I have a friend from Australia coming to visit next month, and that always puts me in a “fresh eyes” state of mind. What will he think of Southern Califunny? Will my everyday sights and sounds seem delightful or bizarre to him? I go through the same thing when I’m visiting a new place. I try to soak in as much as I can, cuz (as a writer) I feel like the joy (not the devil) is in the details. So when I was out walking this morning, these are some questions I came up with while looking at my neighborhood with “fresh eyes.”
Do these houses for sale reflect a normal market or are they a sign of the hard economic times? What is the make-up of the concrete here that makes the sidewalk sparkle at times? Is that plant native to California? Are ANY of them? What does “Got Sand?” mean?… Is that bumper sticker a national saying or only a local in-joke? Where are the clouds? Do Americans like ceramic lawn animals or just this nut job? Who delivers these newspapers… kids on bikes? Why are all the gardeners dark-skinned? Why is nobody else walking in the heat but me? How many people own dogs – and do they ALL bark at strangers?
I just watched HBO’s “Hemingway and Gellhorn” bio-pic, and I thought it was interesting that Martha Gellhorn made her fame as a war correspondent NOT through writing about troop movements and military strategy, but rather about how war affected the locals. There’s a scene where Gellhorn (Nicole Kidman) looks at a photo of some fleeing citizens and she remarks on a child’s coat. “Look, her mother put the child’s best coat on her. Even in the midst of shelling, she wanted the child to look good. But in her haste, she buttoned it wrong.” A whole human interest story in one captured war moment. Again, it’s those details you need to catch as a writer.