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.