It has struck me this week that I am most comfortable when I am merely scratching the surface of things. The problem is that as soon as I start to see what is beneath this outer layer I see the devil in the detail and I want to run a mile.
Take, for example, the business of choosing a family holiday. Now that should be a straight forward and enjoyable exercise engendering family fun, laughter and hilarity and resulting in peace, harmony and joy as we all savour the prospect of our time together. Yes? Not for this family. We have been months in discussion, research, negotiation, denial and submission – all these featuring in varying degrees and from alternating parties. There is nothing like seemingly insurmountable complications combined with differing angles on a common objective to dampen enthusiasm for a project.
Or, consider my interest in photography. I well remember the excitement of receiving my first camera at about twelve years old, which I duly took on our annual sea-side escapade. I cheerfully (well almost) submitted to my father’s instruction on how best to set the aperture and shutter speed to achieve good results. My heart sank deeper, the more complex and detailed the instruction appeared to be. Then, at the end of the holiday, the film was removed carefully from the camera and sent away for processing. Two weeks later (having dutifully selected the economy processing turn-around time) I apprehensively and yet expectantly opened the package of prints that fell through the letterbox. The whole set of 36 exposures had been – well – unexposed. 36 black prints plus two for good measure. Removing the lens cap was the detail omitted at such great cost on this occasion.
Decades later, with my residual interest in photography re-igniting, I took myself off to a week-end photography course to get to grips with my new SLR. Once more overwhelmed, and flustered by the unmastered detail, I reverted to scratching the surface of the art of photography with the automatic setting becoming the safe place from which to practice my now severely constrained artistry.
There is a remarkably similar pattern in all interests, responsibilities, and career directions that I have taken on to date. A desperation to become conversant with the detail and yet being weighed down by the consequent failure to master it. Somehow, the devil in the detail always seems to take a leap out and smother me.
And now, upon investigating the phrase ‘the devil is in the detail’, I discover that it’s precursor was ‘ God is in the detail’. This was a phrase apparently often used by one of my favourite architects – Ludvig Mies Van der Rohe. As a graduate of architecture, I like that. It also provides me with a differing conclusion to this piece than had originally been intended.
My determination is renewed; determination not to yield to the devil’s delight in taking away the pleasure that comes from the innocence of not seeing what is beneath the surface. I will continue to venture deep, knowing that with God in the detail defeat is no longer the stronger party. The detail is not mine to master, but it is there to explore, enjoy, wonder at and delight in, to understand, inform, accumulate and incorporate, fearlessly, as each new aspect is uncovered.
As a family, we overcame indecision and complications. We have booked a break in Rome for September. And I may have fled twice from the technicalities of learning to use my camera, but I am set and ready to try again with further instruction. As for the career direction, there is time enough for detail. For now, I am happy as I scratch the surface of many new things and enjoy the prospect of choosing which to become fearlessly more familiar with.