Details, details, details.
For me as a writer, it's a blessing. Something can catch my eye and instantly, words start flowing in my head. Inspiration sometimes strikes as a dinky trickle or a ragging river. For me as a person and particularly as a girl, it can be frustrasting. I'd like to use a personal story to illustrate this.
I remember a lot about my (only) ex-boyfriend. And yes, I believe first loves always stick with you, occupying a place in your heart you can never truly erase them from. It doesn't have to be a bad thing. Years later, I'm sure I could pass him on the street, we would acknowledge each other, and I would walk away knowing we are now strangers. That's what happens when a broken heart heals; it bounces back strong and resilient, ready to throw itself headfirst into the next promising relationship.
But when it's still mending, every single detail of a relationship can be agonizing. As someone very concerned with details, I romanticized him. Instead of remembering how he made me feel, I knew the small things and I cherished the stolen moments. Even now, I could paint him like a picture.
He had sandy hair which grew long and curled right behind his ears and eyes the color of the ocean. He had brown freckles in them too, more on one side than the other, always slightly off-balance, his symmetry just to the left. When he was drunk, which was often, his slight lisp became more pronounced. A childhood spent growing up at the beach and surfing made him tan and lean, almost like he'd been hardened by the waves. On his chest where his ribs came together in the center, he had a little divet like an upside-down V and I remember sitting on my bed when we were breaking up, pressing my crying face into him and feeling my nose butt up against that spot I'd traced lovingly so many times before.
Over the summer when he went home to his parents' and to work at the beach, I would visit on the weekends. We'd drive around without shoes on with the windows down in his beat up green car, listening to songs with eight minute guitar solos and trying not to knock over the buckets of cleaning solution and chlorine tablets in the backseat. When he was working his pool cleaning job, I'd tag along. We'd visit beach houses and mansions and pretend we were as rich, jumping into hot tubs and pools of all shapes and sizes when no one was home. I remember popcorn shrimp and french fries from a little shack on the beach road and the 4th of July where I sat cross-legged drawing circles in the sand with my back molded against him, watching fireworks explode over the water and shower the breaking waves in fantastic colors. Red and blue and gold and green.
When his father, the commercial pilot, suggested we take their four seater for a ride, he gave me his crooked smile and slipped into the front seat. We'd been together for months and I never knew he had his pilot's license until then, but that was how he was. Humble and surprising. We flew low over the coastline all the way to Cape Hatteras, watching the cars and people scurry about their lives below us like ants.
See? It's very easy to look at the past and see it in shades of black and white. After the ashes settle in the wake of a break up and the heart mends, you only remember the good times. It's hard to gain perspective on what it was really like because all I can remember are the details.
For relationships, it may not be the best habit I have. For writing, this hypersensitivity can be a blessing. The details and little moments are the vehicles I use to create an emotion, tell a story, or construct a scene. In the editting process, I go back to what I've created and parse out the pieces that count, that really say something, but for the writing process as a whole, it helps give shape to what I'm trying to do. It makes my story concrete and full.
This may be a very roundabout way of saying "show, don't tell", but it's how my brain works when I'm writing. Typically in a story, I know the beginning and the end. I know the characters and maybe some of what happens in the middle, but fleshing out the rest of it is all about the details.