The first time

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Do you remember what it’s like to experience the world for the first time?  As writers and artists, it’s our job to help people to see the world in a different way.  At our best, we throw light on a part of experience that wows someone, gives them a moment of epiphany, encourages them to appreciate the beauty (or sometimes the ugliness) of the world in a way they’ve never experienced it.  We seek ways to describe things as they have never been described before.  We pay attention to the look, feel, taste and sound of things in a way that others don’t.  But as we go about our daily lives, how often do we view the world as though it’s our first time?

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Recently, my one-year-old dog met a horse for the first time.  I can only imagine what he thought as this enormous, strange-looking creature walked towards him.  As they first made contact, they sniffed one another gently, as though there was nothing curious about the situation.  Perhaps my dog thought it was just another kind of canine that he’d never come across before.  Or maybe there was something in the smell of the horse that made him realise this was something else altogether.  How would you describe a horse if it was something you never knew existed before you met one?  Would you explore it, as my dog did, with sight, smell, touch, until you had a concept of the animal in your mind?  How would you then put your experience into words, or describe it on canvas?

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Recently, my dog paddled in the sea for the first time.  He walked reluctantly into the water, lifting his legs awkwardly as he experienced the soft sand beneath his feet and the gentle pull of the tide.  He stood very still, not quite sure what to do now he was in the water and, despite encouragement, he certainly didn’t want to go any deeper.  Water has always been part of his life, but usually contained within a drinking bowl.  I wonder what he made of this water that went on as far as he could see and strangely, tasted nothing like the water he was used to drinking.  What would you do if you walked into the sea for the first time, never knowing it existed before you were in it?  Would you stand still, as my dog did, surveying the scene and exploring it by smell and taste until you could begin to understand what it might be?

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Recently, my dog travelled on a bus for the first time.  He climbed onto this odd-looking vehicle, that perhaps seemed just like a big room loaded with people, and it began to move.  When he climbed off, he was in a completely different place to where he’d begun, despite not walking anywhere.  How would you describe travelling on a bus, a metro, in a car, having never experienced it before?  How would you begin to understand the concept that it’s possible to travel from one place to another with no effort?

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Recently, my dog experienced thunder for the first time.  A huge storm rolled in, with mammoth claps of thunder immediately over the house.  He was unbothered by it, took it in his stride.  But I wonder what he must have been thinking about this enormous noise coming out of nowhere.  What if you didn’t know that thunder existed?  What stories would you invent to account for the phenomenon?  Would you be afraid, transfixed, awed?

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We forget what it’s like to experience things for the first time.  Life goes on and despite the odd chink of beauty, it’s easy to forget how mysterious and wonderful the world is.  To experience the power of a thunderstorm and not know what it is.  To meet a new creature for the first time.  To experience the limitless water of the sea, which is so different to the tamed water that comes out of the tap.  To start in one place and end up in another, without using your feet.  The world must be a baffling, astonishing place for my dog.  And if we want to be truly great at writing, at art, we must hold onto that sense of mystery, that feeling of awe.  Whether we’re describing the world around us, or describing a character in a certain situation, it can only help us to imagine that we’re seeing it for the first time.   To step back and forget that this is something we’ve seen before, done before and attempt to describe it as though it’s something we don’t know or understand.

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Living with a puppy has made me appreciate the world anew and consider how I begin to look at the way I create, literally, with fresh eyes.  How do you make sure you remember the mystery and wonder of the world as though you were seeing it for the first time?

35 thoughts on “The first time

  1. This is a beautiful post! It really got me thinking. When you think about it, we experience and see so many things for the first time everyday, we just never think of it that way. Great eye-opener.

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  2. First of all, beautiful photos. I enjoyed getting into the moment. I also had fun reliving the dog’s “firsts” through your pics and writing. You did a great job with describing the events that I found it easy to picture them in my mind. I wonder what the horse thought!

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  3. This isn’t something I’ve thought about very much, at least consciously. But sometimes I do look at a setting or situation and try to envision how my characters would see and experience it. One character in particular, a time traveler, does have some experiences similar to those you describe here. And I’ve tried to capture the right thoughts and feelings for him. I hope I’m succeeding.

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    • Thanks JM, I suppose in many instances our characters won’t be experiencing things for the first time, so we need to consider what their memories also bring to that experience, but I think imagining something as though it was for the first time can make us think about how we describe things.

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  4. My Labrador was so terrified of a horse the first time she saw one, she ran off, shrieking in fright, to hide in the bushes, scratching her ear on some barbed wire. She out was with her doggy sitter at the time, so already feeling insecure. I think the horse was the last straw.

    I often wonder if dogs feel disorientated by car journeys or bus journeys to places they’ve never been before, as they haven’t put down their usual pee-markers en route.

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  5. Andrea I love the first encounter with the horse. Emerson (my dog) is now 9 so we don’t have as many firsts. But I’ll never forget the first time I brought my city dog to the country. He loves pavement but he found grass disgusting and unbearable to walk on. Definitely need to approach things with fresher eyes again. 🙂

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  6. Andrea, this post really made me smile. I have just got a new dog myself and he is teaching me so much about being in the moment! I walk him really early in the morning when the river and meadow near where I live is quiet, and I feel so happy watching him explore each day – always with renewed curiosity for this world and all its smells, and sights and sounds.

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    • That’s so true – when I’m out with him I only ever think about where we are and what we’re doing – not about any of the usual worries about the past or the future. He’s completely changed my life for the better.

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  7. Living with a dog is the best way to be in awe of the way animals take risks, learn through their senses, face their fears and tremble their way ahead, one step at a time. Wonderful post and lovely pictures.

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  8. Absolutely love this post Andrea! ❤ How sweet. It brings back memories to our dogs when they were puppies 🙂
    In the same way babies can move us and leave us in wonder for how they are approaching the most 'ordinary' things in life.

    I once worked with a contractor in India, and one time in a cold and 'white' february month they had sent an associate from their office to Belgium. He had never seen snow…I will never forget his face when he stepped out of the airport :))

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    • Yes, the things we take for granted that others have never experienced, but then that’s what writing is all about, to help others to experience what they’ve never experienced, or to make them feel it as though it was their first time.

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  9. Dogs bring unique glimpses of the every day into our lives. It is one of the things I remember and miss about my dog. She taught me to look at things directly and simply. Sending blessings for a long life to your little canine four-legged!

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  10. I thought I would check out what you wrote a year ago, and came across this post. What a wonderful insight! I would love to be like your puppy and discover things for the first time, but you know how it is with us, humans. We usually read about the things first, or see them on TV or the Internet before we meet them in real life. I remember the feeling of awe when I first saw the mountains, but I already knew they existed! No surprises for us humans:) My feelings when I saw those mountains, it is something I never experienced before 🙂 Feelings and emotions, we can rediscover them again and again, and they are never the same 🙂

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  11. It’s a joy to take your sweet canine by the leash and wander with him–via your words, of course! I loved how you interspersed questions, not only giving me the chance to think along with the pup, but also to think about how easily I get into a repetitive rut when writing. Thanks for the inspiration.

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