Last year, after my first trip to Portugal/Spain/south France, I decided to write about the sunset every day for a year. There were a few reasons for this. Mostly, I was inspired by Arles and Van Gogh’s work he did there, sketching the same things over and over on a daily basis so as to master the art. I wanted to master my art of writing and realized that I did not approach it with the same focused vigor that Van Gogh approached his.
This idea of repetitive work on a subject is harder to translate to writing because you don’t want to write the same exact words about the same subject (even though according to Borges, if you do it in a totally different setting and time, that is truly high and miraculous art). So you have to find new words to describe something that most of us already have stock phrasing for.
To imagine new ways of seeing something that happens everyday requires experiencing it differently since our words are how we mediate reality. Experiencing something in a new way on purpose takes an intentionality that I didn’t realize would be such hard work. Frankly, it was hard work I was often unwilling to do on a daily basis.
We are already used to the sunsets so that they don’t really register with us unless the surrounding situational experience (say, getting engaged or being in a different country) augments the moment and we actually pay attention. The sunset become gilt on something that already would be memorable—it’s not the sunset that mattered; it was the moment.
Sunsets happen every day. And usually at an inconvenient time. Because we have electric lights, life is still in full gear with work or errands or tasks or spending time with others when the day ends. We don’t need to mark that moment when we rotate out of sight of our planet’s personal gas ball. So for me to actually get to a place where I could see the sun cross the horizon took some schedule finagling. For me, 530pm or 8pm are the optimal times for my seeing the sunset. Those times are usually when I am in the car, transitioning from one thing to the next, and San Diego’s highways nicely afford panoramic views to the west.
However, many evenings, even when I had the time, I made the choice to not go see the sunset even though a prime viewing place is just a few minutes walk from my house (or really anywhere in San Diego). In part, I chose to miss it because I would be in the middle of something I didn’t want to stop, cutting the flow from one thing to another is difficult and made even more so when you have to transition to suddenly being super intentional about the way you are seeing and experiencing the world. I would often be so emotionally exhausted that the thought of even the small energy needed to walk to a place where I could see the sun wasn’t appealing.
This has happened more this year than my actually going to a sunset.
I did try being present in the moment when I knew the sun was setting—especially in those times when I knew that I couldn’t physically go there. That presence still takes energy that often I was unwilling to expend.
The other hard part has been finding the words to say the sunset. To experience it differently. See as a craft-building skill, the showing up is good for my soul but the actual writing is what will grow my art. Over this year, I have a horribly limited vocabulary and a very bland imagination. How do you tell about something that happens daily and looks pretty much the same (in San Diego) much of the time in a new way 365 times?
Still, I have written about the sunset most days this year and have two months to go. I haven’t read any of the entries over yet because this exercise isn’t about doing it well but just doing it. I didn’t want to stymie myself with the expectations of “you’ve already used ‘limned in gold’ 57 times” or something like that. So right now, I am still just writing with the words I have, trying to experience the daily new every evening.