Every morning, around 10:30, I leave the house and walk, downhill and uphill, reminding myself to pay attention, to try and see the world, to be aware of the signals it’s sending to my senses. As a word person, I will often find myself silently (so as not to alarm strangers or appear insane) naming things as I go along: paperbark tree, mockingbird, curious baby in a blue stroller, roasting coffee, wet grass, dented truck, lavender bush, crushed paper cup, chewing gum, cable car bell, cumulus cloud. This act of naming is a form of selecting and creating a kind of interior landscape of the moment.
Words, whether spoken or written, do create a landscape by evoking images and sensory experiences. My super-smart writer friend, Lynn Hazen, sent out a link last week to an article that had been in the New York Times titled Your Brain On Fiction. The author, Annie Murphy Paul, talks about extensive research showing that words like lavender, cinnamon and soap actually stimulate the olfactory cortex of our brain in the same way that smelling lavender, cinnamon and soap do. Similarly, metaphors that evoke texture stimulate the sensory cortex, and active sentences stimulate the motor cortex. It seems that words have the same effect on the brain as the actual experience.
This is good news for readers and for writers. For those of us who love nothing more than to curl up with a good book, we can be assured that we’re giving our brains a complete experience. And for those of us who dedicate much of our time to writing, we can set the bar higher and challenge ourselves to create the most sensory, active and empathetic experience we can for our hopeful readers.
Artist Su Blackwell creates another kind of landscape with words. They need no explanation—the images say it all. You can see more on her website: