The Little Details of Our Lives
by Deborah Straw
My best friend moved away six months ago. Since that time, life hasn't been the same in many ways. One of the things I most miss are our highly-detailed, conversations.
Like most women, I love recalling and recounting the minute details of my experiences. The color, texture, length of time, angle of light -- all these are important to me when I remember an event.
After a visit to a friend, I don't merely form an overview of the trip, I want to relive it in all its smallest particulars. I remember what we talked about, the pattern on the china, what time we had tea, the types of birds on the feeder, what kind of cheese we ate with our crackers. And I want to share this. Mitzi, for one, always loved to hear my stories and even seemed gratifyingly enthralled.
This might be considered small talk, but I see this as essential talk, part of what May Sarton has eloquently termed, "the sacramentalization of everyday life." We women like, in fact, need, to celebrate these important things.
My husband, a sensitive man who is, in most other ways, a good storyteller, does not care at all for these tiny, everyday details. He finds them boring.
This behavior seems to run true in most women and men that I know. I tested my theory out on some of my writing students. The women wanted to hear more descriptive details in their classmates' papers; the men felt there were enough, if not too many.
Of course, most men do love sharing facts and statistics about cars, sports, radios or cameras or about daring, external adventures. But they generally don't want to speak about their internal lives or everyday activities.
After returning from a recent trip to a dear, not often-seen friend, my mind was brimming over with hundreds of tiny reminiscences. I recalled our 7 p.m. dinner, going to bed early to read, how the long-haired cat rubbed against my dark pants, how he growled at me once, the taste of the apple pie we had for dessert and the excellent before-lunch sherry. I remembered our conversation was interrupted by the telephone four times, and I thought back to the color and smell of the miniature carnations in my bedroom.
My hostess' light tan pajamas were elegant, as were her lush blue bath towels. The paintings on the guestroom's walls -- two tiny portraits and an oil land scape of lobstermen with nets -- were delightful. The antique dark cherry bureau reminded me of one I coveted last spring in Paris. I also adored her bedspreads -- two luxurious mohair hand-woven throws from Ireland, which the pampered cat has obviously used on occasion for a scratching post.
These details help illuminate my friend's personality and help me visualize her daily life. By remembering them, I can relive the wonderful time we spent together. What was significant to me in these hours?
In this particular trip, the critical moments included laughing over a comment on a videotape, agreeing on the tragic plight of African elephants, and discussing how to eliminate gray squirrels from our bird feeders. We traded new favorite book titles, and we discussed the necessity of a good wine with dinner. If my husband, never terribly verbose, came home from such a weekend, he'd say, "We had a good time, We ate broiled chicken, drank some Scotch, and got along well. It rained the whole time, and I slept like a baby." Just the highlights.
I find this frustrating. Where does he process all the lovely, small, intimate details? What was served with the chicken? What brand was the Scotch? What kind of pillow, feather or foam, did his bed have? Did the wind blow the rain along the ocean or into his second story window? What books were by his bed, and which did he read before turning out his light? Did he dream?
All these tidbits are important and can be discussed happily by women for hours at a time. Most women, but not all. Some women stretch this penchant for telling all until their stories become merely mundane.
For example, I think of one woman's conversation which centers around other people's occupations, possessions, and dialogues. She tells exactly who did what, when. This bores me. Unless it's talk of one of my favorite relatives or friends, someone from whom I might learn something. When she starts talking, my mind wanders to plans for dinner or to organizing the weekend's events.
Give me the friend who spins a tale well, or the friend, like Mitzi, who will listen to my lengthy stories.
I believe we are defined by what we read, by what we eat, by what we observe, and by how we respond to these things.
The wonder of a well-crafted scene in a novel, the taste of a lovingly-prepared meal, the call of the male cardinal in late winter -- anyone who has acknowledged a deep life within and without can relate to these experiences and the sensations they evoke.
As far as I'm concerned, the more of these minutiae we recall and relate, the better. Maybe this is because I'm a writer and want to record them all, in my journal or at least in my mind.
But perhaps it's also because I have discovered that everyday life is the best that it gets -- that this is what really matters.
DEBORAH STRAW is a writing and literature instructor at Community College of Vermont and a writing instructor at Trinity College. She also teaches ESL at Champlain College and at Saint Michael's College.
Copyright 1994, The Women in Literature and Life Assembly of the National Council of Teachers of English (ISSN #1065-9080). Permission is given to copy any article provided credit is given and the copies are not intended for resale.
Reference Citation: Straw, Deborah. (1994). The little details of our lives. WILLA, Volume III, 23.