I’ve discovered something about my writing process lately which is that if I can’t see it, I can’t write it. So much of my writing is about evoking a feeling of time and place, of creating moments that are described with unusual details in order to make them feel both totally personal and universal. But unless I can see the moment in my head and walk through it (so to speak) I can’t write it.
If I’m writing about stuff that has happened to me, seeing it is pretty easy. Often times, I find myself writing about other peoples’ memories, and that’s when the seeing gets a little more tricky. Thankfully, in most cases I’m writing about memories that belong to people in my family, so their brains are accessible for the picking. However, in my search for details with which to create my inner diorama of the scene or situation, I’ve come to learn that many people don’t pay attention to stuff the same way that I do.
I’ve had this realization about paying attention before, but it still always comes as something of a shock to me when I realize that not everyone is watching the details they way I do. I remember that as a kid, I would often be the one who noticed the moment before the knee was skinned or the precise second when the lunch tray dropped. I often pretended that I didn’t see other peoples’ embarrassing moments, blushing with empathetic humiliation.
As I continue to walk down this writing path, I’ve come to realize what a gift it is to have paid attention for so many years, although I didn’t always see it that way. Now I must go and build an inner diorama of 1960s Thanksgiving dinners at my Aunt Doris’s house, when the kids sat at a table in the foyer and Uncle Abe insisted that there be a basket of sliced white bread near his plate.