This week I have been focusing on creating more structured time for my kids. Since summer let out and virtual school came to a much-welcomed end, that void has been filled with, well nothing. Actually it was filled with media. Nick spent all his waking hours playing Fortnite, and Penny watching iPad or pacing around the fire pit out front. While some moms would be chill about this, I feel like I can’t win. Either I’m prodding my kids to spend quality time doing something real, as simple as riding bikes, or I feel guilty for using the iPad as a babysitter but relieved that the house is quiet and I get some uninterrupted time on the computer. It all feels zero sum right now. They say we’re to expect a second wave of Coronavirus in the fall, right when school is about to start.
I want to touch on the idea of specific information. I was first introduced to the idea of specificity by Malcolm Gladwell during a podcast episode about country music and why it’s so damn sad as compared to pop music. Malcolm Gladwell argues that it’s the specificity of country music that places the listener in a specific location (Birmingham, in this case), and elicits specific emotions as compared to the abstract language in pop music. In his Masterclass Dan Brown also emphasizes the use of specific information as foundational to producing prose that conveys emotional meaning to the reader.
If you look at the first paragraph, what specific information have I provided? I talked about Nick playing Fortnite. I talked about Penny pacing around the fire pit, and her iPad. I’ve talked about me, sitting in front of the computer. And I said I feel guilty. All this information serves to create a picture in your mind about what goes on in my house, and how I feel about it. Without the details, without the specific information, it’s difficult to create an image in the mind’s eye with language. If I had just said, I feel guilty, it would be less clear why. In fiction and non-fiction, specific information is fundamental to delivering meaning to what you write.