Feb 25, 2010

Weight of details

Immediately after they sit down to take their test -- immediately -- some percentage of students turn splotchy red.

Every job I've ever had has had little things like this that I've collected in my head. These are details that, for some reason, I find important, even though they don't seem to mean anything and when I say them out loud there are often responses of deep disinterest.

A detail like this I find I will often say several times to different people, getting no response, or silence, or an awkward look or um hmmm and a change of subject. I don't know what sort of response I want, though the ones I'm getting make me wonder if I'm not a horribly awkward person who makes everyone uncomfortable all the time and just no one's been mean enough to mention it. But I think these details are interesting. I notice them and collect them: what is smells like under a mobile home and the way bark adheres to different trees, the way some Ohio farm accents deepen for talking about certain subjects, the ways people carry themselves in courtrooms and how bees fly different in different weather, how homeowners look at heavy equipment, how sprinklers are sunk into lawns, and what people's hands feel like when you give them change. Maybe, actually, everyone notices these things and it's not the act of noting that makes me different but the value I invest in them. It's not like I can account for why it matters or how, or if or what it says about being human.

For me, too, these things are interesting, even apart from a narrative or a point or a claim to a frame of poetry. They're important for themselves. A point, in fact, would be besides the point.

It also seems, at least somewhat, that these details are more obviously or viscerally worth something when written, though maybe they're just less awkward because no response is required or expected, and it's normal to get no comment. Or maybe it's the act of writing that lends weight to the detail, making it important, like some sort of discovery of phenomenological truth. E.g.:

They turn red immediately, not before the test and not later, when it's hard, but right as they enter into the room and sit down. It's a flush of panic, a chest squeeze of stress. Some of them are red in the cheeks and look like little kid in the cold, others, their noses light up, and they look like caricatures of drunks. Some of the girls get splotches that are symmetrical, others irregular, hand-sized patches on their cheeks and necks and chests.