I mentioned recently that I’m reading Pat Pattison’s book Writing Better Lyrics. One of the exercises he recommends doing is a 10-minute exercise known as ‘object writing’. You take an object, and ‘dive in’ to its ‘sense-world’ – what are the sights, sounds, smells, feels, physical responses, etc., that are associated with that thing, in particular, from your own experience? This ‘sense-bound’ writing is the key skill that is being developed in an exercise like this, one that subsequent writers have come to swear by, even as the key to their own songwriting success. So, naturally, I thought I’d better have a go at it.
I haven’t managed it daily, as he suggests (and as some apparently do); I haven’t even managed it weekly (as has been my aim, on a Monday). But I have managed it a few times. From time to time I might post what I’ve done, for the interest of other writers out there, perhaps. I haven’t necessarily fulfilled the brief (i.e. gathering in all the senses, plus things like physical motion and physical ‘destabilisation’ – the things that can make you physically disoriented etc.) but according to Pat that’s fine – you allow yourself to go with it, as long as it stays sense-bound. I have tried to do that.
Like the knowledge of the planets, like the mystery of stars and systems, galaxies and the universe, entering the planetarium is itself a mystical experience. You leave the light behind, and amid the soft music and the dim, floor-level blue lights creep through the darkness to find rows of seats tipped back at 45 degrees.
You jump in, ready for take-off. When everyone is hushed and has stopped breathing, the deep voice of science begins the narration. Quickly visions of heaven open up before you; top becomes down and down becomes up; sat still as ever in the 45-degree chair, you feel whisked upwards and turned this way and that as lights and grids and points of light spin around the grand dome above you. On the outside, the dome looked small; inside, it seems to have grown to fill the universe – are we not already in deepest space? Gravity left behind, you journey on and zoom close-up on Jupiter, feel the brush of his asteroid belt as it grazes over your head and you’re pulled deeper towards his atmosphere. Grip the chair a little tighter when you’re whirled away again and brought face to face with Orion, as you’ve never seen him before – charging through the heavens, shooting stars and slaying the Great Bear.
Before you know, it’s over. The lights come on. Grog-eyed, you struggle to wrestle yourself from your seat. The dome looks flat and ordinary. Re-entry has taken its toll on you. You’ll need some time to think this through, to reorientate yourself after the whirlwind, after the revelation, after the heavenly vision. And then – you’re reminded. Ah. Fresh air. It’s good to be outside. With your friends. Marching back to the coach, you pause and stare upwards at the canopy of blue. Your name is called. You hurry to the coach.