Tuesday, August 31, 2010

things are not always what they seem

stick with me. this post really is about writing.

so, about ten years ago, i took a whirlwind trip to Europe and was most excited to see Venice, Italy. it's the closest city to where my ancestors came from, and really - who can't fall in love from afar when they see pictures of a place like that?

but arriving in Venezia shattered my enthusiasm.
we got off the train late at night, and the first impressions to assault our senses were neon lights and a foul smell. that arrival was followed by more disappointment the next day. the maps we were using to get around were completely worthless. (i mean, i literally thought someone was playing a prank on us. there were streets on the map that didn't exist and streets in real life that didn't exist on the map.) that night, we were physically chased down the street by people grasping for our purses or pockets and were frightened to see police shouldering some extreme looking guns.

by the end of that day - and i will never forget this moment - i was sitting at a sidewalk table outside a pizzeria waiting for my parents to place an order and feeling like i might cry. i felt frightened by the heavily armed officers coming down one side of the street and the filthy homeless man shuffling up the other side. i was squinting my eyes, trying to block out the garish carnival lights that had lit up the streets with neon everywhere we'd been.

and that's when i heard it.
the most beautiful operatic voice i'd ever heard - a tenor and pitch perfect - singing something sweet and slow that echoed all the way down the stone street. i opened my eyes to look for the source of the sound, and the first thing i noticed is that the lights around me were not actually neon. in fact, there were few lights on this street at all. the only illumination came from the reflection of twinkling lights bouncing off the water across from me.
that water lapped over a set of stairs that descended mysteriously from the street right down under the surface - a path that once led somewhere no longer accessable - a history now buried under water.

the singing continued, grew stronger, taking advantage of the perfect acoustics on this street. i studied each passerby, but no one appeared to be singing. i checked the officers. no music there, but i did hear their laughter now, their friendly greetings to others on the road - including me.
i looked back to my magical stairs that disappeared into the water and saw the homeless man stop to rest there on those steps. and that's when i realized... he was the tenor.
the most beautiful sound i'd ever heard was coming from a man who sheltered, ugly, american me had automatically been afraid of. watching him effortlessly make music that filled every space around me, in a setting that i now saw as romantic, not garish at all, i suddenly felt my whole perspective shifting.
the story i'd been telling myself about this street wasn't the true story at all. i just wouldn't allow myself to step back and see the beauty that was really there, because i was already in the wrong mindset and trying to impose my negativity on everything.

after that, we tossed our maps in the trash and embraced Venice for what it is - a place to get lost in - because everywhere you go in that city feels like a secret discovery, and there is no ugly, really. there is only different lighting and different colorful characters to make every corner feel unique and special.
it is - and probably always will be - my most favorite city in the world.

nothing will ever compare to that revelation there outside the pizzeria, but i occassionally have similar breakthroughs that remind me of that moment. breakthroughs in which i realize i've been trying to mold the facts into my predisposed notions instead of letting the facts shape my ideas.
i had one of these moments last night with my WIP.

- i wrote an outline. i know where i'm going. so how can i possibly be this lost?
- ah! because i'm going the wrong way. i am following a map that doesn't accurately reflect the streets around me. i am trying to force a path that doesn't exist and failing to see the opportunities right in front of me.

so i deviated from the outline. i deviated in a way that changed the whole nut of the story. i deviated in a way that allowed my characters to breath and gave them something to do. and i heard that opera singer's voice in my head and knew i was really seeing my story properly for the first time.

and then, of course, because i am still OCD me - i rewrote the entire outline. ;)


Tahereh said...

awww great story :D

best of luck with the new direction!!

Melanie said...

OMG, this post gave me chills. What a fantastic experience and revelation about how our set and stagnant minds can hinder our ability to see the beauty behind a preconceived decision to see ugly. I'm so happy that happened to you. What a life changing experience. This post will sit with me for a good long while. Thanks for sharing!

Jennifer Hillier said...

Lovely, lovely post on how perspective and letting go can change everything. Hope the shift takes you somewhere magical.

Jess said...

Love this post!