Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Lessons Learned From My Dog

You're probably expecting something about taking time to play or nap or love unconditionally. And I could easily write a blog like that. But since this is about WRITING and life, I'd like to talk about a different aspect of what I'm learning from Sophy. (See her blog here: Sophy's Dog Eye View of the World)

One of the lessons I got this week from Sophy was to remember that there are regional differences in all sorts of aspects of life. What is a common issue one place may rarely occur in another—and vice versa. Factors such as habits of other dog owners, climate, etc. can affect things in ways one doesn't even know to watch out for if one is new to an area—OR TRYING TO WRITE ABOUT A PLACE ONE HAS NEVER LIVED.

I won't go into details because it's really gross, but let's just say I spent a morning I didn't want to at the vets because of a problem that never occurred with any other dog I've owned before because I've always had dogs in northern climates. Pests that die out over the winter (I presume) up north apparently don't here in this much warmer climate.

It was a reminder of how many things can be different that one never thinks about—unless one visits or moves to a very different part of the country than one has lived in before. Little things like what's blooming or what one wears at what time of year. Bigger things such as expectations for what's “proper” behavior in all sorts of situations. Or what's involved in home maintenance. (Up north we never had to water the foundations of our houses. Of course, I also never had a teenager apologize to ME when I accidentally bumped into the teenager!)

In life, this means realizing what we think of as the way everyone must think or feel could very well not be universal. It means realizing there's more than one way to see things and that by being open to that possibility our lives could become richer.

In writing, it explains the popularity of the “stranger in a strange land” theme. Differences make for great plot points, potential conflict, humorous incidents, even drama.

There is tremendous value and power in questioning our assumptions. After all, it is the assumptions we don't even know we have that are the ones that trip us up most often. And if we're writers, they are wonderful fodder for the stories we write!