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A Change In Perspective

by Julie Wilson

A change in perspective will do you and your writing some good. It keeps you on your toes. Being a little uncomfortable, a little less certain, challenges you to right yourself according to new rules. I used to have a writing teacher whose lifelong goal was to walk through all worlds freely and yet confident of who she was at her core. Writing what you know means getting out and learning something about yourself, something about your characters, something about life.

And, sometimes change means letting others show us a thing or two. My greatest struggle thus far as a writer has been moving house. We’re in a new neighbourhood, in an area of Toronto called Greektown. Smoke gets in your eyes. It’s nothing to walk past a driveway and see a pig on a spit, turning under the watchful eye of someone’s very, very old grandmother. There are new noises, new disturbances, new things to look at, new ways in which to look, and, most interestingly, new ways of looking at me. We are the foreigners here. It’s something you come to take for granted when you stay in one place for any great length of time. Work. Friends. Certainly our personal traditions. We assume we know what our identity is. Nothing like moving to a neighbourhood where you don’t speak the language to remind you that the world is a big place that’s forever growing.

It started the day we were handed the keys. I was standing in the emptiness, planning the big move. The windows were open full and conversations spilled in off the sidewalk. I was counting outlets, measuring closets and cupboards, mentally arranging and re-arranging all the furniture, not understanding one word I was hearing, when I came across my reflection in the closet door mirrors. My body was different. For a second, I was on the list of things to note: Strange woman in bedroom. Keep an eye out for her. It was the light, the bend of the glass, who knows. I just didn’t recognize the person staring back at me. She would take some getting used to. It all would. I went home and folded into the couch like I’d done almost every day for five years, reading a book, napping, lazily flipping through the television channels. A fiery orange ball moved across the wall, the sun setting through the tree on our front lawn. I started to resent having to give up one of the few things I knew was right – like, really right. That fiery ball was mine. But we owe it to ourselves to keep guessing. Imagine Gauguin without Tahiti. Peter Gabriel without Youssou N’Dour. Hemingway without Africa. The loss of a parent or child or lover. The exhilaration of new love. The triumph of old love. The anguish of heartbreak. Life keeps coming. And, we’re in the position to respond to it. What a gift.

Follow the example of John Dugdale who was a successful commercial photographer when he developed CMV retinitis, which causes blindness, usually occuring in the last stages of AIDS. He chose to see his illness as freeing, giving him the opportunity to reinvent his photographer’s eye. With the help of assistants who set the focus, he pulled from an endless catalogue of what he remembered things feeling like to create a stunning series of portraits, largely of himself. They’re hauntingly personal, ghost-like, almost not there. Just like his view of the world.

While I’m not good with change, I do like surprises, because they do all the work. All I have to do is react. In our new place, we have both sunsets and sunrises. The freezer actually keeps food solid. And I can flush the toilet without scalding my girlfriend in the shower. Unfortunately, the morning paper falls annoyingly out of reach, and the pigeons sun themselves on our deck more than we do. But I’ve identified the creaky floorboards, allowing me to successfully pace the apartment without bothering the downstairs neighbour. And I write at the dining room table now, the scene of drinks and conversation through the afternoon and well into dusk, laughter, and some tears, too. It suddenly seems like a long haul to the recent memory of sweating away in a tiny room with no air to circulate.

So, things are looking good for me. My characters still have to suss out the situation. They’ll no doubt hide under the table with the cats until they figure out whether this is just a vacation or if we’re here to stay. I’m sure they’re looking forward to the day it makes sense for me to turn right and not left coming up out of the subway. When it makes sense to pull out two keys instead of one. When it makes sense to wander the streets wondering where we parked the car last. When it makes sense to think about only them, once more, and not all this other new stuff that occupies me needlessly. Slowly, they’ll step out in the night and find a nook to call their own. And we’ll all be together again like nothing ever happened.

Copyright 2003. Julie Wilson.

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