Many years ago, when going through the end stages of a loving relationship, I received a letter from a friend who was also going through a similar situation. We were both confused, broken-hearted, and our faces were chapped from crying so much. She tried to console me through her words by writing the kinds of things people say all the time during a break-up:
You’ll get through it.
You’ll find love again.
The pain will eventually stop.
Time heals all wounds.
The future is bright.
Your heart is beautiful.
You deserve love.
Those words washed over me and dissolved quickly. What I remember most about her letter though, was a small paragraph about peanut butter. She wrote about how she had run out of peanut butter that day but had just enough for one sandwich and ate it for lunch. It was such a miniscule detail of her life, but she painted it with such vivid colors – the searching of the jar in her white cabinets, the relief of her right hand clasping the smooth plastic, the greeding knife scraping every little drop, and the way the fluffy bread pressed against the peanut butter – that it gave me another image to temporarily replace my own pain.
She took me to a place – her kitchen – and away from my own life. Even if just for a paragraph. That sandwich was an afternoon of peace where she found herself sitting afterward and reflecting about the broken relationship and how she needed to pull herself together. And it began with that empty peanut butter jar.
I don’t recall much else of that letter except the wafting smell of crunchy peanut butter and the satisfaction of soft white bread bringing comfort to a hungry mouth on a tear-stained face.
Specificity requires detail. And detail is not just about adorning a verb or noun with an adjective. It’s about curtailing our words to just the essential message, the throbbing emotion of our truth. It’s being simple, clear, and original. It’s about saying what no one else in the world can say. It’s about writing what no one else in the world can write. And believing you have every right to claim that right to write.
Write specifically. Lead the reader to your heart and allow her or him to find what gave you peace. Even if it was a jar of peanut butter.