At The Mercy Of Our Perceptions . . .
Well, OUR DAILY BREAD is out in Canada now, and I’m delighted with the Canadian edition. Beautiful new cover, deckle edges, French flaps. I think Harper Collins has done a terrific job, and so far the response from readers has been good.
Which means, of course, I have to start thinking about what I’m going to write next. Actually, I’ve just finished a new novel, a speculative look at what a day (okay, a REALLY BAD day) in the life of a woman very much like me might look like, had I not stopped drinking seventeen years ago.
Nothing has ever filled me with gratitude more than imagining what might have happened had I not put down the booze. Just for starters, I never would have published anything — I never wrote anything WORTH publishing when I was drinking and for the last few years of my drinking I couldn’t write anything at all. Husband? Home? Dog? Friends? Work? None of the good stuff would have happened.
I consider myself extremely lucky. As many of you know, my brothers, Ronnie and Bernie, weren’t so lucky. Both of them took their own lives as a result of addiction. Bernie on Easter Sunday, Ronnie on Good Friday, twelve years apart. (If you care to, you can read more about that by clicking here.) I look back at the way they were feeling, the way they were perceiving the world and their place in it at the times of their deaths and what still rips me apart is how wrong they were, how their perceptions were faulty, and let them down.
Getting sober certainly saved my life, and writing saves my sanity. No matter how difficult the writer’s life is (and even though I consider publishing to be a miracle and a joy, it can be pretty psychosis-inducing), I am infinitely saner when writing than not. Just ask My Best Beloved.
So, after a week or two off when I’ll read a whack of books and lie about daydreaming, making notes, playing the ‘what if’ game . . . I’ll start on something new. I have a couple of ideas.
People often ask writers where our ideas come from. Alas, I haven’t found a book-growing tree yet, and that little shop in Moosejaw, Saskatchewan that shipped ideas to me via parcel post has closed down. Thus, I’m left with no recourse but to start paying attention to what’s bugging me. What’s obsessing me? What’s annoying me? What’s rolling around in my head and keeping me up nights?
Given the level of vitriolic spew on the political front these days, you’d think I’d want to write a political novel, but frankly, I haven’t the stomach for it. Besides, I doubt anyone would believe it. Snort.
Every book I’ve written has come from that deep place inside where an unresolved question lurks, where something nudges me, like a tiny sharp pebble in my shoe.
Lately, I’ve been surprised, and somewhat taken aback, by the number of people who are convinced OUR DAILY BREAD is about them. Some in Toronto, some in Nova Scotia, some in New Jersey . . . and that’s just the ones I’ve heard from. Perhaps there is something in the images of child abuse (although there is really only one such image in the book) that are so similar as to be universal. I’m not sure. Still, it’s got me thinking about how easily we misunderstand each other, and how we are really at the mercies of our experience in the world, and the conclusions we draw as a result, which are frequently misleading.
Of course, I think that’s a theme in much of my work — how we can’t seem to get out of our own way, how we can’t step outside our own perceptions. As Anais Nin said: “We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.”
So, I’m curious, have you ever had the experience of being utterly sure about something, and then discovering it wasn’t at all what you thought it was? Had a conclusion you’d drawn about someone proved wrong? Had a cherished belief torn to shreds? Or how about the reverse — have you ever believed something wasn’t true, only to experience something which changed your mind? I’d love to hear from you.
Loved this recent essay and all it’s contents. You are absolutely correct when you say, “…their perceptions were faulty, and let them down.’ It speaks to the co-dependency cycles that can occur that perpetuate those delusions perhaps that ‘all is well’ despite the alcoholism.
To answer your question about a perception being changed in a split second, here’s an amusing one.
As a young child in Britain, I suppose I absorbed the love of slap-stick humour that the British are so adept at and trademarks many TV shows or movies.
Growing up in Canada, I occasionally laughed along with my parents to the antics of Charlie Chaplin in the rare black and white movie shown on TV. Always loved his very saucy eyes.
Years later, when i was in my 40’s, I enjoyed the amazing movie video of ‘Chaplin’ with Robert Downey Jr.
There was a scene when Charlie was auditioning for the role and had to go into a props warehouse with the idea of what to use for his audition. The scenes in there had me transfixed as I wondered what he would pick out and use.
In the next scene, out came Robert Downey Jr. as the trademark Charlie, complete with the fake moustache, the eyes dark rimmed, the hat, cane and the unmistakable walk. I remember gasping as I’d always thought that the ‘real’ Charlie was just the same as the movie Charlie in the old silent movies. It had never crossed my mind that there was an add-on moustache, eye make-up and that the walk wasn’t ‘his’ normal walk.
A friend watching the movie with me couldn’t believe that I’d held such a firm belief that Charlie, of the movies, was real! I had never come across the real Charlie in any photographs as opposed to ‘my’ Charlie of the movies.
Although I was shocked at the time, I later realized how much that transformation scene in the movie meant to me with the attention to lighting in the scene and Robert Downey’s wonderful acting in the warehouse, I felt that magic perhaps more than most who enjoyed the movie.
Thanks, Wendy . . . that’s a great story!
Thanks for this essay, which certainly is thought-provoking. In response to your question about having the experience of being utterly sure about something, and then discovering it wasn’t at all what you thought it was, my answer is YES. As my empathy about my fellow man/woman has grown, I’ve learned to be less rigid in my opinions, to do my best to avoid being self-righteous, and to being a more humble human being. It takes effort to seeing something from another point of view, from someone else’s position, but it opens your eyes and heart to caring for others in a way that a narrow point of view just can’t deliver.
Thanks for being so consistent in sharing what’s going on in your mind, I find it very enriching.
Thanks Lucky 8. Glad to hear you’ve learned intellectual flexibility and openness. Humility is the ability to remain teachable, and we can all use that!