Details, Details, Details

Epiphanies, like women, can pop up when you least expect them, and they can free you from a troubling part of your life you didn’t understand as a problem until they were revealed. Most of us learn if we’re multi-taskers, optimistic, outgoing, genuinely funny, and/or thick-skinned to those who label us otherwise. Isn’t it interesting when a “That’s me!” pops up that teaches us more about ourselves than we know before.

In a PBS documentary on Mark Twain, a number of incidents arose in the building of Twain’s home, and the construction team began “badgering” Twain with questions regarding how he wanted them handled. The questions regarded the construction of his home, a place the older Twain would presumably live for the rest of his life, so the observer should forgive the construction crew’s chief for the badgering. The team didn’t know how he wanted some particulars of his home constructed, and they probably had hundreds of questions for him. What the team did not know, however, was that Twain had an oft expressed aversion for details.


“That’s me,” I thought. If I were to construct my own home, I can see myself “all-in” on the big, meaningful constructs. I can see myself all-in on the design, and some of the details. I can see myself all hopped up in the beginning, acutely focused, and knocking out every question with pinpoint answers. I would consider other perspectives, others’ advice. I would probably read books, watch YouTube videos, and gather as much information as possible to make an informed decision. At some point, and no one knows when this point hits, I would begin to shut down. It often happens soon after the this-and-that questions hit the floor.

“Do you want this or that?”

“I’ll take this.”

“Are you sure, because that offers a this and that.”

“OhmiGod, just gimme that then.”

“It’s your house,” they say. “We just want to make sure you’re getting what you want.”

“I understand. Give me that.”

Details, regarding otherwise inconsequential minutiae, make me feel stupid. These detail start firing far too many neurons in my brain for me to handle, and I usually get overwhelmed and exhausted by them. I know that I should be listening to every question, and I feel guilty for not being able to ponder all of the details they give me to come up with the ideal solution for my family, but my capacity for such matters is limited. When the flood of this-and-that questions hits, I’m completely out of gas. “Whatever, just get it done!” I’ll fall away from the creative to what is expected, and what it is that those still paying attention want. My answers going, forward, are autonomic. “Yes, that sounds fine,” I’ll say without knowing the question. I’ll just want the damn thing to be built already by that point, because I’m not a details-oriented guy. I’ll want to make the big decisions, but I’ll want to leave all of the “inconsequential” details-oriented questions to others.

I feel guilty. I want to be involved, informed, and constantly making acutely focused decisions throughout the process. I feel guilty when others start making the decisions that affect me, because I know I’m an adult now, and I should be making all these decisions. There is also some fear that drives me to constantly pretend that I’m in prime listening mode, based on the fact that I may not like the finished product if I’m not involved in every step. I may not like, for example, the manner in which the west wing juts out on the land and makes the home appear ostentatious, or obtuse, or less pleasing to the eye with various incongruities, and I’ll wish I would not have been so obvious with my “Whatever just do it!” answers. Details exhaust me, though, and they embarrass me when I don’t know the particulars that the other is referencing.

I don’t know if the guilt is borne of the fact that I know I’m an intelligent being, and I should be able to make these decisions in a more consistent manner, or if I’m just too lazy to maintain acute focus. I do have a threshold though, and I know how my brain works. I know that if there are seven ways to approach a given situation, I will usually select one that falls in the first two selections offered. I usually do this, because I’m not listening after the second one. Everything beyond that involves the other party showing off the fact that they know more than I do. I know this isn’t always the case, but it’s the only vine I can cling to when having to deal with my limited attention span and the limited arsenal of my brain.

Knowing my deficiencies for retaining verbosity, I will ask for literature on the subject that provides the subject a tangible quality that can be consumed at my pace. If I do that, and I have, I will then pretend to read every excruciating word, but I will usually end up selecting one of the first two selections offered. Companies know the predilection we have to choose the first one or two selections, and they pay search engines to optimize their place in searches. We might envy the person who knows enough to know that selection #7 is the ideal company for this job, but we know we’re not that guy.

I like to think I have a complex brain. I like to think that I display all that I’m about in my own way, but I’m always reminded of the fact that most of the people around me give full participation to the details of life no matter how overwhelming and exhausting they can be to me. It’s humbling to watch these brains, I like to consider inferior, operate on planes of constant choices, and decisions, and retentions, and details I am incapable of retaining.

I have this daydream that I will one day be given an excuse for having such a limited brain by the relative brilliance I reveal to the world in the form of my book. I am interviewed in this dream, and I am asked, “So, what does it mean to you to have crafted such a fine book?” I am far wittier than reality would suggest in this dream when I reply: “It will help me deal with all of my faults better. The fact that I cannot fix my own plumbing, can now be countered with, but I wrote a fine book. The fact that I cannot fix my own car, compete with my wife in certain areas of intelligence, or hold down a decent job can now be countered with, but I wrote a book that is held up as a fine book in certain quarters.”

We’ve all heard the line “Everybody’s mind works differently,” but until we learn something regarding the fact that the brilliant mind that composed Huckleberry Finn has similar deficiencies, we cannot help but feel guilty about them. “Well, work on your deficiencies,” those around us suggest, and we do when that next project comes about. We’re out to prove ourselves in that next project. We answer every question, from the first few to the this-and-thats, with prolonged mental acuity. When that third and fourth project rolls around, however, we’ll revert back to those inferior brains that can’t retain details, and it is then that we’ll envy those “inferior” brains, consistently showing their superiority. This could lead those of us that never knew we were suffering from such a recognized deficiency into feelings of incompletion, until someone like Mark Twain recognizes and vocalizes his defeciencies for us.