Letters from Home
Divine Details nabokov

The caress of divine details

Since I was diagnosed with depression decades ago (age 15), I have had some time to discover a few things that do help me.

Some of those things are the usual sort of things: going for walks, taking medication, having a good support system, knowing that my diagnosis is a medical one — that I’m not “crazy.”

There’ve been a couple things I’ve discovered to help me manage my moods as well.

One of them is divine details.

As a writer, it’s my duty to “show, not tell.” That means, for example, if I want to let you know a character is “tired” I might do that by saying:

Paul fell back against train cushion, a dead weight, already dreaming before the conductor arrived to punch his ticket.

…. rather than saying “Paul was tired from a long day at the office.”

The job of showing details has the side effect of making one alert to details. That alertness is a push and pull of writer’s life — collecting then redistributing everyday nuances. The outcome of having this tuned-in aspect to life is a never-ending attention to beauty — the simplest kinds.

Author Natalie Goldberg writes about this experience in her book Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life:

“We never graduate from first grade. Over and over, we have to go back to the beginning. We should not be ashamed of this. It is good. It’s like drinking water; we don’t drink a glass once and never have to drink one again. We don’t finish one poem or novel and never have to write one again. Over and over, we begin. This is good. This is kindness. We don’t forget our roots.”

The experience of “re-beginning” is what happens when I see a cloud or a cardinal, or lay for a few moments in our backyard hammock looking up at the sky.

Every opportunity I have — even when I am in the tundra of a depressive episode — to see and re-see daily details, it opens me up wider and wider.

In the last year I started taking walks in our “neighborhood.” By my definition — growing up in Iowa — this is NOT a neighborhood per se. It’s a series of a few roads with cul de sacs growing off of them like unwanted whiskers on a woman’s chin.

How does one enjoy a walk in a subdivision? There’s no proper grid to lay out long walks. It’s all twists and turns, with little terrifying dogs trapped behind paneled fences with so much to holler about.

This was the thought process that kept me from walking in my subdivision for a long time. Then I joined a friend on the Strava app which encourages you to share your exercise achievements — however minor — with the option to share photos.

With the aid of a good playlist and my wild mind, I soon began to let the details – however mundane — caress me. In this way I could walk that same loop of the subdivision, with its repeating houses and postcard lawns, and feel the clouds, and trees, and little bits of life wash over me.

Now it’s evening again and the day is ended on the corner of my own cul de sac.

I hear our great horned owl neighbor coming awake, hooting an evening hello.

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