Blame it on age. I had a birthday a few days ago. Twenty nine. Seriously.
It's becoming increasingly difficult to escape the realization that I am, in fact, a full-fledged adult. Not a young adult. Not just an adult with respect to being a mom, but it's still OK to eat a bagged salad out of the bag and watch Dawson's Creek without feeling ashamed. Not even a twenty-something anymore, really. I'm almost thirty. Eek.
But if one thing has come with age, it's an appreciation for detail and the understated. An ability to slow down and zoom in. Well, that, and an inability to eat peanut M & Ms with impunity.
I'll back up. In sixth grade, I was a burgeoning intellectual. Of course, I also wore those shirts that change color when you breathe on them like when you fog up windows, and bunched them up in those shirt-holder-things that looked like big "No" symbols, so my self-assessment skills might have been lacking. But I was the shit, trust me. I won spelling bees and academic bowls and, you know, all the stuff cool kids do. I wrote acrostic poems ("Dinosaurs" and "Nature"). Also, I decided to write a book. My book had two space explorers who were thrown off course and couldn't find their way home. They decided to settle on a strange new world. Adam decided to name it "Earth," and Eve agreed.
Yeah, I know.
In junior high (by which point I'd abandoned the Hypercolor tees and clips, in favor of plaid and an otherwise totally brown and green wardrobe), I still wrote stories, and though they weren't as blatantly unoriginal, they invariably ended with the main character finding out that (gasp!) that shopkeeper had died three weeks before he talked to him or (gasp!) he had been dreaming the whole time. (Or HAD he?) Gah. Also, I decided I would write about marine biology, but pretty much only the mega-est of marine megafauna. You know, because no one's thought of covering that before.
In high school (by now I had graduated to No Fear shirts) I wrote a paper about, and entitled, "Religion and Science." The assignment was to write at least twenty-five pages. I wrote forty. I thought I knew it all, but all I cared about was the All. Never the parts. So I never noticed enough to really know anything. Because everything's about the parts. Even megafauna depend on the tiniest creatures. I didn't even know about the existence of phytoplankton back when I considered myself a marine biology expert.
Even my first several newspaper articles suffered from this inability to zoom in and notice what was important and unimportant. (By this point I'd totally stopped trying to dress impressively, and filed most stories wearing satin Tootsie Pop shorts.) It might not be so bad since the stories were probably read only by editors and my mom. Still, I had a hard time writing about a thirty-minute tax workshop at the community center in less than forty inches.
(I've been both a reporter and editor many times since those
It was about patience. I had none. I could always write -- where "write" is defined as "vomit words." I could write twenty pages in one go by the time I was ten. It doesn't take much patience or attention to "write" twenty pages. It takes a lot of it to write two. If the idea or concept couldn't be seen from space, I wasn't likely to cover it, and I covered it all. I was unable to sit still, to read, to really think for long enough to find nuances, to pare down ideas and words.
I must be growing up, though. Now, I "write" just as much, but I sit. I let it ferment. I think. And then I write. Or, I try to. Sometimes it happens.
Other aspects of my life have gone through a similar maturation (though, sadly, not my sense of fashion).
Take food. I used to cook: 1) chicken nuggets or patties; 2) pizza; or 3) whatever my mom sent home. Now, I can reliably cook over a dozen semi-complex dishes, and they usually taste like what they're supposed to taste like, and if atmospheric conditions are right, I can rattle off the names of at least seven or eight spices. And I'm not even counting salt, pepper, and powdered cheese.
Or cars. I used to know the following about cars: 1) whether a car was running; 2) how to change a flat so creepy dudes don't stop to "help" me; and 3) not to barf all over the car taking me home from the New Year's party where I shotgunned Jell-O shots all night. Now, I can name at least ten car parts, and point out probably five of them!
So I thought I was getting better at things -- writing, cooking, not killing my car -- because I was growing up. Learning to slow the hell down and notice details. And all by myself, too!
Well, maybe not.
See, if there's anyone who has an excuse for not noticing details, it should be my son. Most of the day, I live with a cat, my husband, and a boy-shaped blur. It begins at about six each morning. And doesn't stop until nine at night, when I cover him, still chattering, and force him into a supine position. In between, it's:
And on like that. He's like those characters in storylines who have sped-up bodies or whatever (I'm pretty sure I wrote a story about them in seventh grade) and they can't experience the normal world because in relation to their own movements it's all frozen and imperceptible. You would think it would take a monumental force of sheer will to notice anything at all.
But he's gifted. He slows down when it matters. Every time.
That's it. He just slows down. I really don't have anything particularly enlightened to say about it, which seems right, somehow. It just is. He just is. He notices the barbs on a dragonfly's legs. A twitch of my mouth or a slight change in my inflection, and he's there, telling me exactly what I need to hear. A song plays, and he can name the instruments, even the ones I never noticed. At the lake last night, he sat shoulder-deep in the water, and ducks and grebes swam by, almost close enough to touch. He didn't try, though. Just watched.
Anyway, I think that's where I must have learned it.