Game Changer: Learn to Shift Your Perspective [GUEST POST]

Ice trays

Sometimes the stories we live by don’t make sense until we change our perspective. (Photo by Andrew Gustar, Flickr)

When I was in college, I once walked in on my roommate filling ice trays at the sink, a cloud of steam billowing around her face. I stopped and put my books down.

“Uh, Jenny, what are you doing?”

She turned, still holding the tray under the hot water, her expression what I would have expected if I’d just asked her what planet we lived on.

“Filling the ice trays.”

“With hot water?”

She made a face as if this question was, if possible, even dumber than the first. “Duh. It freezes faster.”

In case you’ve lost track, this was a COLLEGE roommate. I would have thought that most people covered the states of liquid by third grade, including the number of degrees between the boiling and freezing points of water, but…ah…

I elected not to go into a physics lesson. I was an English major, after all. So I just said, “Okay,” and headed back to my bedroom.

Along with qualities like opposable thumbs and mastery of fire, one thing that separates humans from the rest of the animal world is our use of narrative. For humans, it’s not enough to be aware of something; we have to make sense of it, fit it into our unifying theories of everything. We use story to connect ourselves to our tribe, to build cities, wage war, participate in economies, and explain ourselves to ourselves.

But…sometimes we get the stories wrong. I suspect Jenny had seen her mother at the sink with ice trays and hot water. Maybe Mom was knocking out old ice shards, or working out a way to get clear ice. Jenny had just learned the behavior, I presume without asking questions. At some point in her childhood she created a narrative that explained it and had gone unquestioned since then. By this point, as a college freshman, that narrative would have become tied to memory, and emotion, and a sense of how the world was…that’s a lot, for ice trays. I’m glad I avoided stepping in the hornet’s nest of suggesting that either she or her mother was a dope.

Clinging to one wrong story (“hot water freezes faster”) can affect actions we take ever afterward. (“No! This is my house and I say hook the icemaker up to the HOT water!”) The longer the string of resulting bad decisions, the bigger the potential impact of letting go of the story that started it. (“It will cost WHAT to run a new water line to the freezer?”) Clinging to the original hurt (“Mom should pay for this!”) is safer than digging for potentially painful truth (“Wow. I guess she never really said why she was using hot water. That was all me. $%@#. This’ll cost.”)

Margo Catts' AMONG THE LESSER GODS

Arcade

Elena, the main character in my novel Among the Lesser Gods, is paralyzed at the brink of adulthood, not allowing herself to accept normal risks and responsibilities because she’s so scarred by a childhood misdeed—or, more accurately, her narrative about it. Her certainty causes her pain, but she thinks it protects her from additional pain, and its familiarity is safe. So as events undermine that narrative her first instinct at every turn is to resist. Reaching for hope means letting go of a firm anchor she’s been safely attached to, and hope…ah, that’s risky.

Years ago, I heard a survivor of childhood abuse define forgiveness as giving up wishing things could have been different. I wrote it down. With stars. In a book. Because I knew exactly what he was talking about: obsessing over hurts, mistakes, and misdeeds, replaying the event, going over and over what could have happened, what you wish you’d done or said, trying to change history. It can go on forever. Replaying the past is far safer than wondering about the future, and all the imagined better endings are seductive and comforting. A narrative that keeps us immobilized is safe. Taking new action on nothing but the hope of better outcomes is terrifying. Hope is not a strategy, right?

I’ve done plenty of mental revising, and I have yet to be successful. The past can’t be changed. All I can change is my story about it, the fantasy about the way it should have turned out, about whose fault it really was, rewritten more honestly after I’ve faced reality. Wherever I might have placed blame, if my narrative about the past is keeping me from moving forward, it needs to change.

Like this: “My mom ran hot water in the ice trays. I made up the wrong story about it. I’ve made a lot of expensive decisions since then. I wish I hadn’t. But that doesn’t mean I’m stupid. It means I’m exactly as human as every other person, and what matters is how willing I am to face reality, to change, and to walk forward in full expectation that I will do wrong and be wrong again. But I’ll keep going because the walk is meaningful.”

These are my heroes. Not the people who never fail, or are never hurt, but the ones who know it, and face it, wrestle with it, and then reach, again, with hope. And I’m lucky, in fiction and in life, because their stories are absolutely everywhere.

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AMONG THE LESSER GODS
By Margo Catts
336 pgs. Arcade Publishing. $24.99

You may purchase Among the Lesser Gods at one of these fine online retailers: Amazon, IndieBound, and Barnes & Noble.

Among the Lesser Gods is brought to you in association with TLC Book Tours.

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About Margo Catts
Margo Catts grew up in Los Angeles and has since lived in Utah, Indiana, and Colorado. After raising three children in the U.S., she and her husband moved to Saudi Arabia, where her Foreign Girl blog was well known in the expat community. Originally a freelance editor for textbooks and magazines, she has also done freelance writing for business, technical, and advertising clients, all the while working on her fiction. She is a contributing author to Once Upon an Expat. Among the Lesser Gods is her first novel. Margo now lives in Denver, Colorado.

2 Responses to Game Changer: Learn to Shift Your Perspective [GUEST POST]

  1. Jathan Fink says:

    Reblogged this on Jadeworks Entertainment and commented:

    Novelist Margo Catts drops by to discuss why sometimes the most monumental life changes are sometimes the simplest in this exclusive guest post.

  2. Jason@Solace says:

    I like how you say that hope is not a strategy. Thanks so much for this post. It resonated in me as an adult survivor of childhood abuse.

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