“Suppose you keep a journal,” I was told once. “And suppose you have, for each day, just the back of a postage stamp. A largish one, if you like, but all you can jot down is one sentence. One place, one person, one image, one impression – it doesn’t matter. One single, vivid thing you want to remember for that day.”
I have always liked the notion, in that vague, airy way you do with pretty ideas. I even tried it once or two, and enjoyed the extreme distillation, the quest for vividness and effectiveness… But every time I tried it for a few days, a week, even a month, then dropped the habit and forgot about it.
For some reason, it came back to me the first night in Paris, last week, and proposed it to my friends, and they agreed to make a game of it. Every night, over dinner, we shared and discussed our stamps.
At times they were huge, like viewing the Tour Eiffel from the Trocadero against a grey and windy sky. At times they were as tiny as a cocotte of moules marinières. They might have music in them, like entering Saint-Germain-des-Prés to find a choir rehearsing Renaissance motets, or they might be full of people, like the very multi-ethnic population of the underground, or it might be anything from Shakespeare & Company on the Rive Gauche to art students in Notre Dame, to the slanting sunlight in the morning, to the scent of coffee…
It was fun, it was interesting, it said much about each stamp-maker, it made us think and search, and observe – and, come evening, we were all eager to play.
So I’m beginning to think I might try it again. Finding The One Thing every day, trimming it down to one sentence without losing its texture, even choosing amongst possibilities.. it must be good writing practice, mustn’t it?