Friday, August 22, 2008

Gaining Perspective

A very short man with a large belly walks into a Fun House. He stands in front of a distorted mirror and sees that his reflection is tall and slender. A man from a neighboring village, who is quite thin, stands beside him. His reflection is short and rather plump. Both men leave the Fun House. The short man returns home, boasting to his wife that he was the best looking man in the magic house, where panes of special glass showed your true reflection. The skinny man returns home in shame. Over the next few months he works out, determined to force his true image to become better. The short man attends parties, telling all his friends how handsome he is and recounts the story at every opportunity. Every other habit remains the same, he’s the best looking man in the magic house; there is no need to change. He gives anyone who will listen advice on how to improve their own true reflection.

Three months go by and the Fun House has again returned to their corner of the world. Both men make the journey, followed by several of their peers who seek to find their measure in the reflection of the magic glass. One by one they pour into the Fun House and stand in front of the mirror. As chance would have it, the two original men find themselves standing side-by-side once again as the others file in around them. Shouts of laughter ring out and both men leave. The fat man is angry, his face is purple and beads of sweat roll down his brow. The magic glass has made a fool of him; it refused to show his true reflection. The skinny man, who has put on muscle and tone and now looks more like chiseled stone, scratches his head and asks the ticket vendor, “Sir, when I came before my reflection was short and fat. I worked hard and built muscle. Now my reflection is tall and skinny. What must I do to look normal?”

The ticket vendor laughs aloud and claps the man on the shoulder. “Smoke and mirrors, my boy, smoke and mirrors.”

(This is an anecdote of my own creation for this particular post. If you would like to use it for your own purposes, please attribute it to me, Brady Frost, and mention its origin, www.huntingthemuse.com)

What is perspective? Is it just a particular point of view, or can it be distilled down to the pane through which we view things? I suppose that would depend on the connotation.

I received a good lesson on perspective last night at my Speculative Fiction writing group. Let me be honest, it was a meeting that I almost skipped out on, and I’m so happy I didn’t. Why did I almost miss out on this invaluable lesson? I can say this primarily because I know I’m not alone; I almost didn’t go because I hadn’t had time to finish my Science Fiction short story. I felt embarrassed. I felt like I wasn’t much of a writer. I still had work to do and it just didn’t seem like there was enough time to get to where I could take an hour break, on top of that I only had two pages (double spaced). Honestly, I thought I still had another week before our meeting.

In the end I bucked up and put down another three pages and figured it was better than nothing. I was late out the door, but work was taken care of and I made excellent time on the way to the library. I showed up at five minutes after six o’clock with four copies of my work in progress in hand, not bad at all.

The format of this meeting was much more relaxed. Instead of reviewing an article or a snippet out of a writing book, we spent our time reviewing each others writing right there at the table. I preferred this a lot more than taking each piece home and fighting for time to sit down and give good reviews. I had missed the last meeting, as work simply would not let me go, and a new member who was attending his second meeting had brought his teenage daughter. The other new member hadn’t showed up. Interestingly enough, that provided four reviewers – one for each copy that I had brought.

The first story I read was from Steven Cherecwich. (Haha, google your name now Steven!) It was very short, a sort of flash fiction piece. I got caught on setting for a brief moment, then there was a bit of descriptive confusion, but the conclusion of the piece caught me completely off-guard. It was disgusting and yet pleasantly surprising.

The next story came from Angela Perry. (Did your personal SEO rating just go up?) Right off the bat my mind ignored the mention of a gold recliner and I found myself sitting in a Native American wigwam. When I read mention of a dilapidated trailer a few paragraphs in, I was immediately transported from ages ago into the present, complete with Indian reservations and sad memories of an age lost. It was the perfect transition in my mind to prepare me for the story to come. The theme revolved around a Native American girl who was about to turn 21, who was struggling with discovering her identity. Like many young people from this culture, she was internally at war with the traditions she had grown up with and the way of the industrial world around her. The journey through college had left her view of the old traditions tainted. The character dynamic between the main character and her boyfriend was spot on and made for a very romantic, yet not cheesy, baseline that truly carried the story for me. The ending was pulled off in a manner that completely worked for me. If done without the tact, style, and detail it could have been a cliché nightmare. I was impressed with how it was pulled together.

The third, and final, story I read was from the teenage girl. I’m sorry. I didn’t quite catch her name. This story was written primarily by her friend on notebook paper, but was transcribed by this girl who was providing editing and revision assistance. It was also a work in progress. The quality of the writing was what one might expect from a High School level. There was a bit of awkwardness in the wavering tone of the first person narration. Repeat words were distracting, and the peppering of adjectives revealed a writer who is not quite comfortable with the power of her descriptions. Her secondary characters seemed to lack intelligence while the main character had it in barrels, though no explanation was given as to why the “normal” people were dumber than dirt and didn’t ask questions that you or I might, given we found ourselves in the same situation.

This is where the lesson in perspective really hit me. Any time you put something out there, you leave yourself open to be judged. Most people long for the praise and adoration of anyone who reads what they have written. Some hope for critical comments so that they can improve on their writing. But in the end, you really have no idea why some people respond the way they do. It is easy to mistake jealousy for an experienced and helpful hand, but more often than not I would guess the mistake is the other way around. It’s hard to receive criticism, even if you were expecting it. On the other hand, it’s also easy to imperialize your own experience. You can usually tell when people have done this to a high degree. Symptoms are mentioning their own published work and credentials, going on about “the craft”, and a general holier-than-thou tone throughout their message.

I was pleasantly surprised to realize that critiquing that story was an easy opportunity to fall prey to a perspective shift, yet I did so with care and tact. I thought about the context of the writing and took it for what it was, not what I might expect it to be. It was truly an enjoyable drive home as I realized what had taken place that evening and what I had learned.

Creative Writing Prompt:


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