator’s creativity.
    3. Hearing my dear cousin’s voice. Simply made my day!

  5. Melanie Bettinelli says:

    I wrote a Three Things blog post! Thanks for the inspiration. (Like the good old days….)

  6. Kim Huitt says:

    Oh I simply love that you recorded yourself reading this. Adds such life and flair.