Life as a writer isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. (If you’ve seen the memes you know this.) There’s the agony of having stories inside of you and the inability to get them out of you fast enough. There’s the questioning of a blank page as it stares up at you, daring you to actually fill it with your own thoughts and words. There’s the procrastination as you do everything else on the planet other than sit down and write. These are all familiar and well documented. However, I want to notes another effect of living this writer lifestyle: Taking in the details.
As all good readers and writers know, it’s the details that make the piece. It’s likely the vivid description of the smell of burnt firewood and leaves that will place the reader adequately in a fall setting. I’d place bets that it’s the description of the overwhelming lump in one’s throat that will bring pools of tears to a reader’s eyes in a heavy scene. These relatable, rich, descriptive details make a story.
Now I can’t tell you if I notice these details in real life moments because I’m a writer or if I’m a writer because I’m predisposed to notice these details, but for as long as I can remember, I have slowed down moments to take in everything. This is particularly pronounced in those defining moments, be they traumatic, beautiful, or very significant.
Picture this: I sit next to someone I love who has suffered an overdose of toxic drugs perhaps an hour prior. Each moment feels much longer than the 60 seconds its given on the clock and I’m keenly aware of his body doing everything it’s supposed to and more. I watch the rise and fall of his chest as he takes in oxygen; I watch his eyes drooping and lifting in an indiscernible, yet predictable pattern; I see the blood being pumped through his body via the ticking of flesh rising and falling in his neck; I witness the irritation on the skin in the middle of his chest, where CPR was administered, and I consider the the blood pooling with possible bruising under the skin in the days to come; I watch the various chemical compounds still coursing through his body controlling his movements — a twitch there, a nodding off here — like a puppet master.
Another example: I’m a freshman in college walking back to my dorm late at night with friends. As I’m laughing with my friends is when I realize how incredibly beautiful the moment is and I open my intoxicated eyes wider to fully take in the moment. The half dozen of us are interspersed up and down a hill that, in the morning, I’d be losing my breath walking up it. But, I’m not at the moment and that’s startling. The campus looks even more gorgeous cloaked in the winter night than it does during the day. It feels more intimate, more personal. A boy who I like is holding my hand and I’m giddy when it begins to snow, and suddenly the beautiful moment turns magical. I do a twirl and the boy starts attempting to catch snowflakes in his mouth, which makes me giggle, and I think that this walk has never been more enjoyable.
Last one: I’m sitting in a rickety folding chair on the floor of the arena at my college graduation. I look around to take in all the details, Wolf Blitzer sitting on the dais, a friend I made my freshman year sitting to my left, the whispers and foot tapping of my fellow graduates around me, the weight of our family members looking down on us from the stadium seating. I’m struck by my lack of ecstatic energy at having reached this point and decide in that moment to discontinue to the anti-anxiety medication I’ve been on for having robbed me of that high in this moment. In my second hand white heals, my brain goes over and over my mantra for the day “don’t fall, don’t fall, don’t fall.” A girl a few seats down from me has written “Hire me, Wolf” on her cap and I think I should have done so too! I look scan the program to remember every significant thing about it. I listen attentively to Wolf describe reporting during the death of Osama bin Laden and think I’ve chosen the best path in life, went to the best school and made the most of my time here. When it’s time for us to stand, I pull the gown away from my thighs where it was sticking due to the sweat and continue my mantra “don’t fall, don’t fall.” I make it up the four steps to the stage after handing my name card off at the end of the aisle. I manage to shake everyone’s hand before they too, became sweaty, and smiled with excitement, nervousness and anticipation. At the end of the receiving line, I sighed in relief at having made it and follow my fellow graduates off the stage, which has been rerouted to the handicap ramp because “Hire me, Wolf” was too excited when he asked for her contact information! But, I was in the home stretch, and as I descended the ramp, I forgot my mantra just in time for my left foot to slip forward in my second-hand white shoes. I genuflected and continued on, head held high and significantly more ecstatic than moments ago.