It’s funny what you remember and what you forget.
Years ago, I saw a movie called Enough Said. I think it was pretty good, but I hardly remember anything about it (not even the title — I had to look it up). One little part, though, has stuck in my brain, and it may still be in my brain when I’m old and/or gray.
One of the main characters, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, is a masseuse. She travels to clients’ houses, lugging along all her gear as she goes. One of her clients, a younger guy, has a front door that can only be reached by going up a bunch of steps. So every time she goes there, she has to haul her massage table and everything else up all those stairs.
It’s heavy, and it’s awkward. And the more she does it, the more she resents this able-bodied young man who is perfectly content to smile down at her from his front door, watching her struggle, never offering to help.
Why doesn’t he help her? She wonders this over and over. It’s obvious what she needs. She shouldn’t have to ask. Her resentment toward him turns to anger, then hate. (Anakin, are you taking notes?)
Finally, toward the end of the film, she visits him yet again. But this time she sighs and looks up, and then, in a calm voice, she simply asks if he could please help.
The guy blinks. He’s mortified. He can’t believe he’s been so rude all this time and never realized it. He apologizes and rushes to help.
Like I said, this scene has stuck with me a long time.
Because she’s right: it’s obvious she needs help. She shouldn’t have to ask. He should know better. All of that is true.
But the fact is, it’s not obvious to him. He doesn’t know better. She does have to ask. And when she does, everything changes.
Now, I’ve been that clueless guy plenty of times, believe me. And I’ve also been on the other end of it, thinking, How are they not getting this? It’s gotta be obvious. Right?
But the older I get, the more I’m struck by how often the things that are blindingly obvious to one person simply aren’t obvious to someone else.
Betsy and I play a sort of game sometimes called Stream of Consciousness. As the name implies, one of us simply says out loud whatever we’re thinking about. (Well, almost whatever we’re thinking about. We’re not that stupid.) And so often, one of us will say something that they’d never mention normally — too mundane, too obvious — only to find that the other person had never thought of it at all.
Writing is the same way. One problem I had early in my writing career, that I still struggle with at times, is that I wouldn’t say things explicitly because I thought they were too obvious. Well, they were obvious to me — not because I’m Dr. Smarty Pants, Esq., but because I was writing the dang thing. I’ve learned to spell things out more and more. Not to dumb things down — I’m never a fan of that — but simply to be clear.
And I think about this with Evan. He’s one year old. He’s wonderful, but I also get frustrated with him sometimes. And I try to remember that, out of all the things that are obvious to me, very, very few are obvious to him. And fairly often, things that are obvious to him are not obvious to me. He can’t always tell me yet — but he’ll get there.
I think this would be a better world if we told people more of the things we find obvious. Not all the things. But more of them.
“I love you.”
“He’s not really a Nigerian prince.”
“Baking soda is different from baking powder.”
That sort of thing.
Leave me a comment, and tell me something obvious!