Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Our Story...Our Point of View

I’m sure you’ve been in a hurry before, driving in heavy traffic, and perhaps been a bit too eager to merge onto the crowded highway. Did you think thoughts like, “Why won’t anyone let me in? Don’t they know I’m late for my meeting/operation/UN Summit?”

I’m also sure you’ve been the schmuck stuck in traffic on the freeway when someone in a hurry tries to merge in front of you… (Although God knows why they don’t SLOW THE HECK DOWN – no meeting/operation/UN Summit could be THAT important!)

See? Same story, different POV.

Today, I was visiting a friend in the hospital. This friend is knowledgeable about medical issues and procedures, therefore had intricate, complex questions for each of the doctors and nurses who came into her room. She was anxious about a specific procedure – involving the insertion of a metal filter into a major vein in her body to prevent blood clots from moving into her lungs or heart. She focused on two examples of negative results she’d found while doing research, and looked for assurance that the suggested procedure was absolutely necessary.  She didn’t want to rush into taking action that was “too invasive” when there might be good odds that she could risk not going through with it.

From my point of view – sitting in the oh-so-comfortable plastic chair in the corner of her hospital room, balancing a Styrofoam cup of room temperature water on my knee and trying not to notice the antiseptic smell wafting through the room – most of these conversations seemed … well … unnecessary, quite frankly. I heard “filter to catch BLOOD CLOTS” and I found myself nodding in agreement. Granted, they weren’t my blood clots…but seriously? Even I know that the words “blood clot” and “heart” shouldn’t every occur in the same sentence, right?

I have no medical background, unless giving birth twice counts. So if someone told me that they could insert a filter to prevent blood clots from moving into my heart – I’d say, “How fast can you put that thing in?” Seriously.

Odds? I’m not a gambler.

Questions about risks? I might ask a few basics, but would be ignorant of many that my friend was clearly concerned about.

Seeking absolutes? I don’t think I would. I think I’d have to trust the medical training and professionalism of the experts around me. My POV doesn’t include experiences and knowledge about veins, blood pressures, thrombosis and embolism. Just not in my vocabulary, really. (I’d still be stuck on clots and heart.)

It was frustrating to sit and listen and try to see things from her POV, when what I wanted to do was grab her by the shoulders, shake her a little, and say, “WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM, WOMAN? Let them put the darned filter in!!”

On my drive home from the hospital, I found my “writer self” wondering how different all of our stories would be if we could suspend our own POV and see things – really see them – from someone else’s angle.  Like the different drivers in rush hour – or different women in a hospital room -- how often do we each interpret our own story to make ourselves the hero? Or the victim? Or the villain?

There was  a piece aired on my local NPR radio station recently that talked about how Americans tend to  see the world –their own place in it, their stories – differently than many other cultures. We are the driver in a rush – with a good reason to be rushing. But we can also easily re-write the story so that on another day, we become the driver frustrated by others rushing into her lane. We accept both as truth without stopping to see that we have rewritten the same story to have a different meaning based on where we sit within it.

Apparently, we Americans are very attached to our own POV, and make very little attempt to see things from someone else’s POV. So attached, in fact, that we will change the truth of the story to accommodate our different role, depending on the day.

It makes me wonder how my WIPs would differ if I swapped my main character for another in a story. Why did I choose to write my YA novel from the girl’s POV, anyway? Maybe I should try a scene or two from the boy’s point of view – just to see what his truth in the story really is.