Monday, January 7, 2013

We Just Don't Know

by Annette Lyon

I imagine that I'm like many writers in that often a certain theme will latch on to my psyche and find its way into my writing in different ways.

For me, the current theme my brain apparently loves looking at from different angles is that of judging others, and how no matter how much we think we know another person, including who they are and what they're going through, we really don't. Even when we have a lot of information. We just don't know.

I explored that theme extensively in my novel Band of Sisters, and it was something that came up again and again from readers who appreciated the book. (It went on to win a Whitney Award in its category; I think the idea hit a nerve for many people, in a good way.)

Going into the Newport Ladies series, I didn't realize how much the same concept would become a dominating element of not only my book, Paige, but of all the books.

For that matter, at its core, these books are about seeing the world, and often the very same situation, from a different point of view. I remember one reader saying that after reading Olivia, they felt that Paige was rather spineless and mousy. Until they read Daisy, and saw more scenes with her and realized that there was more to Paige than Olivia saw. That reader looked forward to the release of Paige so they could see the story from her perspective.

Fans of the books seem to frequently come back to the same thing. They appreciate the rare opportunity to see into someone else's head to understand what is really going on in there.

As time has gone on, I've wondered why this theme has resonated so much with me personally. After some time of pondering, I realized that, like so many of us, I've been misjudged at times in my life, and have wished I could explain, that I could crack open my brain so someone else could see what I see, feel what I feel, think what I think.

Part of my problem (and I'm aware it's mine, not something I can blame on anyone else) is that I'm horribly shy, but not in the classic way. If I'm in a room with even one good friend, I can be chatty and comfortable and look like I'm totally in my element. Just don't ask me to interact with the other 50 strangers in the room, and I won't have an anxiety attack.

I've realized that in some situations, people have viewed my behavior as stuck-up (their word, not mine), because, as far as they can see, I'm deliberately leaving others out of the conversation, that I'm "too good" for them.

The reality: I am paralyzed by shyness to the point that I have a painful time opening my mouth around people I don't know. The one exception is when I'm teaching a workshop. Somehow lecturing a room of people is different than engaging on an individual level. It's a different kind of scary. Instead of thinking I'm somehow better than others, I almost always see myself as not good enough, that I'm lucky to be allowed into the group of friends I have or other circles I'm in, and that at any moment, I could get kicked right out.

An example: My senior year of high school, I was walking across the commons with a friend I'd been on the drill team with for three years. Her mother was with us, and she said something like this: "I'm so glad we've gotten to know you over the years. You've been such a good friend to my daughter. You're just great. Good thing we had a chance to get to know you, though, because when I first met you, I thought you were totally stuck up."

I was 18, stunned, and ready to burst into tears. I had no idea why she'd thought those things about me (although I have my suspicions now--it was the shy thing), but to this day, I'm still stumped as to why she'd tell a teenager such a thing. I was devastated.

More than two decades later, I can look back and see her words as a blessing of sorts. This wasn't the first or the last time someone said something similar to me, but it was enough of a pattern for me to finally see that people viewed me a specific way even though it wasn't remotely close to reality.

Understanding how others have viewed me, and how they may view me in the future, has helped me in a couple of ways, but the most important is to recognize exactly what the Newport Ladies books have hammered home to me so well: That I shouldn't judge others, because chances are, I have no clue what's really going on in their heads and hearts.

For all I know, they could be inwardly shy, like me, and show it differently than I do.

In short, I'm reminded to give others the benefit of the doubt. I'm not perfect at it, but I'm learning. I hope that in some small way, our readers may look on other women, whether in their family, their neighborhood, or their community--and view them with a softer lens too.

I know doing so has been a great thing for me. Seeing people and the world from new perspectives is a wonderful gift fiction writers receive in spades.

1 comment:

  1. I am glad to hear that the series is not over considering each of the first books leaves off with a question as to their future.