Michelle Simkins specializes in nature writing, spiritual writing, speculative fiction, and hand-crafted talismans, spirit dolls, and other magical art.

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© 2018 by Michelle Simkins

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Perception and Creativity

It's amazing how you can walk past something without noticing it for days - or years - and then one day something about it catches your eye and you don't know how you could possibly have overlooked it for so long. Take this tree. I've been taking frequent walks around this park for several years now, during all seasons, in all weather. Yet somehow I never noticed this little tree. Oh, I SAW it - I just never paid any attention to it. But a few days ago I noticed it's covered in tiny yellow blossoms, and I had to take a closer look. And it's just stunning. I think it might be Cornus mas, common name Cornelian cherry, European cornel or Cornelian cherry dogwood. As summer unfolds I'll be able to know for sure. I'm paying attention now.



These lapses in perception are both a curse and a blessing. A curse because it's so easy to overlook important things, so easy not to see things. It's no big deal I didn't see this tree in the park. But sometimes we can spend years not seeing how a loved one's behavior has become abusive, not seeing our own unhappiness. Or we can spend years overlooking the gifts we've been given, our own worth, or the fine qualities of people we take for granted.



A blessing because we can at any moment be surprised by beauty and wonder right here at home. At any moment we can wake up and see what we've been overlooking, and our day or our lives can be transformed by that moment of clarity. A blessing because it means there will always be something new to see, even if we walk the same few miles over and over for years.



There are ways we can court these moments of new perception. For me, searching for something to take pictures of keeps me in constant awareness of the details of my surroundings. It makes notice new things all the time, and also makes me search for new ways to view the things I'm used to seeing. A texture or color on a tree trunk that changes with the shifting light. The way flower petals almost seem to be covered with a finely textured glitter when the light shines through them just right. Reflections in puddles, tiny mushrooms growing in crevices in tree bark, the nimbus around streetlights when the air is full of mist. Carrying a camera - even just the one on my phone - makes the world around me a richer place. I'm sure it's the same for people who draw.



Writing, too, helps me see the world in a different way, notice details I might otherwise overlook. Try it: sit in front of an everyday object, anything you like, and start writing a description of it. Write about its color, its texture, its size, its shape, its scent, the way the light hits it. Is it cool or warm to the touch? How does looking at it or holding it or touch it make you feel? Then look again from a different angle and notice if anything changes.


One of the deepest gifts of creative pursuits is this enhanced perception. Whether or not you are particularly good at any creative art is secondary to the way it can enrich your life by opening your senses. I'll never be a professional photographer: I like my photography practice the way it is, a spontaneous noticing, documentation of the things I see when I go out into the world. I like that I don't need expensive equipment and I don't have to mess around with printers and framing and I don't have to worry about taking pictures that sell. I can just notice, record, and share whatever captivates me in the moment, like yellow flowers on a tree in early February.

Michelle Simkins

writer . maker . seer

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