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Intimate Details in Writing : Page 2 of 2

Intimate Details in Writing

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When you write about a concept, it's hard to give intimate details. Intimacy is an outgrowth of noticing with interest, with some aspect of love ~ generous, trusting love; fascinated love; even estranged, disappointed love can bring forth details that illuminate the beloved in some way. And by "the beloved" I don't necessarily mean romantically: it can be anything where one's heart inclines. Relationships within the family; a pet; a sunset; how a beautiful young gymnast moves ~ when the heart is open and interested, writing intimate details inclines one towards the beloved.

I once wrote a narrative nonfiction book ~ still waiting to be completed, I confess ~ in which, for one chapter's scene, I wanted to somehow communicate how impractical my family of artists was, and how this absence of practicality had been a difficult legacy for many years. There was much I could have said about it, conceptually: but instead, allowing myself to recall one small detail of an interaction with my father peeling an orange, the whole gist of it came into being in a more intimately detailed way. Here it is:

My Father, Peeling an Orange

Once, in my late teens, I caught my father sitting at the kitchen table, peeling an orange with a spoon. He looked so intent at his work, moving the convex side of the spoon up under the curve of the skin until rough patches of bright orange skin and white rind loosened off in the shapes of continents. I sat entranced as a child for that moment, unable to tell whether the magic was in the unorthodox method of peeling, or how the soft orange-meat was revealed, or the intensity of his concentration, or the sheer fact that what he was doing could be put to use. It wasn't just a matter of beauty and lofty heights, the orange could actually be eaten.

"Want some?" my father asked, turning to me.

I held out my hand. He put half the peeled orange inside it. It sat in the hollow of my palm, cool and made special by its carving and his gift. Whether the sun was actually shining through the windows or not, as he passed me the fruit of his labors, in my mind and from that time onward in my memory, it was: vast and rich and gold-orange, bathing us both ~ the hairs on our arms and the glint off the spoon and the tender huskless orange and the scallops of fallen peel and rind ~ in its light.

For there was something about his work being so physical, his mind so melded to the task of bringing forth something that could be touched and seen and tasted and shared, that took it out of the realm of private thought or public, dished-plunked-down-on-the-table drudgery. The spoon-peeled orange had a physical existence, and yet was plucked out of his secret, offbeat, father-god store. I could not have explained just why it was so touching, or why ~ in that grimed, sullen apartment ~ the scene, when replayed in memory, took place in so much light. But it stayed with me forever, filed off in a private pocket and brought out to the world in a protected, off-handed way, framed as a cross between a boast and a complaint: "The only practical thing my father ever taught me," I would say, "was to peel an orange with a spoon."

And this came to have the weight of an inheritance: unique and precious as something rare with my own name inscribed, yet in light of the forces required to push through the rough world, a token gesture only; of purely sentimental value.

~ From The Blessings Ledger. © 2008 by Naomi Rose. All rights reserved.

Even though it's been years since I wrote that, and much compassion has been gained, and infinitely more practicality as well, when I reread what I wrote, I am still moved by it. Something about those intimate details stays with me, takes me back into what it felt like not only to write that but to, in earlier years, live it. An atmosphere is evoked; something of depth and beauty awakens in me and from me, and remains in me over time. Writing has the ability to do this, to get inside an experience and linger there, so that reading it, people take it into themselves too; it becomes part of their impressionistic experience, part of the soul-food that makes up who they are.

It may take a bit of a shift to seek out the intimate details, when you are writing nonfiction. It's quicker and easier ~ in a certain way ~ to just list the ideas and enumerate the steps. But case histories of humans do not penetrate the membrane of shared, intimate experience. Writing intimate details gives you an opportunity to actually nourish yourself and your readers, as you write, with those detailed instances that mean something to you as you write them. Your own experience is the litmus test: if you find yourself touched by what you write, there's a good chance your readers will be, too.

If all you want is the A-B-C's of what to do and how to do it in your writing, then staying with conceptual ideas alone will do. But if you want to evoke a deeper experience in yourself and in your readers ~ and why not? It will last longer! ~ then relax your list-making mind, and see what intimate details call out to you. Follow them; see where they lead you, what about them moves your heart and soul. In the process, you will learn a great deal about your own inner makeup, and also develop your capacity for intimate writing, no matter what the genre you choose to write in. •

Copyright © 2011 by Naomi Rose. All rights reserved.

Naomi RoseNaomi Rose, Book Developer and Writing Coach, has successfully used her "Writing from the Deeper Self" approach to help people with an inner-directed focus write the books of their hearts. More »

2/17/11