Monday, October 15, 2012

The Butterfly of the Moment

"It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily away.  How else, indeed, to clap the net over the  butterfly of the moment." --  Vita Sackville-West

I was thinking about the writing that many of us do on our blogs or in our diaries and journals.  Some days are busy, others are restful, but no matter what kind of day we are having there are often moments that we would like to "clap the net over" and remember.  They are the moments that put a smile on our face and give us a feeling of contentment.   They are sometimes moments of illumination and revelation, the ones that Virginia Woolf called "moments of being." They are incandescent flashes of beauty and poignancy that happen when we are just going about the business of living.  Maybe we've just walked out our front door and, as the sun warms our body and we glance at the trees and flowers around us, we smile at the goodness of it all.  Or maybe we've just left a lunch with a dear friend and as we drive home we remember the words of wisdom she imparted (which we desperately needed) or the funny story she just related that we can't wait to share with someone else.

In the days when people wrote letters and kept diaries, they would take time to describe an experience, conversation or thought they wanted to share with others and create a little narrative to give to their friends.  Some of these letters and diaries, especially those written by famous people, can be looked at today to help us understand what life was like then.  I think of the letters and diaries of Virginia Woolf. Today there are not many people who write letters, but many people still keep journals or diaries and  write blogs.

As writers, we notice these special moments and write about them.  We preserve them to keep for ourselves and also to share with others.  And the beauty of writing it all down and giving it a narrative shape is that we see patterns, unexpected beauty, and themes.  The process of giving our lives a narrative shape through language helps us derive meaning out of what we do.  Vita Sackville-West was right that the days can "slip emptily away" if we don't savor the beautiful, fleeting moments that make up a day.  These are the simple pleasures , the special moments that are often forgotten unless we take the time to notice, take a picture, and write about them.  It turns out that these are the things that often make us the happiest.  And when we go back to read about them, they remind us of where true happiness lies -- in the simple pleasures, in the magical moments of everyday life.

Here are just a few ideas for remembering "the butterfly of the moment:"

Take your camera with you wherever you go, tuck it into your purse and have it ready to snap a special shot.  You will go back to it for inspiration, I promise.  When I got back from my garden tour of the Cotswolds two years ago, this photo captured the pastoral beauty of the English countryside.  It lead me, in a sort of stream of conscious way, to the "Mapp and Lucia" books by E.F. Benson which were set in the Cotswolds.  I had always been curious about them and now was the time to make their acquaintance.   I devoured them, laughed out loud at their comic genius, and also watched the excellent television adaptation.  I know I will return to them again and again.  Laughter is medicine for the soul.

Write down meaningful lines you read in books, you will be so happy when you go back to them for inspiration.  Here is one of my recent discoveries from Loitering With Intent by Muriel Spark.  This wonderful book is about a successful writer looking back at the beginning of her career.  The following line, my favorite in the book, captures the character's joy about being a writer and is an inspiration for those of us who are aspiring writers.  She describes the personal satisfaction that she has gotten from the creative process; she has no regrets about the life she has chosen:

"And so, having entered the fullness of my years, from there by the grace of God I go on my way rejoicing."

When you travel, take pictures of course, but also keep a journal of your observations and feelings.  You will go back to your travel journal and remember who you were then and it just may enhance your next trip.  I kept this journal when my husband and I took our young daughters to England and France many years ago.  One entry I love tells about a day that we chose to follow our children's preference for staying at our hotel and playing  in the garden rather than going to Blenheim Palace.  Although initially I was disappointed, the simple beauty of watching our girls play outside in nature in another country far from home outweighed visiting an historic site.  I wrote about that day in my journal.

Walk in your garden or outside every morning with your coffee.  It's the quietest and freshest time of the day and you just may notice the first flowers to bloom on your favorite plant.  Write about it in your garden journal.  I will never forget the year our garden was on a small neighborhood garden tour, and the tree peony was the highlight of the garden that everyone talked about.  We had purchased it the day before the tour at our local nursery, and placed it in a pot near the front door.  I love to remember that moment.  This lovely plant blooms every year.

Clip articles from newspapers and magazines and save them.  You will use them later.  As I clean out my study I am finding so many treasures from the past.  This one is from the dearly missed "House and Garden" magazine and was written in December of 2001.  In it the writer tells the story of how after 9/11 he discovered the real meaning of the holiday rituals passed down from his parents.  I pull it out every year during the holiday season and I cry each time I read it.

And just yesterday I was delighted to read an interview with J.K. Rowling in the New York Times.  I loved all her answers and felt we were kindred spirits.  There is something akin to an old-fashioned girl about Rowling that I can relate to.  I saved the piece.  My favorite answer was when she was asked "If you could be any character from literature, who would it be?"  She answered, "Elizabeth Bennett, naturally."  I will be hanging on to this one.  Go here to read more.

We are the repositories of so many experiences and when we write about them we turn them into something precious. Someone once told me that the happiest people are the enthusiasts.  Chroniclers, diarists, essayists, and bloggers all share something in common.  What we all seem to want to do is share our pleasure in the movement of life.    By capturing our experiences in words we transform them into the ultimate memory book.  Perhaps we will turn it all into fiction one day or weave it into a memoir.  These experiences are the essence of who we are but if we don't capture them, they may be forgotten and go the way of the butterfly.


  1. I have enjoyed reading your post so much. I have always enjoyed writing about my experiences, my passions. It is my footprint I leave behind to show I lived, I inhaled and exhaled. I love the phrase "the butterfly of the moment". I hope to always live in that moment and to find the words to tell about it. This is most definitely a post I would like to "hang on to".

  2. Lovely post once again.
    I still haven't read my Times Book Review. It's sitting beside my favourite chair. So happy you told me about Ms. Rowling's interview! I'm reading her new book at the moment and I cannot miss this.

  3. Absolutely beautiful post and it resonates with me so totally. The deepesst connection that I have to blogging is that I love to share and I love to learn. And I am on a constant mission to slow down time, to identify the moments, to tell the story because in the telling I will remember. So today having read your post I have learned that there is an interview I want to read. I will be clicking over to The New York times asap. Thank you for your insight and thank you for sharing.

  4. Sunday,

    I absolutely love to visit here! You are an incredibly gifted writer and I enjoy each and every post. I always come away learning something new, seeing something beautiful and with a smile on my face. I think you will be the next blogger to have a book coming out!

    Have a wonderful week and thank you for the inspiration to slow down and enjoy life and all of it's experiences.


  5. Thank you for this, Sunday--you've encouraged me to get back to chronicling my everyday life (not just my travels) on a more-regular basis.

  6. Well, Sunday, you just cost me $15 - ordered kindle edition of Casual Vacancy, and ordered Song of Achilles from the library (that was free of course). And it all happened because I read your blog and followed it to the Rowling interview.

    Am leaving for Italy in about a week and am taking your journaling recommendation to heart. Am also thinking of purchasing the iphone for its photo abilities. Could this be what you slip in your pocket when traveling? Recommendation please.

  7. I am lost in admiration of your tidy desk. A butterfly wouldn't know where to settle on mine.

  8. Sunday....I am so envious of your writing style. It is such a gift and one I so cherish. I am reading "Bring up the Bodies" by Hilary Mantel and I marvel at her use of language. You make it sound easy to write: a blog, diary, whatever. However, this is not so. I am terribly dull in my writing but so love reading those of you who write to well. Keep doing so....

  9. This post and that picture are lovely reminders of how the real world and the blog world can come together. As much as I enjoy blogging and reading blogs, sometimes it can be draining to feel like I'm devoting so much time to my computer screen. Your suggestions here are nice examples of how taking time to record small moments in the "real" world can actually fuel and inspire what we write about in the blog world.

  10. Absolutely beautiful post! A lovely reminder and inspiration to try and capture those 'moments of being' better and better each day. Your first photo up there reminded me of my 'almost exact same shot' of the sheep in Cotswold. :)

  11. One of your most inspirational posts ever. Beautiful. Curious if you're going to read "A Casual Vacancy". I "sampled" it on my Ipad last night, and not sure if I was too tired, but it didn't grab me.

    1. Kathy I feel the same about the book,it is already selling here at a knocked down price,had a look through but did nothing for me,mixed reviews here...still I do prefer to decide for myself........Ida

  12. Sunday, what a very thoughtful post. You touched on so many things that I can hardly add a comment; you've stated it all so perfectly. Writing and creativity definitely soothe the soul.

  13. Lovely words! You are so right. And I just installed Instagram - we'll see where that leads :)

  14. thank you for this lovely post and its reminders and helpful tips! I, too, am often clipping articles and writing down notes - at home or while traveling. I'm learning there are things that you will forget if you dont capture it (like a butterfly). In fact, many of my posts originate from old notes in a shoebox I brought back with me from Italy yrs ago. I appreciate - and glad to be part of - those curious people, writers and bloggers who share so much beauty and good living -- be it books, food, travel destinations, fashion, and more.

  15. Sunday, this is such a beautiful and meaningful post. You have perfectly captured the method I've found, for my entire life, is the only way for me to sort out my experiences and understand what I really feel at the deepest levels. Our interior minds-atleast mine-is a jumble of cross pollinating associations, impressions, reactions, and memories. I have always found that the act of writing, and for me it's most often in the form of poetry, allows me to filter through all the noise and get at the essence. And that heart of what I feel and remember is so very often not exactly what I thought it was. To name out loud, or on the page, is not just to re-approach the experience, it clarifies it in ways our noisy minds can't.
    I think your prescription is especially important and helpful in those times when we fell distracted, unfocused, down or unproductive. Thank you for your house-call. I'm starting to take my medicine immediately.

  16. Thank you for a very inspiring post,so very true. I have just finished reading
    To the Lighthouse by VSW,have you read it? Ida

  17. Some inspiring ideas, thank you. I did like the J K Rowling interview, too. There is an elegance about her which is very appealing.