Change of Perspective

Musings on Writing, Reading, and Life Narratives

Fiction writers and literary critics speak of point of view. Social scientists are more likely to discuss perspective. But both of these terms refer to essentially the same construct: the consciousness behind the perception and narration of experience. Each individual’s point of view is unique, and point of view shapes the stories people tell to themselves and to others about themselves and their relationships with their environment. The same event narrated from two different perspectives will produce two different stories.

A change of perspective can expand our perception and reframe our thinking about our experiences. We can all benefit from an occasional change of perspective.

[Return to MetaPerspective]

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Book Review: The Knitting Circle

book cover
Hood, Ann. The Knitting Circle

New York: Norton, 2007. ISBN 0-393-05901-4

Highly Recommended

This novel is all about perspective, and about the healing power of telling our stories.

When Mary Baxter’s five-year-old daughter dies suddenly of meningitis, Mary finds herself unable to read, write, go to work, or do any of the other activities that formerly filled her life. Her mother suggests that she take up knitting to occupy her hands and her mind. Reluctantly, Mary goes to see Alice, who teaches her to knit, and joins the knitting circle at Alice’s store. Over the next few months the members of the knitting circle all, one by one, tell Mary their own personal stories of pain and loss.

As I read this book, I kept wondering when Mary was going to tell the other knitters her own story. Dealing with pain and loss takes time, of course, but eventually Mary does tell her story. In the process she also reconnects with her own mother who, Mary is stunned to learn, also has her own story to tell.

A loss the size of Mary’s can seem overwhelming; we think that no one else has ever been through anything as huge as what we’re going through. But hearing other peoples’ stories can gradually give us a new perspective. We gain empathy by looking at life from their perspective. We also see that they have endured, and recognizing that truth lets us know that we too will survive. And we gain support from the sharing of stories with a group of compassionate, caring, non-judgmental people who understand what we’re going through.

The author herself experienced the sudden loss of her young daughter and afterwards took up knitting as a way to calm her spirit and soothe her soul. That is probably why the character depictions in this novel ring so poignantly true. Anyone who loves good literature with strongly drawn characters will appreciate this novel.

© 2007 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

A New Perspective on Play

Today on her American Public Media radio show “Speaking of Faith,” Krista Tippett discusses the importance of play:

Stuart Brown, a physician and director of the National Institute for Play, says that pleasurable, purposeless activity prevents violence and promotes trust, empathy, and adaptability to life's complication. He promotes cutting-edge science on human play, and draws on a rich universe of study of intelligent social animals.

Playful activity, although it looks “apparently purposeless,” can contribute to the growth of human character, talent, problem-solving ability, social skills, and psychological health across the entire life span. Brown says, “the human being really is designed biologically to play throughout the life cycle.” In humans, play begins with the earliest interactions between infants and caregivers, when the child and adult make eye contact, coo, and later smile and giggle at each other. Brown found that homicidal young men had characteristically been deprived of opportunities to engage in free play.

Be sure to check out Krista’s Journal on the Speaking of Faith Web site. And don’t miss the pictures of the huge polar bear and the much smaller husky playing together.

© 2007 by Mary Daniels Brown


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Feminist Fairy Tales

I spent last weekend in the Berkshires with friends. We ate lots of good food and attended two concerts at Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts, summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The Friday night concert included Duke Bluebeard’s Castle by Bela Bartok, and the Saturday night performance featured The Damnation of Faust by Hector Berlioz. After the Saturday performance one of my (female) friends said, “It was definitely not a good weekend for women.”

In the folk tales that inspired both of these exquisite musical compositions, women appear as nothing more than objects or pawns in the world of men.In the tale of Bluebeard, Judith, who originally hopes to bring light into the darkness and to dry the damp walls of the castle, ends up shut away in the castle with all the other women the duke has brutalized. And in the tale of Faust, when Mephistopheles wants to steal the man’s soul, he uses a beautiful woman, Marguerite, to tempt him. Granted, at the end of the story Marguerite is transported to heaven, but to get there she must be, after all, dead.

It’s time for a new perspective on the role of women in our folk tales and cultural mythology.

My friend and I were not, of course, the first to recognize this need. Rosemary Lake has written some feminist fairy tales and provides lots of information about other sources of similar material, along with suggestions about how this material can be used in the classroom. Nancy Keane provides a list of feminist fairy tales. And look here for an interesting article on the subversive value of feminist fairy tales. There are also a number of books available, such as Feminist Fairy Tales by Barbara G. Walker and Don't Bet on the Prince: Contemporary Feminist Fairy Tales in North America and England by Jack David Zipes.

In a related note, I have always found it interesting that mythology and folklore provide us with the archetype of the wicked stepmother, who secretly persecutes and schemes against her husband’s children by another woman, but not the archetype of the wicked stepfather. But of course there can be no wicked stepfather in a patriarchal society, since all women, both a wife and her children, become a man’s property, to treat as he will, at the time of marriage. In such a society a man may treat his own daughters, his wife, and his stepdaughters however badly he wishes without being thought of as wicked.

© 2007 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Buddhist Wishing Tree

photo of Buddhist Wishing Tree
This Buddhist Wishing Tree was photographed at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

The sign reads as follows:

“The Wishing Tree is a Buddhist tradition found in Asian countries. It is believed that if you put your wish on a piece of paper and tie it to the tree, the wind will blow the words into the air and your wish will come true.”

© 2007 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Quotation of the Day

book cover
“Tell me one last thing,” said Harry. “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?”

Dumbledore beamed at him, and his voice sounded loud and strong in Harry’s ears even though the bright mist was descending again, obscuring his figure.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (p. 723)

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Audio Review: The Language of Archetypes

Myss, Caroline. The Language of Archetypes

Sounds True, 2006. ISBN 1-591-79-353-X

Highly Recommended

This is a recording of live presentations of Myss’s training course The Language of Archetypes. Myss has studied the patterns of archetypes that exist in human consciousness and believes that we all have a “sacred support team” of 12 primary archetypes. Everyone has four basic archetypes: Child, Victim, Saboteur, and Prostitute; Myss calls these the Survival Family. Our remaining eight come from other groups that she calls the Feminine and Masculine Families, the Divine Family, the Wisdom Family, the Healer Family, the Creative Family, the Action Family, and the Wild Card Family.

According to Myss, our purpose in life is to identify our individual archetypes and to discover how they interact within us to reveal our divine potential. To do this, we have to learn to think archetypally.

This material complements and amplifies much of Myss’s other work, particularly her 2001 book Sacred Contracts. The benefit of listening to this program in addition to reading the book is that, in front of a live audience, Myss often reveals a quite humorous side that does not often come across in her writing.

© 2007 by Mary Daniels Brown

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