Shaping our Lives: It’s all in the Details

As I write about books and boats, I sometimes discover an unexpected overlap—like these two seemingly unrelated posts: The Shape of a Story and Reading the Shape of the Wind. Both focus on the larger impact of details: how a story takes shape from the delivery speed (and relative humidity) of its details, and how a puff fills across a particular part of the race course.

I’d mostly forgotten about these two posts, until a few days ago when a reader’s email reminded me of the first—which reminded me of the second. And that started me thinking about how a bunch of seemingly insignificant details eventually shape the biggest picture of all: our lives.

Gondolas Venice boat traffic

Most of us traipse through each week, stuck in our ruts (both good and bad) of rote and routine. We spend most of our time caught up in the day to day: what’s for dinner, which movie we’ll watch tonight, that deadline that’s looming. Where will we spend Thanksgiving, and how far ahead should we book tickets to get the cheapest flight?

It isn’t until there’s a significant change to that routine that we stand back a bit and consider how those daily details fit together. How we spend each day is a vote, an expression of priorities, even though it’s often hard to see that except in the rear view mirror.

Building a life from its details is a lot like creating the rough draft of a story. First we have to build a massive block (of words, or experience); then we begin to chisel away what’s not important, until we can “see” the overall shape. It’s only after we’ve piled up all those little details (and then removed as much as we can without losing anything significant) that we can see what really matters.

This statement from six years ago seems now to apply to my life as much as to the manuscript I was working on then: “I do best when I focus on the little pieces, trusting that an overall shape and texture will eventually appear.”

So as I wait to see where my passions take me next, I’m allowing myself the luxury of focusing on the little pieces. Do each project well as it comes along. Enjoy sunrises, and sunsets. Play as much as possible. Trust that some of those experiences (and maybe even some of these words) will be worth saving when it’s time to carve a new life shape. I already know my own basic priorities: words, boats, family, and a water view. Together, they’ll provide the foundation to stand on, as I tack toward the next puff and dig out the next story.