What do you see in the above picture? Quite simply, it is a dog in a stroller. But your point of view will shape how you feel about seeing a dog in a stroller. You may take one look at such a spectacle and think it rather ridiculous, or you may coo and sigh and think it is adorable. I was having a discussion about point of view with one of my students this past week, and I was reminded of a sunny afternoon a few years ago.
The little dog you see above used to be my dog. I got her as a six-week old puppy when I was only eleven years old, and I was blessed to have her in my life for many years after that. She moved around the country with me several times, and not long after we moved to Chicago, I happened upon a stroller made especially for dogs at a pet store. Despite the hefty cost, I had to have it for my little CoCo. I'd put her in it and stroll her down to Lake Michigan, the two of us happy as can be. We'd usually attract a bit of attention; people laughed or smiled at us usually, or maybe just shook their heads. But one such afternoon, an older gentleman was walking toward us and he took one look at my dog and a disgusted look came over his face. He told me what a spoiled dog I had, tone disapproving. I just shrugged it off and didn't give him much of a response because, quite honestly, I didn't disagree with him. As much as I love animals, and my animals especially, I feel that sometimes people go to ridiculous levels when it comes to pampering their pets, and I imagine from this man's point of view, I was probably trying to be like some wealthy socialite who dressed her dog in designer outfits and carried her around in a purse.
The truth of the matter was, that from my point of view, I was completely justified in wheeling my dog around in a stroller. I didn't bother explaining to the old man that my spoiled little baby was almost seventeen years old, blind, and dying from kidney failure. She was not physically capable of making the two mile walk to Lake Michigan from my apartment, and while she was a small dog, carrying twelve restless pounds of dog in my arms wasn't really an ideal solution. If it hadn't been for the dog stroller, I would have had to leave her at home when I went out for a walk, and that was a rather heartbreaking thought for me. Maybe if I had told him this, it would have changed his point of view, or maybe he would have merely suggested it was time to put her down. I don't know because I didn't have the option of going into his mind.
Point of view is something we always have to be aware of as writers. Obviously we need to make sure we're staying true to the point of view we are writing in at that moment, but we also need to be aware of how things look to the other characters, even if we're never actually entering their heads. Their point of view dictates their actions and dialogue and so even though we may only be writing from one character's point of view, we need to be capable of seeing things from everyone's point of view.
I think being a writer has actually helped me be more empathetic to the opinions of others, even when I don't agree with them. It is second nature for me to try and see it from the other's person's POV, which I think kept me from being offended the day that the old man was obviously so disgusted by the sight of me pushing my spoiled dog around in her stroller. The POV skills I'd been honing as a writer helped me see his side of it and even agree to a certain extent. Not long after that afternoon, CoCo's health reached a point where I finally had to let her go. It was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make, but thinking back over all those beautiful strolls to Lake Michigan we had during the months leading up to her death, I know it didn't matter if the whole world thought my dog in her stroller was a ridiculous sight. From the way I see it, the cost of that stroller was repaid to me in priceless memories.
What about you? Do you find that being a writer helps you see things from other people's point of view?
The lovely folks over at Matter Press recently rejected one of my short shorts, which they prefer to call "compression fiction" but it was a personal rejection and from beginning to end, the experience was a positive one. They have an interesting feature on their blog where they quote compression fiction authors on what compression fiction means to them. Even though they didn't take my story, they did like my statement on compression fiction and if you wander on over to their blog, you'll see my smiling face and learn what I think about compression fiction. Now I am off to write more, you guessed it, compression fiction!
I like the way the internet is right now. . . translation: free of censorship! If you do too, consider signing the petition to tell Congress you don't support the PIPA and SOPA bills. Or write a letter to your state's representative. If you have questions about what the bills are going to accomplish, watch this video.
Did you know that under these bills, they could try and sue me or shut down my innocent little blog here because I have posted Youtube videos of copyrighted songs? Does that seem right to you? For a taste of what you might see on some of your favorite websites should these bills pass, check out today's episode of one of my favorite webcomics.
Today, stop writing long enough to do your part to save the internet.
UPDATE: The Oatmeal does a much better job of making a case against SOPA and PIPA than I do. Per the author's request to "pirate the shit out of this animated GIF", here it is.
The following video has been making the rounds on Facebook and I wanted to share it here for anyone who hasn't seen it yet. While I own an e-reader and love the convenience of it, I have not forgotten the magic of books and still own more "real" books than I care to count. My world is big enough to include both. Watch, enjoy, then go read something! :)
One of the advantages of me providing private tutoring sessions at public libraries is that I have reacquainted myself with how much I used to love going to the library. How much I loved the thrill of plucking random books off the shelf and deciding which ones were enticing enough to bring home with me for a while.
One of the last books I read in 2011 was a treasure I found at the library. Because I Am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas is considered a young adult book, but even if you don't like young adult fiction normally, I urge you to give this a read. It is an extremely quick read, but the story has a deep, hard punch.
I admit I was on the fence about checking this one out. The inside cover flap didn't immediately grab me until I saw that it was a novel written in poem form. I've only read one other novel in poem form (Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust), and it was one of the most moving and powerful books I had ever read at that point in my life. Still holds true today. But because this way of telling a story is so rare, and my previous experience with the form so full of impact, I decided to check out Ms. Chaltas' book and see how it measured up. I started reading it on the bus, and I was halfway through it before I got home. My commute home from this particular appointment takes me about an hour, and I honestly found myself wishing it was longer. I didn't want to stop reading long enough to make the eight minute walk home from my stop.
The story that unfolded through these accessible and beautifully written poems were about a teenage girl struggling with many of the usual adolescent worries -- boys, friends, identity, self-esteem. . . but Anke's worries are set against a terrible family secret, one that dictates every decision she makes and shadows every small victory in her life.
I will refrain from going into more detail because I hope that you will go out and buy it or check it out from your own library. But this was definitely my favorite random read for 2011, hands down. I plan to pick up my own copy, now that I've had to give the one I read back to the library. Like that other novel in poem form I read so many years ago, I imagine this one will warrant many re-reads in years to come.
Photo by Eric Smith
In a predictable new year's out with the old, in with the new move, I got my hair drastically cut this week. (Makes a note to see about updating sidebar photo since I can no longer even make pigtails, let alone sport ones that trail most of the way down my back.) At any rate, I am not sure this desire for short hair had all that much to do with the need for a fresh start that so often accompanies a new year, but more to do with practicality. My hair was past the middle of my back again and it had been over a year since I had gotten it cut. I wasn't spending the time required on it to display it in its fully curly girl glory, so more often than not, it was twisted up on the back of my head waiting for me to have about five hours when I didn't plan to leave the house or sleep so I could wash it and let it air dry. (I don't like blow dryers.) Anyway, as I was sitting in the chair describing to my awesome stylist (Cally at Curls & Co. if you are in the Chicago area and need a good stylist) how short I wanted to go, she pinned a chunk of hair on my head and then just chopped off a mass of curls. There was a momentary panic -- nothing too major, I've gone short before and my hair grows fast, but still watching that hunk of hair, now useless to me drift down to the waste bin, there was a twinge of sorrow, followed by a realization there was no turning back now, and finally, a relief.
I realized that I often treat my writing like I treat my hair. In the same way I get my hair cut about once a year, I am often reluctant to really, truly set down and chop down my stories. I'll write something new and let it marinate for awhile, telling myself I will revise it thoroughly after the thought of taking sharp objects to it doesn't panic me so much. Too often it marinates far longer than it needs to. I am too busy writing new stories. And when I do revise, it is rare than I end up with a shorter word count than I started with. Chopping extraneous material from my stories is very difficult for me. I'm getting better at this, but still I recognize it is an area of weakness.
Which brings me to my novel. . . remember how I was happy dancing back in August because I'd finished my first draft. . . FINALLY!! Well, guess how much revision has been done on that manuscript. Go ahead. . . guess. . .
Did you say, none?
Well, if you did, you'd be right. Now, I can already hear that voice of justification sounding off in the back of my mind. Yes, I am fully aware that there were some very good reasons for me to take some time away from the novel almost immediately after I finished it. But that's been exactly 5 months now. Excuse time is over.
The thing is, once my hair was done, I was completely infatuated with it. Cally did an amazing job and I felt so much lighter and free without my long hair. It's still got that wild curl going on that I love, it's just shorter. I need to take this light, free feeling and apply it to my writing now. . . most especially my novel. It's time to start chopping!
So how about you? Did the new year prompt you to make any changes you apply to your writing?
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