Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Perspective: Use It or Lose It

On the first day of the Citizen Police Academy, each of us was handed a card with an indistinguishable black and white photo on it. We were told to keep looking at it until the subject became clear. First one, then another of my classmates raised their hands.

It wasn't long before nearly everyone else but me figured out what was in the photo. Finally, someone took pity and told me what I was supposed to see in the optical illusion -- the head of a cow. Of course. It seems so obvious now. Can you see it?

The police officers were trying to make the point that things aren't always what they seem -- and if you look at them from a different perspective, you may see something totally different from what you initially thought. Very important to remember in police work (and in mystery fiction). Then the Police Chief said, "It's like that arrow in FedEx -- once you see it, you always will."

I had no idea what he was talking about, but for weeks I stared at the FedEx delivery trucks parked outside the FedEx/Kinko's next to my gym. I've walked around them and looked from every angle. I still couldn't see it, but I figured the Police Chief wasn't lying. So I kept looking.

And then finally last week, there it was -- clear as day. How could I have missed it? Can you see it now, too, thanks to the beige coloring on the arrow?

It made me think of my husband's favorite sayings -- "Perspective: Use it or lose it." I try to remember these words of wisdom when it IS important to see the forest for the trees -- whether it be in my writing life or my personal life.

 Do you find that sometimes stepping away from things, changing the perspective -- and your perception -- can help when you're stymied with your writing? That may mean taking a walk, putting your WIP aside for a few days, or having someone else take a look at it, for example. 

Another kind of perspective I've been thinking about a lot recently is how sometimes our problems don't seem so huge when compared to what what others are experiencing. I think about my friend maintaining a vigil by her husband's side since mid-March when he became critically ill, and nearly died, the day after their daughter's destination wedding in Jamaica. I think about the girl a family law judge told our Citizen Police Academy about -- sexually molested by three different men: her father, then her stepfather and finally his brother -- all before she turned 15. Or the woman who told the same judge she couldn't go looking for work until she could afford to buy a pair of shoes.

Perspective: Use it or lose it. I think I'll "use" it. How about you?

And if you could still "use" a little help to see the cow, take a look now:


Annette said...

The cow I got after you told me what I was looking for. But the arrow in Fed Ex? I'm glad you outlined that because it would have taken me months to figure out.

So true about perspective and needing to look at things...especially our manuscripts...in a slightly different way than we usually do. I've been faced with that recently as I'm struggling with my pitch.

Great post, Pat.

Jennie Bentley said...

I didn't see the cow at first either. I knew the arrow was there, but it took me a while to find it the first time. Didn't someone write about the FedEx arrow last year sometime, as well?

Another use for perspective that you didn't mention - but that we've talked about in the past - in the POV/perspective within the manuscript. It makes a big difference to the story whether it's first or third person perspective, singular or plural, and whose perspective it is, since everything gets filtered through the eyes of whoever is looking. Just thought I'd mention it...

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Really an important lesson here and Pat explains it quite nicely. I first learned my lessons about perspective when working with a group of archaeologists on a massive pipeline job I was designing. I looked at the ground and saw soil structure, cohesiveness, load bearing capacity and a base for building or burying a structure. They looked at the ground and saw our past. We look at the same things and see them from a completely different perspective.

That lesson carried over to when I spoke to different groups. I learned to shape my topics to hit home with different groups I spoke to. Exactly what your need to think about in genre fiction.

The lesson was even more valuable when I worked in China. Their entire culture sees things differently than we do in the U.S.

Valuable lesson Pat. Thanks

Joyce said...

Excellent post, Pat, and excellent comments, too!

For the record, I couldn't see the cow's head or the arrow until you pointed them out. Never show me any inkblots, because to me, they'll look like blobs of ink.

Laurissa said...

Pat, I've got to say, that cow's head still isn't clear to me, only in the outlined photo.

Also, I never saw the arrow before, but easily see it now that you pointed it out. Very interesting.

Perspective does make a huge difference with everything. Isn't that similar to the old saying, "to walk a mile in someone else's shoes?"

Great post!

Karen in Ohio said...

Blow me down, that arrow's been there the whole time, and I never saw it before! Thanks for pointing it out, Pat. It will be fun to point it out to others as clueless as I was. :-)

My major in college was police science. One of our instructors, a police sergeant who was teaching Investigative Techniques, had a bunch of pithy sayings. One seems appropriate here: You can't see what's not already in your mind. Just like the arrow: All of us are familiar with the FedEx logo, but unless you "know" the arrow is there it isn't apparent. The same thing applies to a lot of life, and I've thrown down mysteries in disgust when this law is violated. It just stretches credulity too far, at times, to pretend that Witness A saw exactly what was happening, and not what he or she would be vastly more likely to assume what was happening.

MaryQ said...

Whose eyes any story is told thru can greatly influence what the reader 'sees'.
On a chilly morning, a man wearing jeans & a long-sleeved shirt is carrying a small boy down the sidewalk. The boy is wearing shorts & a t-shirt. The two of them aren't interacting. The boy keeps looking up the street from the diretion they'd come.
One set of eyes might see this as a man taking his son to daycare or for a walk, etc. A more suspicious set of eyes might wonder why the boy didn't have on a coat or long pants, wondering if it might be a kidnapping.

nancy martin said...

I once admired a painting that I thought was a lovely study of a nude woman. My husband returned to the gallery and bought it for me. When I opened the wrapping on my birthday, there it was--a lovely painting of a bull.

I still don't understand what I saw the first time I looked at that painting.

Nice to see you here, Pat!

M Pax said...

I never noticed the arrow until you mentioned it. Then I saw it. The cow ... I'd still be seeking if you hadn't of pointed it out.

Time away does help from a piece. It's amazing what you see when you come back.

I used changing my perspective to change my life. And, I use it every day to cope with the rejection-love. Perspective is everything. :)

PatRemick said...

Thanks for all your comments -- as thought-provoking as I hoped the post would be. I like that police sergeant's comment...
"You can't see what's not already in your mind." EXCELLENT thing to remember as we write our mystery stories!
Nancy's post about the bull is especially appropriate considering how difficult it is to see the cow's head!