Down to Specifics

Writers are often admonished to write vividly, to focus on the specific details that will bring a scene to life. As Anton Chekov said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” We’ve all seen the moon up there in the sky, but when Chekov mentions the glint of light on broken glass, the scene becomes much more immediate–an alley, a deserted road, a trashy little backyard where something sad or bad could happen. Broken glass is a powerful, painful image.

Apologies benefit from specificity. If you can say exactly what you did wrong and how you are willing to take responsibility for it, your remorse is more trustworthy, and your wrongdoing is more likely to be forgiven. “I’m sorry,” is good. “I’m sorry I took the Prius when I knew you wanted to make a grocery run today. Give me a list and I’ll get it done right after dinner,” is much better.

Gratitude also benefits from specificity–and variety. I finish my day journaling, and fishing my journaling listing five things I’m grateful for. If gratitude is to work its mood-stabilizing, anxiety-reducing wonder, that list should vary from day to day. Not simply: My health-my family-my home-my safety-my privacy (I’m grateful for ALL of that). But rather, the ability to plant flowers, which requires cooperation from hips, knees, back, hands, and more. The phone call from my sister Maire that she made Just Because.. and so on.

And this time of year, I’m aware of a general rejoicing in the season, but again, to be more exacting about what’s making me so quietly delighted when I get out of bed in the morning makes the glee more vivid. I love the quality of the light in spring and fall especially in the morning and evening. The light is more contrasty, to use a photographer’s terms, more romantic to use mine.

I love seeing the bulbs I planted last fall, as days grew shorter and nights grew colder, waking up to the opposite–more light, more warmth. I love that I don’t have to wear as many clothes. I always dress for comfort these days, but in spring, I can shed layers. This is especially evident at the horse barn, where winter can mean bundling up and gradually peeling off layers as the lesson progresses, then peeling them back on, then layering up the horse in his blankets too.

I love to leave my balcony door open at night, so I wake up to the robins singing. Nothing says to me that the ecosystem is healthy like hearing birds first thing in the day.

The trick to being specific, though, is that it takes focus, it takes effort, and in the attention economy, the brass ring of profit goes to those who excel at distracting us from our own realities. That’s a form of thievery, in my book, and actively reclaiming my ability to focus, to experience the wonderfulness or the sorrow or the rage, is the very business of living the only life I’ve been given.

Name one detail–an impression, a memory, an experience, an object–that absolutely delights you or drives you absolutely ’round the bend. To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 e-gift card.

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14 comments on “Down to Specifics

  1. 1
    Teenie Marie says:

    We’ve lived in our house for 25 years and every year, we’re delighted with a spring occurrence.

    Long around March, *Mama and Papa Duck* come calling in our back yard. Every year, without fail, they troop through, sometimes with their ducklings, but most of the time, without.

    Morning and evening, looking out the kitchen window, there they are–strolling. And occasionally, we’ll see them swoop in, wings spread and gliding. I text my kids pictures of their arrival because they loved them when we first moved here and love them even now.

    Mama and Papa–and I’m sure they are relative of our first visitors–make me giddy with the promise of spring. Every year, I am a bit worried they won’t be back and every year, I’m delighted they come back; it gives me hope.

  2. 2
    Make Kay says:

    I love to hear running water in nature. A babbling brook, waves along the seashore, or a waterfall. All make me deeply happy. I love living along the water!

  3. 3
    Taline Jansezian says:

    OOO, so many.. my father’s cologne which you smelled 5 minutes before he came downstairs from a shower.. gas exhaust smell..from when i got lost in a random bus station when i was 6 while taking the bus cross country with my mom.. children’s uninhabited laughter reminds me of the best time of my life being home with my kids..

  4. 4
    Brenda says:

    Last spring I took my granddaughters for a punt on the river Stout that winds it way through Canterbury.It was a warm sunny day.Suddenly three ducks flew down level with us and continued to fly by our boat.They were so close we could see their features,they seemed to be smiling.Their colours were brown,white,blue,with a black ring around their necks.They were so majestic.They flew with us until we reached the bridge .I felt privileged that we had witnessed such a spectacular display.I will never forget that.

  5. 5
    Sarah says:

    I have a wooden music box gifted to me for an early birthday by my favorite uncle. It is an ugly lump now, with just clumps of glue where a tree, mushrooms, a piano, and Schroeder once sat. But whenever I see it I smile and if I hear the tune in any context I find my eyes closed and a smile on my lips before I have even registered the music in my conscious mind. That uncle died about 6 months ago and there is a bittersweet edge to my reactions now, and the smile is accompanied by a recognition of the luck I had in having had such a figure in my life.

  6. 6
    Mary T says:

    Since it is Easter, I think I’ll take the gratitude route. Usually, I just thank God for “everything”, but today I’ll be more specific. I’m grateful for a brother-in-law who is re-building my front porch steps so that they won’t be as high, and I’ll be able to use then more easily. I’m grateful for a nephew who does my grocery shopping for me, and mows my lawn. I’m grateful for a great-niece who hauls my trash can out to the curb each week and for the great-nephew who brings it back in. Grateful for my two sisters who drive me all over the place now that I can no longer drive. They take me for pedicures and lunches as well as doctor appointments.

    Oh, this could go on for a long time. But you are right – I do feel so much better!

  7. 7
    Karen H near Tampa says:

    One thing that drives me around the bend is having to listen to loud music from a neighbor or a car next to me while sitting in traffic. At least I know the car won’t be bothering me more than a couple of minutes but the neighbor can go for hours! I’m not only an introvert but a quiet one and I don’t turn on the TV unless there’s something I specifically want to watch or the radio unless there’s something I specifically want to hear. Not surprisingly, I can go many days without either being on since silence is my favorite place. I’m okay with bird song (especially the honking of the sandhill cranes as they fly overhead) and other nature sounds but somebody’s music just bores into me and makes me so tense I end up with a stomach ache. Even writing about it is making me unhappy!

  8. 8
    Amy Ikari says:

    Happy Easter! I am delighted by the beautiful smiles on the faces of children when you encourage them, share kindness with them and accept them. They are previous treasures and remind us of how beautiful our hearts can be. Thank you for your great books! Have a blessed day! ❤️❤️❤️✉️

  9. 9
    Glenda M says:

    I’ve got an exotic one that delights me. Two years ago, my husband and I went to Rome for our 25th anniversary. When we toured Palantine Hill there were rose bushes growing along a metal fence with some of the ruins behind them. We walked by just as the sun was shining through the ruins onto the flowers. I took a few pictures (that didn’t do reality justice) and one is my tablet’s background. Every time I am on my tablet, I take a trip back to our trip and journey through ancient Rome. The poppies and other wildflowers in Pompeii spoke to me as well – growth and rebirth among the remains of all that death and destruction.

  10. 10
    Cindy says:

    The sound that most delights me is to hear my son’s voice when he comes home. Having a child that now drives himself to school, work and to meet friends, I have truly come to appreciate the sound of “Hi, Mom!” as he walks in the door and thus know that he is safe at home once again.

  11. 11
    Jayne says:

    It has to be the sound of the robins — early to arrive and stay late into summer and even fall.
    Besides being the first sign of spring, the robin’s singing starts early the morning and goes all day. so beautiful and peaceful.

    The robin also seems to provide the cue for the spring bulbs to pop out, lilacs to start budding, the mallards flying and out of our pond,etc.

  12. 12
    Bri Adams says:

    My paternal grandfather lived next door to us, for a couple of years, before I turned five. He was a man of few words. He would take my older brother, Max, and I, to a big park, with all of those fantastic, big trees. Texas does not grow truly big trees, like they have in the North. We had to sit on a bench far away from him, and be quiet, very quiet. He would wear a farmer’s corduroy coat with big patch pockets. He would fill those pockets to the brim with unshelled peanuts, and sit quietly on his bench, all alone, and wait. The beautiful, red Fox squirrels would come to him, climb over him, get into his pockets and pull out their peanuts with those tiny paws. They would sit there, all around him, eating their peanuts very happily, making lots of chittering sounds, and going back for more. My grandfather sat as still as a statue. His eyes were the only things that moved. We had to wait until the last peanut had been eaten and the squirrels left. It was a lot of fun to watch, although I did wish for a bag of peanuts for us, too! LOL. By the time we got to school, we knew how to sit still and be quiet. I guess those park adventures served several purposes, beyond an appreciation of the intelligence and beauty of squirrels.

  13. 13
    Marianne says:

    Der Krähe by Rudi Hurzlmeier. The crow stalks through a harvested field in boots and cape with a straw in his beak. Maybe a Regency crow in a caped coat and Hessians?

    Charles van Sandwyk’s crows amuse me, too.

  14. 14

    I can see the Allegheny River from my back deck. But only from November through the end of April. The skeletal trees went from every shade of brown to a myriad of greens, budding overnight, obscuring the sightline to the water. The fresh clean spring air is lovely, but I miss my river. Despite that, I’m grateful for the little changes that add up to sweeping seasonal transformations!