When I was a teenager, I went with my parents to visit the beautiful new farmhouse of some of their friends. The property was idyllic — on a creek, in a valley, with cleared, fenced horse pastures, horses, a large finished barn a little ways from the Victorian house. The couple had been together for almost twenty years and had two happy children. Together they showed us around the house.
The house had been decorated in the wife’s style — lots of Victorian stuff everywhere, feminine — it matched the Victorian outside of the farmhouse. They joked about how the house was her domain — and his shit was out in the barn. Sure enough, he had renovated the barn and built a beautiful multi-room office and den adjoining the horse stables. That’s where he kept his stuff and whiled away his time.
They seemed exuberant about all their new stuff. Happy.
As we drove away, I told my parents they were going to break up.
My mom and stepdad thought I was nuts. That I was being negative and imagining stuff. When they asked me why I thought that, I told them —
There was no room for him in that house.
It wasn’t something I thought about consciously. I didn’t arrive at their home intending to analyze their marriage. I just moved through the tour — and listened to what they said — and got this overwhelming feeling. She’s pushing him out. There’s no room for him here. I didn’t think it. I felt it.
And by the time we drove away, the feeling was so overwhelming, I knew they were going to break up.
They broke up a couple years later. We always know more than we know.
We’re like fly-paper as we move through the world: we pick up everything. We’re stickier than internet memes, as thin-skinned as newborns. Stuff bombards us — and we can’t possibly notice or act on it all the time. But it enters us, it settles in us like heavy metals in our blood, our organs. And when a given piece reaches a critical mass — a clot forms and breaks free and bumps us — the balance shifts — suddenly we’re struck with —
There’s no room for him in that house.
We know more than we know. Finding out what it is we know is a matter of distracting the conscious mind and seeing where your attention shifts. What non-sequitors pop up? What are you reminded of, out of nowhere? These things seem like they have nothing to do with each other. When looked at together, they make meaning. They tell you what you know.
One way to look at a story is an effort to distract the focus of your audience in order to make meaning out of the pieces that emerge when they’re not looking. By the end, the audience knows more than they know.