Monday, August 17, 2015

Outside, Looking In

This photo was taken in Unionville, MI, a town I drove through this summer that was unique for its abandonment. Shop after shop stood shuttered and neglected, furniture and merchandise left behind along with hopes and dreams. My reflection is just visible at the edge of the dusty window as I stood snapping pictures, sad for the economic downturn of this once vibrant town and state.
Naturally, my imagination began to spin stories: who owned the glassware? Was it the pride and joy of a farmer's wife, or the everyday pieces used in the grand home of a lumber or auto baron? And what would become of these things now? The fate of these delicate, gentle reminders of a bygone era when families took the time to sit at a table, perhaps enjoying the rare treat of ice cream served in a graceful shell-pink glass dish, troubled me.
I believe it was Chekhov who, when asked where he got ideas for his stories, replied, "Everywhere." Then, he picked up a nearby ashtray and said if he was so inclined, he could write a story about it. He would have had a field day with the glassware in this shop window.
Indeed, there are stories everywhere, but it seems the ideas for them come most often from observing something from physical or emotional distance. It's not always a comfortable place, but it affords a perspective that "insiders" rarely have.
One of my oldest friends recently criticized a description of boarding school life in one of my books. She attended boarding school; I did not. I paraphrase, but she said something like, "You were in our group, but not really of it."
Fair enough, and true enough, but that doesn't mean I don't know what I'm talking about. My perspective, I believe, is broader than her fond and particular memories and, by virtue of the fact that I wasn't of the group, I had a more fluid point of view. Forest for the trees sort of thing.
It's what writers do. We stand on the outside, looking in, and report on the world as we see it.

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