When my son was a baby and being fussy, my husband would sometimes hang him upside down by his feet and John Patrick would almost instantly become quiet, widen his eyes and stare about as if fascinated with his new upside down world. My husband usually said something like “alternative perspective” to explain our baby’s reaction but the take-away was: sometimes you just need to look at the world differently.
I’ve discovered that that idea translates to grownups, too. I really believe that you can’t really see your world by sitting still (or upright). To see a thing (or a problem) properly, you have to get up, walk around it, squat down, close one eye and then move to the other side. The way an artist stalks around his model, squinting at her from every angle before attacking the canvas is, I firmly believe, how you need to tackle your life. I used to think that summing up what you’ve done and where you thought you were going—almost as if you had sixty seconds on the Oprah Winfrey program to tell the world about who you were—was an effective way to get a snapshot of your life. Kind of like the famous thirty-second elevator speech we’re all supposed to have. But like a lot of things that sound too easy, I don’t think a simple statement can cut it. I’ve come to believe that the effort of standing up and moving about your life to get a better view of it is essential. I bring this up for two reasons. One, I just read an awesome piece by Claudia Welch in this month’s Romance Writers Report called “Playing with a Full Deck” where she talks about identifying theme in your novels. She says, basically, that beyond the specific, obvious, theme which is evident in any one particular book, if you look at your work as a whole—all your series, your short stories, your stand-alones—you’ll find a theme that comes from the very heart of who you are and one that shows up in all your books in some form or another. I loved this exercise and was astounded to realize that all my books have me putting my protagonist on foreign soil or in an alien environment of some kind. I clearly have a “fish out of water” focus that finds its way into all my books. Now, the reason for that isn’t too earth-shattering (I’m an ex-military dependent and moved about the world relentlessly as a kid), but the fact of it, was. Knowing yourself and what drives you is always helpful when it comes to your work.
The other reason has to do with the fact that I just got back from an overseas trip with my husband and that now seventeen year old baby, and the experience impressed upon me yet again the amazing benefits of travel for perspective in your life. I asked my husband when we got back if he thought he might do things differently in his daily round now that we were back and he replied: “Of course.” See, it really is that obvious. It’s like stepping out of your body, out of your present lifestyle and being able to see, almost clinically, how you live “back home.” And that’s important because until you take the emotion out of it, until you step away and view it from an alternative perspective, you can’t see how many short cuts you’ve started to take, or how many habits you’ve created that don’t work. I hope my new point of view of how I live stays with me. But if it doesn’t, I know where I can buy a plane ticket to get it back again.