Monday, October 19, 2009

The World According to Flexible Old Me

I was listening to a woman this weekend and was struck by how adamantly she voiced her fervent preferences to a room full of strangers. Opinions flowed from her mouth in a steady stream without any constraint. Opinions, such as: she would only EVER drink red wine—never white! Huh? While I will admit, there are many lovely reds; I could never discount a nice glass of chilled Chardonnay, or a crisp glass of Pinot Grigio on a summer day, no way.

Nobody could EVER convince her to travel outside The United States of America. EVER. For any reason. Huh? Not even Canada? And she’d deny herself The British Isles, France, Italy, Africa, Australia, and the Far East? Just because she wouldn’t feel safe? Hey, I don’t feel that all-fired safe in certain parts of L.A., and I still venture there. Isn’t playing it safe an illusion anyway?

Her most outlandish statement—the one that I couldn’t help but respond to—she made mention of visiting a friend of a friend’s house in Pasadena, a Mid-Century home above the Arroyo Seco. “Why,” she said, scowling as if she were discussing decomposing garbage, “anyone with so much money would buy THAT monstrosity is beyond me. I mean those people could afford any number of the historical homes available in the area, like a Spanish stucco, or a nice craftsman, a Victorian, anything but that modern, boring, stark, cold box.

I took a breath, considered keeping my nose out of the conversation, but wouldn’t you know it, I ignored my inner Miss Manners and said, “But…I could see why they’d choose Mid-Century. In fact, I know The Husband and I would have a hard time making our minds up. We have such a great appreciation of so many differing types of architecture. I guess we’d have to make our decision based on setting, location, and personal fit, rather than what particular style the house was. Well…that is…I’m going with the premise that cost would not present such limitations. Wouldn’t that be something?”

She looked at me as if I had said I might move into a trailer park, (and what if I had?) “The thing is,” I said, continuing on, in an attempt to drive my point home, “I wouldn’t EVER say never about moving anywhere. The older I get, the more open-minded I’ve become. I’m more flexible.”

“Not me,” she said adamantly, her mouth reduced to a tight, thin, albeit glossy line. I felt kind of bad. I could have kept my thoughts to myself. I could have let her hold court and keep her illusion of how it should be intact. My response had triggered a deluge of emotion. She threw her head back in defiance and declared, “Sorry. But, I know exactly what I want and I won’t take anything less. I know what I like and I’m not about to waste any time. I stay focused. It’s important to be focused! That’s how I see it.”

Perhaps her use of the word focused was inappropriate? Maybe she meant fixed? If anything, I am a focused human being, but ultimately flexible. I remain open to re-interpretation when it comes to pursuing and bringing to fruition goals and desires. My objectives aren’t set in stone.

This applies to writing too. I begin with an outline. I almost always know exactly who my main character, or secondary characters are, and what the events necessary to set the story in motion will be, and I usually know the outcome, but I’m willing to let events unfold that I didn’t anticipate. I won’t hold the plot or characters to my previous vision just because I am too fixed to see beyond my original framework. I have to say—some of my best stuff materializes when I least expect it. Why fight the feeling? The best part about writing, (especially with a computer), is that delete key. Just because I come up with something doesn’t mean I have to keep it. In fact, sometimes the unexpected leads me somewhere I wouldn’t have ventured otherwise. The story is a journey, and I’m willing to travel down side roads, just as long as I get to a desirable, if not stupendous destination.

(That’s a picture of my eyeball at the top of the page, sans make-up (sorry guys), taken way up close with my cell phone just now, because I knew it would come out all blurry. I wanted to illustrate the focus/fixed theme with a picture. You know, the world as I see it kind of a thing? All imperfect and ambiguous, liquid and full of possibilities.)

All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.


♥ Boomer ♥ said...

I understand where you are coming from. For sure! And I like your eyeball! :-)

Elspeth Antonelli said...

Firstly, that woman is sad. To be that inflexible is to close your eyes to a myriad of possibilities. I love my country, but I'm very aware there are other places in the world! I'd love to float down the Grande Canal or up the Nile; not to mention see the Eiffel Tower and the Sidney Opera House. (trust me, I could go on for years).

I have the same attitude towards outlines. I do them but if a new idea suggests itself, I let it have its voice. It may stay, it may go, but it gets a chance to speak.


Pop Art Diva said...

How sad that woman must be. Inflexibility means you will never be content with less than you think you want or deserve and life just loves to dish up things we didn't ask for doesn't it?

I've learned that you can be happy in a lot of different circumstances or you can choose to be unhappy because they don't fit in with what you desire.

I think you handled the situation pretty nicely - I probably would have thought about dumping some dip on her. . . . hehe.

Lori said...

The thing that I like the most about myself, my biggest pride, is that I am open-minded. And I work on it every day. It doesn't come easily. But yeah, I have met people like that. They are powerful. I feel small in front of them. I've never had such strong views of anything. While in a way it is good, it makes me feel weak many times.

Galen Kindley--Author said...

I’m retired military, so, I’ve been to a great many parts of the world, some I lived in, some I just visited. Given that, I’d have to say she’s sure missing a lot of wonderful things to see and do.

I’ve finished two books and neither outlined for either. I generally knew where the first was going, had no idea about the second. However, I do see the wisdom of an outline and plan to try that approach for book three. I hope it works. I have a tendency to follow the characters. Not sure if that’s possible in an outline.

Best Regards, Galen

Imagineering Fiction Blog

Journaling Woman said...

First of all, the eyeball made me jump, so I am awake now. :)

Secondly, If I live to be 29 again and again and again, I will never ever understand people who say never. What I have found is if I say I would never do something, I always - I repeat always- eat my never ever words.

Great post!

Fireblossom said...

Sometimes the most inflexible people are the most fearful, underneath the bluster. Anything that can't be quantified, catagorized and kept in a neat little box terrifies them. Slapping an immovable opinion on everything knocks it down to manageable size.

Oh dear...have i just been pontificating? Kick me next time!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I'm guessing the woman wasn't a writer? We're more experimental in nature, usually.

You were VERY MUCH a lady. I mean that in the best possible way. I hope that I would have been as self-controlled as you were!

If we stick to our plan too much as a writer, then we get in trouble when the editors get their hands on it and we're still focused on the original plan...

Mystery Writing is Murder

Jan Morrison said...

'yes' is the word on your glorious t-shirt. 'uh...that won't be happening' is the phrase on her beige buttoned up shirt. You keep saying yes! OK? Say yes!

lakeviewer said...

What a beautiful analogy. Flexibility is a survival gene.

Miss Footloose said...

I had the same reaction as Fireblossom: That woman was full of fear. Very sad, because she's missing out on a lot of wonderful, unexpected, surprising pleasures and adventures.

I love the creativity of writing fiction because you can be open to think up anything and everything and use it as you please in your stories.

Tabitha Bird said...

Gosh if I had of met that woman I would have had a hard not not just jumping up and slapping her silly. Okay, maybe not! But sheesh! Focused is one thing, set in concrete is quite another. And after I had smacked the woman silly a few times I might have felt a bit sad for her. What a narrow life! What's she going to do when a curved ball comes her way?

Nancy said...

Nice eyeball, Elizabeth! I have to agree with you, being flexible is important in life. It doesn't always go according to plan, and the side roads can be the most fun.

Good point about the writing. Thanks for the reminder to let things unfold, rather than trying to force it.

Carol @ TheWritersPorch said...

To never to never gain!
I never say never to anything,that's exactly what you'll end up doing! :)

Shirley Wells said...

How sad to be so inflexible and miss out on so many possibilities.

I'm the same with my writing. In fact, I don't even use an outline. I have a vague idea of where the story is going and then I see where it takes me. That's the part I love most about writing - coming across the unexpected.

Donna M. Kohlstrom said...

When I meet those "fixed" kind of people, I usually walk away. Their mind is surrounded by a wall so high and so thick that there's no way to get through to them. It's so sad that they deny themselves the opportunities for new experiences and to try new options out in life.

Like you, I know my characters, where they are going and how their journey will end. But once I start writing I'm always surprised at the unexpected twists and turns that happen and usually they are better than the original outline.

Oh My Goddess said...

She sounds like a doozie! Yikes!

But people like that are so sad really.

Marguerite said...

Although there are a few things that I would "never" do, like get a tattoo or bungee jump, I try to remain flexible and "go with the flow", in most things. I know a lot of people who are so fixed in their opinions and in their ways, that they will never reap the benefits of being open to the many possibilities for growth in their lives. Cie la vie!

Jenn said...

Interesting, I much prefer to write by hand. To flip back and forth in a journal and scrawl out an entire story (even one as lengthy as the one I'm working on now -- upwards of 40k words!) then transcribe it later, it thrills me to no end! I end up editing as I go along typing later. But I never let that stop me from typing away when the mood strikes either.

But regardless of all of that, still, I try not to set limits on myself such as "never". I feel for that woman.

Lauri Kubuitsile said...

Why close your world with "Never"? I agree with Fireblossom and Miss Footloose she's a scaredy cat (yes my life has taken on a permananet cat theme- sadly). I think you showed great restaint.

With writing I'm a planner but if things pop up, I'm a changer too.

staceyjwarner said...

This woman is misery. Yikes, yikes...

She is fixed. You are right and possibly bitter and there is no return from bitter.

Control is really what she means when she says focus.

LOL! much love

Helen said...

I feel rather sorry for the woman. She's closed herself to new experiences, new friends, and new ideas.

Straight From Hel

Mr. Shife said...

Great line, "If anything, I am a focused human being, but ultimately flexible. I remain open to re-interpretation when it comes to pursuing and bringing to fruition goals and desires. My objectives aren’t set in stone." I knew you were a good egg. Too bad there aren't more people out there that are a little more flexible.

ellen abbott said...

Sounds a bit like my mother. She was never really completely happy or satisfied with anything.

I laughed about your 'inner Miss Manners'. Unfortunately, I seem to ignore her quite a lot.