This morning I am thinking about perspective.
My wife, who is currently teaching high school art, teaches perspective to her students. There’s a technique to it, and a basic concept that some of the students struggle to master. But if they do master it, there’s more waiting for them. We all know about one-point perspective, and two-point perspective (Don’t we?), but did you know there is also three-point perspective? And four-point? Did you know it goes up to TWELVE-POINT PERSPECTIVE???
If you, like my wife, are a highly trained visual artist, then you might actually know that. In which case your view — your perspective — of this post is different from mine, and different from most; you might have seen my all-caps and multiple question marks as naive, either irritating or cute depending on how you see me and probably what mood you are in.
If you ARE my wife (and she’ll read this at some point, I hope. I mean, maybe she’s sick of my writing; Lord knows she has to read enough of it. So maybe she’ll skip this one.), then your view of this post will be different again, because not only do you know all of this already, but you are reading about yourself, being used as my example. Again. (And you had to read my little anxiety-comment about being tired of my writing, again, and you probably sighed or rolled your eyes at the apparent need to reassure me, again, that you like what I write. I mean, 25 years we’ve been together; come on, are we still worrying about this?)
Perspective changes everything.
I was going to lead this off with the old cliche about keeping things in perspective. There are eight weeks left of my school year (I know, fellow teachers, I get out super early, around the third week of May, and it’s sweet — but then we start again around August 1. Inservice is in July. Don’t be too jealous. Though at this end of the school year, with the summer ahead starting before Memorial Day, it looks pretty sweet — so go ahead and be jealous. Just come back at the end of July and read about how miserable I am to be going back to school already, while you probably have a month left of summer; then you can have your revenge on me.), and that makes me both excited to finish and get to my summer, and also terribly stressed that I only have eight weeks left to teach everything I haven’t taught my students this year — which, of course, is far more than eight weeks’ worth of material. Today is also the first day back to school after Spring Break, which feels terrible right in the moment; but my Break was absolutely lovely and perfect; and of course, there will be many more breaks to enjoy. As sad as going back to work after vacation is, it also means I get to have that last day of work before vacation, and those are wonderful.
So I wanted to make the point that most frustrations are minor. Sure, it’s Monday and I have to go to work; but it’s almost April, and I will have summer soon. Sure, I’m tired; but I’m alive, and generally healthy. Sure, I’m frustrated with my job and with my lack of a professional writing career; but I’m not a ditch digger nor a slave, not a sex worker nor a sewer worker. You have to keep things in perspective, I thought, and decided that I should write that, as a little encouragement to my fellow workers who are off to their Monday.
But then I thought a bit more about perspective, and I realized: there is no “right” perspective. “Keeping things in perspective” implies that there are big important things, and there are small trivial things, and there is a clear delineation between them, and knowing which are which is the key to happiness, or at least contentment. But I don’t buy that: because importance is relative to the individual. Because the size of issues is time bound, meaning that climate change is a global catastrophe waiting to destroy us all, but it is not affecting me this morning, right now, and my having to go to work is. Having to go to work is infinitely smaller; but it’s also infinitely closer than the climate change catastrophe. (I know it’s not infinite, and I don’t mean to belittle climate change; that catastrophe is closer than we think, and scarier. But I’m trying to make a point here.) That means, essentially, that the two problems are about the same size in my life and in their influence on my mood right now. In fact, the Monday thing is a little bit larger because I’m also tired, which makes Monday worse, and doesn’t have any effect on worrying about climate change. Someone else in the very same situation would have a different view of the relative importance of these things, and who’s to say that their perspective is wrong? Or right?
So I think the best idea is not to try to keep things in perspective: it is to realize that you can, almost always, change your perspective. (“Almost always” because sometimes things are inescapable, immediate and intense and critical, and then you must deal with them and survive them and get through them.) But when you can gain some distance from a problem, from a feeling, from yourself, then you can shift things around as you wish. You can focus more on a specific aspect, bring it nearer, clearer, larger, and push other things back in relation to that aspect. That power is what’s important — at least right now.
Don’t keep things in perspective. Change your perspective. Make a big deal out of little things, and enjoy your little victories as if they were world championships. Make those large looming abstract worries into tiny, distant problems, and block them out with something right here, right now: do some laundry, and be proud of what you have done. Eat a bagel, and glory in the perfect breakfast. It can be a big deal if you want it to be. In other words, sometimes you can sweat the small stuff and ignore the big things; that is your choice, your privilege, your power. Your perspective.
At least, that’s how I see it.
(P.S: I am confident that my metaphor has completely ruined the correlation with the artistic technique of perspective; I’m really talking more about foreground and background and such. I am sorry if that broken parallel was a bigger issue for you than it was for me, but it wasn’t a big problem for me. I’m just happy I got this post written. If you’re my wife and you’re annoyed with me, you can have the pleasure of throwing something at me. If you hit me with it, you win!)